DuPont’s new CEO reinvents herself

Just a year ago, Ellen Kullman had one of the longest titles in corporate America. She was

DuPont’s EVP of safety and protection, coating’s and color technologies, marketing and sales, safety and sustainability, pharmaceuticals and risk management. Whew!

Tuesday morning, the company simplified all that. She was named president of DuPont and is slated to take over as CEO on Jan. 1. Dupont is a Fortune 500 giant — No. 81 on our list, with $31.6 billion in revenues last year — and Kullman’s promotion means that she will become one of six female CEOs in the top 100 of the Fortune 500. The others are Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo , Irene Rosenfeld at Kraft Foods , Pat Woertz at Archer Daniels Midland , Angela Braly at Wellpoint (WLP), and Lynn Elsenhans, who was named CEO of Sunoco in July.

Kullman’s move up isn’t a surprise, and it’s a smart decision by DuPont’s board. In last year’s Fortune Most Powerful Women issue, we featured Kullman, 52, in a lineup of rising stars who were “One Step Away” from the CEO job. Inside DuPont, where she’s spent 20 years, she’s known to be both tough and popular with the troops. A mother of three, she happens to have a husband who works for DuPont. Michael Kullman is director of corporate marketing. So yes, she will be his boss.

Kullman told me this lesson from her own career: A decade ago she was happily running a $2 billion titanium technologies business when she was asked to start a new unit focused on safety products. “Absolutely everybody, including my husband, told me I’d be better off staying in my current job,” she said. “But I was intrigued, and I figured that if I didn’t stretch myself then, I never would.” That safety business that she created grew to $6 billion in revenues. “I learned how to create something from nothing.” Her advice: “Continue to reinvent.”

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