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Leading Global Growth by Protecting What Really Matters Most

02/13/2008 12:00 PM Wong Auditorium
Ellen J. Kullman, Chair of the Board & Chief Executive Officer, Dupont

Description: After 205 years, DuPont has transformed itself substantially while remaining true to its character, suggests Ellen Kullman. "We're a company with a passion for science," says Kullman. DuPont, which got its start making black powder for explosives, pursued chemicals for its first 100 years, but is now taking its science into energy, biotechnology and nanotechnology, with products and services in agriculture, nutrition, coating and color technologies, performance materials and safety and protection.

Kullman says that in its first 180 years of existence, DuPont did everything itself. "We believed firmly that nobody could do it better than us." Now, the company is "thinking without borders," seeking customers and collaborators globally. With a central lab in the U.S., the company targets R&D and application development close to customers in such key markets as Japan, India and China. The company also partners with research institutions worldwide. Says Kullman, "We talk about interdependent innovation, which has to be mutually dependent and mutually beneficial," in order to convert technology rapidly into new products and processes, as well as to "develop deep market insights and strengthen our marketing and technical integration globally."

These innovations must spring from "pressing human needs," and to be successful must be introduced to the marketplace and accepted by society via "partnerships and dialog with all stakeholders, including governments, NGOs and academia," she says. Sometimes it's possible "to invent ahead of the curve, ahead of understanding what the payoff will be." One of her favorite examples is Kevlar, the tightly woven material used in bullet proof vests. It was originally invented 40 years ago to replace steel in tires, when the price of steel went sky high. After 10 years in development, DuPont introduced Kevlar to tire manufacturers, at which point the steel industry dropped its price, and DuPont had to figure out what to do with an invention on which it had spent tens of millions of dollars. Today, Kevlar has found uses not just as life protection material, but as a way of strengthening structures against bomb blasts and hurricanes, in sails and ropes, in hockey sticks, and yes, finally, in tires.

Kullman offers some parting advice: Collaborate with customers and suppliers; seek opportunities beyond your assets; open up new business models; embrace the future; and think big and think different.

About the Speaker(s): Ellen J. Kullman began her career at DuPont in 1988 as marketing manager in the Medical Imaging business. Following two years as business director for the X"ray Film business, she moved to Printing & Publishing as global business director, Electronic Imaging. In 1994, she joined White Pigment & Mineral Products as global business director and was named vice president and general manager in 1995.

She assumed leadership of two high"growth businesses, DuPont Safety Resources in 1998 and Bio"Based Materials in 1999. Kullman was named group vice president " DuPont Safety & Protection in February 2002 and assumed her current position in June 2006.

Kullman is a member of the board of directors of General Motors Corporation andis on the Board of Trustees at Tufts University. She is also on the Board of Trustees, National Safety Council. In 2005 and 2006, Fortune Magazine named Ellen to its 50 Most Powerful Women in Business List.

Kullman holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University.

Host(s): Sloan School of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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