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Ellen Kullman became CEO during the last recession. Here’s how it’s impacting her leadership now

DuPont’s first female CEO, who served during the 2008 financial downturn, shares what it takes to stay resilient during unpredictable times.

Ellen Kullman became CEO during the last recession. Here’s how it’s impacting her leadership now
[Photos: courtesy of Carbon]
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Ellen Kullman, CEO of 3D printing company Carbon, knows her way around a crisis. Kullman spent 27 years at chemical company DuPont, where she started as a marketing manager in 1988. She was named the company’s CEO and chairman in January 2009, just a few months after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.

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During her tenure, she grew DuPont’s “safety and protection” division by double digits, as well as focusing on emerging international markets.

Now, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Kullman has been considering parallels to the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

One of the most important skills a leader can maintain during a crisis is flexibility, says Kullman, who was DuPont’s first female CEO, before leaving for Carbon last year. “As circumstances in the world change, I emphasize being open to different ways of adapting and trying new things.”

Ellen Kullman shared more about leadership during periods of economic instability in a live webinar on Friday, April 24, at 12 p.m. ET, in conversation with Fast Company editor-in-chief Stephanie Mehta. Rewatch the webinar, here.

In times of overwhelming disquietude, calm and community are at the top of her mind. “With so much uncertainty, it’s easy and understandable to go into a panic mode, so there is no better time to reinforce how we are all connected to and working toward the same broader purpose,” she says.

Above else, the business leader underscores the importance of encouragement and transparency with her team. “Morale is a huge thing to pay attention to,” says Kullman. “People are a company’s most important asset, and it’s critical to make sure that leadership pays the right kind of attention to employees and their well-being.”

About the author

Diana is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously, she was an editor at Vice and an editorial assistant at Entrepreneur

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