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How a mechanical engineer ditched a startup job to become the first female CEO of a $28 billion manufacturer

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Jennifer Rumsey began her journey at Cummins 24 years ago, eventually rising to become the company’s CEO last year. Cummins is ranked 146th on the Fortune 500 list with $28 billion in revenue; Rumsey is one of 52 female CEOs that oversee 10.4% of these companies.

Reflecting on her first year as CEO of her hometown manufacturer, Rumsey ponders what initially drew her to Cummins and what has kept her committed for over two decades. Her college studies in mechanical engineering led her to a job at a fuel cell startup, driven by the belief that such technology would shape the future of environmentally-friendly energy. However, she found the work lacked tangible impact. Transitioning to Cummins, where the focus was on reducing the environmental footprint of diesel engines used in various industries, resonated more with Rumsey’s desire for real-world impact.

Rumsey’s ascent through the company ranks saw her overseeing different engineering categories and Cummins’ components business before assuming the roles of chief technical officer and CEO.

Her leadership style is influenced by her experiences as a woman in engineering and by Cummins’ past leaders, notably J. Irwin Miller. Miller championed stakeholder capitalism, prioritizing the needs of employees and communities alongside shareholders. Under his leadership, Cummins took stands such as exiting South Africa during apartheid. Miller’s legacy inspires Rumsey to build a diverse team and address the company’s role in climate change.

With a commitment to developing new technologies, achieving net-zero emissions, and reducing greenhouse gases, Cummins reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 31% between 2018 and 2021. Rumsey views the current period as critical for both the company and the world, recognizing climate change as a pressing crisis that Cummins has a responsibility to help tackle.

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Jennifer Rumsey’s journey from mechanical engineer to the first female CEO of a $28 billion manufacturing giant is a testament to her unwavering dedication and visionary leadership. As she marks her first year at the helm of Cummins, she remains steadfast in her commitment to driving positive change and addressing the pressing challenges of our time.

Rumsey’s decision to join Cummins over two decades ago was fueled by a desire to make a tangible impact on the world. While her early experiences in a fuel cell startup left her feeling disconnected from real-world impact, Cummins’ focus on reducing the environmental impact of diesel engines resonated deeply with her passion for sustainability.

Throughout her career, Rumsey has demonstrated exceptional leadership, rising through the ranks and taking on various roles within the company. Her approach to leadership is shaped by her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated industry and by the values instilled by Cummins’ past leaders, particularly J. Irwin Miller.

Miller’s advocacy for stakeholder capitalism, which prioritizes the needs of employees, communities, and shareholders alike, serves as a guiding principle for Rumsey. She is committed to building a diverse and inclusive workforce and steering Cummins towards a more sustainable future.

Under Rumsey’s leadership, Cummins has made significant strides in reducing its environmental footprint, with a 31% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2018 and 2021. However, Rumsey recognizes that there is still much work to be done.

As she looks ahead, Rumsey remains acutely aware of the urgent need to address climate change and is determined to position Cummins as a leader in sustainability and innovation. With her visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to making a difference, Jennifer Rumsey is paving the way for a brighter and more sustainable future for Cummins and the world at large.

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Trish Basangar

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