CAL DARDEN TAKES THE HIGH ROAD TO A TOP SPOT AT UPS
Sometimes Hard Work Does Pay Off
Cal Darden, Senior Vice President of U.S. Operations of UPS, is ranked eighth on the FORTUNE list of the 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in America. His Horatio Alger-type success story is textbook for how to make it in corporate America. As an African American male, he has reached a largely unparalleled level of achievement in mainstream American business.
Yet, despite his achievements, there’s more. Right next to the wallet photo of his wife and kids is something the other 49 on that list will likely never possess a tractor-trailer driver’s license. The fact that Darden maintains his ability to slap on a cap and a uniform and drive the Big Brown truck anytime is mute testimony to his status as a leader within his company. It is a statement that he really does know his business.
Darden knows the business because he started at the bottom and, like almost all top UPS executives, worked his way up. Today, he is responsible for 320,000 employees charged with the daily pickup and delivery of more than 13.3 million packages.
Darden has 32 years under his belt with UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company and a global leader in supply chain services. UPS offers an extensive range of options for synchronizing the movement of goods, information and funds. Headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., UPS serves more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.
Darden’s career began when, as a young man on a full academic college scholarship, he took a part-time, $3 an hour job as a package handler at UPS in Buffalo, NY, his hometown. It was 1971, and Darden saw this as a great opportunity to earn extra cash to pay his bills. He was newlywed and looking toward graduation with a degree in business management. His career goal was to become a police officer after graduation but due to requirements that mandated 20/20 uncorrected vision, he would not be able to realize that dream. It’s UPS’s good fortune that he never did.
After working in several frontline positions, Darden went into management. In a short time, he advanced to hub supervisor, to hub manager and to package division manager. Darden was a district manager by the time he reached age 34.
Darden was so effective at applying leadership skills to meeting challenges that, in addition to a rapid round of promotions, he was named UPS’s first corporate strategic quality coordinator. Today, the company credits Darden with having developed and implemented UPS’s quality strategy, which focuses on “customer satisfaction, employee empowerment, process improvement, and effective methods of measurement.” Darden says his influence on quality as a core competency for all employees required a massive investment in retraining but it has had a phenomenal payoff in terms of UPS’ competitiveness.
Even though Darden led the effort, he gives the credit for improvements to UPS employees. “At UPS, we take a team approach to running our business. When a problem comes up, we’ll have 10 to 12 people dissect that problem and come up with an answer,” Darden says. “When ordinary people fix an extraordinary problem, they themselves become extraordinary.”
“Leadership at UPS is viewed as an ability to inspire and motivate others around you,” says Mike Eskew, CEO and Chairman of UPS. “Cal is an excellent example of someone who understands this style of management and who can inspire one of the country’s largest workforces into providing extraordinary service to our customers.” Darden’s skills earned him a seat on the coveted UPS Management Committee, which directs the day-to-day management of the company, and he has been on the UPS Board of Directors since 2001.
He thinks that UPS so adroitly addresses the problems that stand in the way of providing quality service that the company should open a university to teach it. Meanwhile, Darden has become something of an educational resource in his own right. His schedule is dotted with speaking obligations to business and civic groups, as well as to students at historically black colleges and universities.
Among the stops on his itinerary have been the Fortune 500 Annual Conference, the National Urban League Conference, the New York State Leadership & Accountability Conference, The National Black MBA Annual Convention, and the Southern Institute for Ethics Diversity Management.
A graduate of Canisius College, a Jesuit school in Buffalo, Darden’s life reflects a dedication to hard work. He is the oldest of seven children from a family where his father was the only source of financial support. He says that both parents were high school graduates but even though neither parent attended college, for their seven children there was never an option all of them would go to college. Because Darden believes firmly in the value of education to success, he spends as much time as he can counseling and mentoring college students through the National Urban League’s BEEP Program (Black Executive Exchange Program).
Darden’s advice to young people is delivered in language they can understand. During a visit to one historically black college, he admonished students to develop exceptional work habits and to stay away from drugs and alcohol abuse.
”Do not give corporate America any reason to ‘hang up’ on you as a potential professional,” he told a group of young people at Fort Valley State University. “The same patterns you have now, you’ll carry into corporate America. We have to be a little sharper, work a little harder. There is discrimination. There is a glass ceiling. I am not naïve, and I won’t try to deny it. But if you prepare yourselves by developing the right skills and habits, you can smash right through it.”
Darden is married to the former Patricia Gail Ellis, a registered nurse at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. Their three children are shining examples of young people who heeded their parents’ advice and are successful in their professions. Until recently, Calvin Darden, Jr., was a vice president for Salomon Smith Barney. Now he is president of his own company, CDarden Wealth and Lifestyle Management, which is located in New York, NY. Daughters Tami Darden Hudson, and Lorielle Darden, are both consultants KPMG and Deloitte Touche, respectively.
