UPS CEO on Voting Rights and Vaccine Distribution

How did you move from Milton Friedman’s perspective to a stakeholder’s perspective?

It’s been happening for years, but it really started during the last recession, the housing crisis, when I was at Home Depot. I saw the power of investing in my people and really thought of them as investments, not expenses. I saw their power to care in times of trouble, and how committed they were to the company, and how hard they really worked to create a great experience for the customer.

It was like a flywheel. Our people were happy. Our customers were happy. The experience was great. And we were generating a lot of sales and profit, which allowed us to return some of that to shareholders in the form of dividends.

From a climate standpoint, I think I’m probably more sensitive than some because I actually grow crops. I grow corn and wheat and soybeans. So I have some sensitivity to what a hot planet means. And, you know, I think part of my journey as just a human being is really trying to determine my purpose.

For a long time people would ask me, “What is your purpose?” And I’d say, “I want my tombstone to read: ‘She made a difference’.” It’s all well and well and good. But I’m really thinking about it, and I’m like: “You know, exactly why aren’t you here, Carol. It’s bigger than that.” And so, you know, I’ve personally come across a three-pronged purpose statement for me: to inspire, to lead, to serve to create, and to give to live.

What did it take to set up a supply chain that could transport vaccines?

We have been in the health care logistics business for over 15 years, so we have been distributing vaccines for years. We know how to do this. But we went beyond some unique demands for COVID-19 vaccines last year, because we believed that at some point there would be vaccines that would need to be shipped that would require special temperatures. That’s why we set up freezer farms last year. Now we have three of them. We manufacture a lot of dry ice. And since we started, we’ve distributed over 300 million vaccines worldwide.

And let me tell you how complicated it is. Pfizer was making those vaccines in Michigan when they received FDA approval. We drove an eighteen-wheeler to their manufacturing plant, and the vaccines were loaded onto that truck. That eighteen-wheeler drove to a local airport nearby, and we loaded them on a UPS-owned plane, and drove them to Louisville, Ky., which is our largest airport.

When the vaccines landed on the airplane, they were processed and received special labels with battery-powered sensors, so we know at all times where those packages are. They were then loaded into feeder aircraft headed to the destination cities.

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