Volume 86 Issue 39 | p. 7 | News of The Week
Issue Date: September 29, 2008

Ellen Kullman Is Dupont's New CEO

Incoming chief executive will focus on expanding a transformed chemical giant
Department: Business
Kullman
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Kullman
Holliday
Credit: DuPont (both)
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Holliday
Credit: DuPont (both)

DUPONT HAS named Ellen J. Kullman, 52, to replace Charles O. Holliday Jr., 60, as CEO on Jan. 1, 2009. Kullman, a 20-year DuPont veteran, will become the 19th executive to lead the venerable company and the first woman to lead a major public U.S. chemical firm.

Industry observers viewed Kullman, who has been an executive vice president since 2006 with responsibility for four of the company's five businesses, as the likely successor to Holliday. On Oct. 1, she will become president and join the company's board of directors.

In his decade as CEO, Holliday is credited with transforming DuPont from a traditional $45 billion-per-year oil and chemicals firm to a $30 billion-per-year science-based company with businesses in specialty chemicals, biomaterials, and crop protection and seeds. Holliday completed more than $60 billion in transactions in his tenure, including the 2004 sale of the company's fibers business to Koch Industries for $4.4 billion.

"During the past 10 years, I have had the unique privilege of leading DuPont's transformation to a market-driven science company that leads the way in solving some of the most difficult and pressing human needs in a resource-constrained world," Holliday said in a statement last week.

A native of Wilmington, Del., where DuPont has its headquarters, Kullman has a degree in mechanical engineering from Tufts University, in Boston, and a master's degree in management from Northwestern University. She is on the board of General Motors.

Kullman began her DuPont career in its medical imaging business after holding management positions at General Electric. She is credited with achieving significant growth for several DuPont businesses. For example, as vice president of DuPont Safety & Protection, she expanded sales from $3.5 billion in 2002 to $5.5 billion in 2006.

Sales growth will be DuPont's top priority going forward, Kullman told stock analysts last week. "I think we have a strong foundation in science," she said. "Now the challenge is to build on top of that—to build out the businesses in our applied bioscience area, to build out the businesses further in agriculture, and to really see how that foundation in science can add tremendous opportunities for top-line growth and real differentiation."

According to John E. Roberts, an analyst with Buckingham Research, Holliday's departure marks the turning of a page at DuPont. "Holliday started with restructuring and finished with growth," he says, "and Kullman is going to pick up the ball focused on growth. There seems to be no need for additional restructuring. They like the portfolio they have right now."

The DuPont business with the most significant growth potential, Roberts says, is biomaterials. "They spent a good part of the last five years talking about integrating their life science or biotech businesses with their chemistry businesses. Biofuels might be one of the largest opportunities."

Yet Roberts points out that Kullman will be executing a growth strategy in an industry where growth can be a tall order. "The chemical industry has had a long period of a relatively limited number of new products," he says, and developing a new biomaterial is particularly difficult.

According to business strategy consultant Ram Charan, Kullman is well prepared to expand DuPont's business in key global markets. "She is very conversant on what is happening in the market and with customers on a worldwide basis," notes Charan, who says he has known Kullman for 15 years. "The businesses she has been accountable for have given her insight into the needs of customers in China, India, Brazil, Europe, and Russia. Looking at the future, the great growth will come from these countries."

As Roberts sees it, the economy may pose problems in the near term, but the combination of Holliday's past restructuring with Kullman's experience coming into the top office bodes well for DuPont. "They are making the transition during a period when maybe the outside world has a little uncertainty," he says, "but the inside world at DuPont probably has more certainty than it has had in a long time."

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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