With Darden’s huge span of control, he has keen insight into the importance of understanding people and the diversity of their work, backgrounds and cultures.
As such, he is a recognized spokesperson on diversity leadership among business professionals nationwide. At a conference by the Southern Institute for Business and Professional Ethics in Atlanta, Darden described himself as an “eager and open-minded student of diversity management,” due in great part to the nature of his job and his oversight for employees from every walk of life.
“If we find that common ground, if we treat all employees with fairness, dignity, and respect, we nurture that high level of teamwork required to meet our demanding deadline challenges,” he says.
Darden sees the evolution of a more diverse society as driving the need for development of business leaders who can inspire loyalty and the best efforts of their employees. He cites U. S. Department of Labor statistics showing that in two years, the national workforce will be 27 percent minorities and 48 percent women. With the increasing population of Hispanics now holding title as the largest minority group in America, it is predicted that half of all Americans will be classified as belonging to an ethnic minority by the year 2040.
As one of UPS’s key decision-makers, Darden is proud that the company where he has always worked is preparing for this scenario. The UPS Community Internship Program (CIP) is an “outward bound” experience in diversity awareness. Darden says the company sends 40 of its managers through the rigors of the program each year because they are considered top performers managers with high advancement potential. The next Cal Dardens.
Through the program, managers immerse themselves into the lives of everyday people in very different environments than their own. For one month, CIP interns become involved in a community that is far both geographically and economically from the comfortable lives they lead. The managers tutor students, teach skills, visit nursing homes, work in soup kitchens, perform chores and home improvement whatever is needed.
The unique program began in 1968 when most of UPS’s leadership was white males. It foreshadowed the business case for racial interdependence and cooperation on a level that has made UPS a pacesetter in the field of diversity management training. Darden says employees who go through CIP return to work changed. They are more receptive to what others have to say and they realize how important listening is to understanding and improving relations.
UPS is committed to continuing the program, even though bottom-line, financial results are difficult to measure.
“CIP interns often pass along their diversity lessons learned to other managers,” Darden says. “They encourage a flexible mindset throughout supervisory levels, and they have a history of getting involved in their communities by organizing volunteer efforts within their own work groups. This is key, since UPS is a decentralized company. We depend on our region and district leaders to be the eyes, ears, and citizen leaders in their communities.”
“We only have anecdotal evidence to measure the full impact of CIP, but we believe in it,” Darden says. “We’ve never curtailed funding for it when budgets have gotten tight. One thing is certain; this is a program that reaches beyond an information exchange and touches people on an emotional level.”
Darden also has strong moral convictions, which figure prominently in his daily work life, family commitments and community involvement.
"I enjoy spending time with my family,” Darden says. “I like to spend time with my grandkids (two now and one more on the way). I also like saltwater and freshwater fishing. Saturdays are family time for us. Whether it's
just me and Gail or going somewhere with our children or grandchildren, we
do something together. Sundays we spend at our church, Greater Community Church of God and Christ, where I serve as a deacon and member of the finance committee.”
He is a man who has his priorities in order. He says, “aside from my family and my church, I would rate work as No. 1 in importance (in my life). I have to be enthusiastic about my job and get others enthused about their jobs, inspire them. Work is important because it provides a sense of accomplishment, an opportunity to establish goals. And, of course, it is the way I support my family.”
In the community, Darden is an active member of the Board of Directors of the National Urban League. He is a member of the 100 Black Men of North Atlanta, and he is involved with United Way, where UPS is the organization’s largest corporate supporter.
Darden also serves as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Atlanta Police Foundation, Inc., where he stays abreast of safety issues that affect the community, and close to his first career choice law enforcement.
Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington calls him the “consummate leader,”
and he adds that Darden’s willingness to get involved and lead the department to viable solutions is making all the difference for the community.
“Already, the Atlanta Police Foundation is making a dramatic impact on how Atlanta Police will fight crime and deliver services in the future,” Chief Pennington says. “We could not have chosen a more wise and caring citizen to fulfill the promise of this magnificent City.”
How does Darden see someone who soars above the crowd in his life?
“I believe that we should be a servant to others in our personal, professional or public lives,” he told MLA. “People who soar try to be someone who makes a difference, someone who helps people that need help an advocate for the underdog. It’s someone who isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves, to admit his mistakes when he’s wrong. People who think they are soaring in life are probably focusing on the wrong thing. People who think they are soaring probably are not. High, mighty and haughty soaring is anything but that.
“My parents were my inspiration,” Darden recalls. “Their rules were simple: Hard work pays off. Stay out of trouble with the law. Stay spiritually grounded and rooted in God’s grace. Define the parameters from which we operate, and always rise to the top.” And he did.