Ellen Kullman, Chairman and CEO
Profile: Ellen Jamison Kullman was born in Wilmington, Del., in January 1956. The 56-year-old Kullman earned her BS in mechanical engineering from Tufts University and an MBA at Northwestern. She was appointed CEO of DuPont (NYSE:DD) on Oct. 1, 2008.
The Story: On the surface, the timing of Ellen Kullman’s ascent to the CEO position at 200-year-old-plus DuPont couldn’t have been worse: two weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed. Sales were canceled, volume plummeted and the company’s 60,000 employees were running scared. But in the end, the gathering storm turned out to be the finest hour for the 24-year DuPont veteran, who had started as a marketing manager.
Kullman’s approach to surviving the Great Recession: focus on the things the company could control. She asked all employees to take two weeks off without pay — voluntarily. (Executives were asked to take three weeks). The company reached 70% of its time-off goal, which lowered its expenses by $700 million in 2009.
DuPont not only survived, it rebounded. Despite the fact that her tenure encompassed the entire Great Recession, the company’s stock has risen 50% under her leadership, compared with the Dow’s 19% return over that same period.
Kullman’s $6.3 billion acquisition of Danish enzyme company Danisco was icing on the cake, giving DuPont better exposure to the emerging-growth biofuels market.