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UPS CEO Carol Tomé leapt from retirement straight into the pandemic fire

December 10, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

Carol Tomé says she was “full-on retired at my farm in northwest Georgia” when UPS CEO David Abney announced that he was going to retire. Tomé had moved out of The Home Depot’s C-suite in 2019, where she had been CFO since 2001.

But Tomé had in no way stepped completely away from corporate life. She was still on the board at several companies, including UPS. When the leadership at UPS began succession planning, they focused, Tomé says, “long and hard on the persona … the skills and experience that person needed to possess.”

Turned out Tomé was their perfect match.

They needed somebody who could really understand “the changing and competitive customer environment,” she says. “They wanted someone who understood that end-to-end experience which, as a retailer, I did.” Someone who had e-commerce knowledge, too.

And, perhaps most importantly, UPS was seeking a leader who could “drive higher returns on capital, because the company had deployed about $24 billion of capital into the business and the return on capital had been declining for almost six years straight,” Tomé explains.

Over time, she decided that as much as she was a good fit for UPS, the company was a good fit for her. She would have the chance to help develop the company’s 543,000 employees, a role she loves.

Also, she says, “I really do like to make money and I like to generate value.” At Home Depot they had a 450% increase in shareholder value during my tenure. “Wouldn’t it be fun to do something like that at UPS?”

The final piece in the decision: Would her retired husband be up for her return to work, and to leave the farm as a part-time home once more?

“Would you please go back to work?” he requested during the conversation.

She was in.

The company announced Tomé as the new CEO in March of 2020.

And then? The pandemic hit.

Tomé joins Fortune cohosts Ellen McGirt and Alan Murray on Leadership Next, a podcast about the changing rules of business leadership, to talk about moving from the board to the CEO role, taking on the job at the start of the pandemic, how they kept commerce moving and kept UPS essential, and how UPS kept all those employees safe. Listen to the full episode below.

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