Ellen Kullman, TH alum & parent will succeed Charles Holliday at DuPont Co.

The DuPont Co. tapped Ellen J. Kullman as its next chief executive Tuesday, giving the company its first woman at the top spot in its 206-year history and a new leader to push forward an institution reshaped under Charles O. Holliday Jr.

The choice came as little surprise to company observers, but the departure of CEO Holliday came sooner than many expected. Holliday, 60, said Tuesday his decision was voluntary, driven by a desire to turn over the reins of the company in an orderly fashion after more than 10 years at the helm. DuPont's mandatory retirement age is 65.

Kullman, a 20-year company veteran who observers say has been groomed for the job in recent years, said her strategy would be a "continuation" of Holliday's direction for DuPont. She will serve as president and director starting Oct. 1, then take over as CEO on Jan. 1.

The board voted unanimously for Kullman to succeed Holliday, who has been under pressure from shareholders in recent years because the stock has languished even as the company recorded strong profits and solid growth.

Kullman -- who grew up in Wilmington and attended Tower Hill School -- is the 19th executive to lead DuPont, a global company founded in Delaware with more than 60,000 employees and 2007 revenues of $30.6 billion.

Kullman, 52, will have the tall task of moving DuPont into a rapidly evolving future in chemicals and bioscience, saying she would place her faith in a strategy laid out by Holliday.

A DuPont executive vice president and a member of the company's office of the chief executive, Kullman said she would focus on Holliday's plan for growth and innovation in science, looking to increase the mammoth company's agility and speed of execution while keeping costs in check.

"Our challenge is to build on top of that," Kullman said of Holliday's vision, "and really see how that foundation of science can lead to opportunities."

In March, Kullman was given more responsibility at about the time DuPont's management unveiled its strategic plan through 2010. The plan called for increasing sales in emerging markets, boosting profits in its agriculture division, capitalizing on market needs in the safety and protection sector and cutting $1.7 billion in costs.

Kullman oversees four of DuPont's five core business units, as well as the push to grow in international markets, where DuPont made 61 percent of its sales last year.

The company's stock lost 70 cents Tuesday, closing at 44.69.

In recent years, the chemical industry has endured mergers and declining stock prices. Earlier this year, Dow Chemical Co. bought 99-year-old Rohm & Haas Co., and Hercules Inc., DuPont's corporate cousin, announced plans to sell to Ashland Inc.

DuPont said in a financial filing that Kullman's annual salary would increase from $665,000 to $900,000, effective Oct. 1, when she will become president, and from $900,000 to $1.2 million effective Jan. 1, when she will become CEO.

The annual salary doesn't include bonuses and stock options. In 2007, Kullman earned $4.58 million in total compensation. Holliday earned a total of $8.2 million last year.

Former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, who still owns DuPont stock, said Kullman is an excellent choice to lead the company founded and built by his family.

"She'll be superb," du Pont said. "She's a real Delawarean -- knows the community and knows the company."

Keeping select company

When she steps in as CEO, Kullman will enter a select, yet growing, club.

In 1996, just one woman headed a Fortune 500 company. An August study found 13 female CEOs in the Fortune 500, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit group that monitors women's status in business.

The highest-ranking company with a woman in charge is No. 33 WellPoint. DuPont is ranked No. 81 on the Fortune 500 list. In Catalyst's study, women held 14.8 percent of the board seats on the Fortune 500, while making up 46.3 percent of the U.S. work force.

Kullman downplayed the significance of gender in her ascendancy, but in local circles, businesswomen were impressed that change had come to such an old-school company with such a male-oriented past.

And it became all the more remarkable to see it happen in a year that has seen one woman run for president and another nominated for vice president.

"No matter where you stand politically, this has been an interesting year for women," said Ellen Barrosse, founder and CEO of Synchrogenix Information Strategies and this year's Delaware Business Woman of the Year. "It's an exciting time. It has to be inspiring for girls that they can see women in a variety of roles succeeding."

For other proponents of women in business, Kullman's promotion was a step closer to their true goal -- to reach a point where the appointment of female CEOs is so commonplace that it's no longer remarkable.

"The more that we recognize that it's the first woman to do this ... we continue to perpetuate this myth that there's a difference between the races, the genders, whatever," said Carol E. Arnott, former president of the National Association of Women Business Owners' Delaware chapter.

Catalyst said it has found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of female directors outperformed those with the lowest representation. With women included, companies gain greater diversity of thought and quality of dialogue, female directors told Catalyst.

Kullman joined the company in 1988 after working for General Electric. An executive vice president since June 2006, she heads four of DuPont's five business segments and its Marketing & Sales and Environmental Sustainability functions.

From 2002 to 2006 she directed revenue growth from $3.5 billion to $5.5 billion as group vice president of the DuPont Safety & Protection segment.

Delaware roots

Born Ellen Jamison, Kullman grew up in the subdivision of Fairfax Farms off Concord Pike, attending nearby St. Mary Magdalen School and playing basketball and lacrosse.

After graduating from Tower Hill and Tufts University with a degree in mechanical engineering, she worked in technical service and sales for Westinghouse, got her MBA from Northwestern University and moved on to General Electric in 1983.

After five years, DuPont hired her, and she's been in Delaware since -- celebrating her 20th year with the company next week.

"One job just kind of led to another, and the next thing you know, 20 years have gone by," she said.

"She's the baby" in a close Irish-American family of two boys and two girls, blessed with many cousins and many get-togethers over the years, said her brother Brien Jamison, who runs the family's 62-year-old landscaping contracting business -- Brandywine Nurseries -- with sibling Jamie Jamison.

Growing up, there was a sense Ellen was special, he said. "I always tell everybody I always thought she was the smartest one of the four of us," he said. "Whenever she ever put her mind to anything, she always carried it through 100 percent."

She and her husband, Michael Kullman, a DuPont corporate marketing professional, are raising three children: Maggie, 18, a freshman at Tufts, and twins Stephen and David, 14, freshmen at Tower Hill.

Family get-togethers are still a must, Brien Jamison said, and often include 91-year-old patriarch Joseph Jamison, who heard about his "little girl's" new job Monday night. Their mother, Margaret, died in 2004.

In previous interviews, Kullman has credited her outgoing personality for helping her assert herself in male-dominated worlds.

"I never viewed myself as different," she said in 2004. "I think that helps because you're not looking for it, you're saying, 'Hey, let it go.' And if I'm comfortable, everybody else is comfortable.

"I'm not shy, that helps as well."

Connie Bond Stuart, president of PNC Bank, Delaware, said Kullman is "clearly deserving of the opportunity" based on qualifications and experience.

"I thought it was natural evolution," Stuart said. "I would be surprised if she hadn't been chosen."

Stuart and others praised Kullman's willingness to participate in community activities.

"She's very interested in Delaware as a community," said Kurt Landgraf, former chief executive of DuPont Pharmaceuticals Co. "She's actively involved."

She was the first woman to hold an executive leadership position at DuPont, and also serves on the boards of both General Motors and of the nonprofit National Safety Council. She also is on the board of trustees at Tufts University and the board of overseers at Tufts' School of Engineering.

Staff writer Maureen Milford contributed to this story. Contact Eric Ruth at 324-2428 or Contact Andrew Eder at 324-2789 or

Reprinted with permission of The News Journal