Home Featured Story Ellen J. Kullman-Steering DuPont into the Future

Ellen J. Kullman-Steering DuPont into the Future


Ellen J. Kullman is President and Chairman of the Board of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (“DuPont”) and a former director of General Motors. Forbes ranked her 7th in its 100 Most Powerful Women list in 2009. She is the 19th executive, and first woman, to lead the company in more than 208 years of DuPont history.


DuPont was founded in 1802 by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, two years after he and his family left France to escape the French Revolution. The company began as a manufacturer of gunpowder, as du Pont had noticed that the industry in North America was lagging behind Europe and saw a market for it. The company grew quickly, and by the mid 19th century had become the largest supplier of gunpowder to the United States military, supplying as much as half of the powder used by the Union Army during the American Civil War.


DuPont continued to expand, moving into the production of dynamite and smokeless powder. In 1902, DuPont's president, Eugene du Pont, died, and the surviving partners sold the company to three great-grandsons of the original founder. The company subsequently purchased several smaller chemical companies, and in 1912 these actions gave rise to government scrutiny under the Sherman Antitrust Act. The courts declared that the company's dominance of the explosives business constituted a monopoly and ordered divestment. The court ruling resulted in the creation of the Hercules Powder Company (now Hercules Inc.) and the Atlas Powder Company (purchased by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and now part of AstraZeneca) DuPont retained the single base nitrocellulose powders, while Hercules held the double base powders combining nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. DuPont subsequently developed the Improved Military Rifle line of smokeless powders.

DuPont also established two of the first industrial laboratories in the U.S. It was there that the company began the work on cellulose chemistry, lacquers and other non-explosive products.


In 1914, Pierre S. du Pont invested in the fledgling automobile industry, buying stock of General Motors. In 1920, Pierre S. du Pont was elected president of General Motors. Under du Pont's guidance, GM became the number one automobile company in the world.


In the 1920s DuPont continued its emphasis on materials science, hiring Wallace Carothers to work on polymers in 1928. Carothers discovered neoprene, the first synthetic rubber, the first polyester super polymer and in 1935, nylon. The discovery of Teflon followed a few years later.

The company continued to be a major producer of war supplies. As the inventor and manufacturer of nylon, DuPont helped produce the raw materials for parachutes, powder bags, and tires. DuPont also played a major role in the Manhattan Project in 1943, designing, building and operating the Hanford plutonium producing plant and the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina.

DuPont continued its emphasis on new materials, developing Mylar, Dacron, Orlon and Lycra in the 1950s, and Tyvek, Nomex, Qiana, Corfam and Corian in the 1960s. DuPont materials were critical to the success of the Apollo Project of the United States space program.

DuPont has been the key company behind the development of modern body armor. In the Second World War DuPont's ballistic nylon was used by Britain's Royal Air Force to make Flak jackets. With the development of Kevlar in the 1960s, DuPont began tests to see if it could resist a lead bullet. This research led to the bullet resistant vests that are the mainstay of police and military units in the industrialized world.

In 1981, DuPont acquired Conoco Inc., a major American oil and gas producing company that gave it a secure source of petroleum needed for the manufacturing of many of its fiber and plastics products. The acquisition, which made DuPont one of the top ten U.S. based petroleum and natural gas producers and refiners, came about after a bidding war with the giant distillery Seagram Company Ltd., which would become DuPont's largest single shareholder with four seats on the board of directors. On April 6, 1995, after being approached by Seagram Chief Executive Officer Edgar Bronfman, Jr., DuPont announced a deal whereby the company would buy back all the shares owned by Seagram.


DuPont's board of directors elected Kullman President and a director of the company in October 2008, and Chief Executive Officer in January 2009. She is the 19th executive, and the first woman, to lead the company. Fortune magazine named Kullman 15th on its list of the world's 50 most powerful women for 2008, and 5th on the list for 2009 and 2010. The Wall Street Journal named her 8th on its 2008 list of "Women to Watch.”

Kullman began her business career at General Electric and joined DuPont in 1988 as marketing manager in the company's medical imaging business. In her role as executive vice president she was responsible for four of DuPont's business platforms as well as leading the company's growth in markets outside the USA.

Prior to coming to DuPont, Kullman was a director of General Motors from 2004-2008.

On October 30, 2009, DuPont announced that its board of directors had elected Kullman as Chairman of the company effective December 31, 2009.

The company has said, “As CEO, Ellen has championed market-driven science to drive innovation across the company’s businesses. Under her leadership, decision making has moved closer to customers around the world, resulting in greater partnering, collaboration, and solutions attuned to local needs.”