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From Receptionist to CEO: FedEx’s Ramona Hood Shares Lessons from Her Career

Taking in.sight user conference + expo viewers through the highlights and occasional hairpin turns of her extraordinary career, Ramona Hood, president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical, discussed her professional ascent from the front desk to the corner office, including a look at what she deemed “leading in 2020.” 

“I’ve spent the last 28 years with FedEx,” began Hood. “I started in 1991 as the receptionist for Roberts Express (a FedEx solution since 2000). I was 19 and looking for an opportunity to have a regular schedule…in the retail area.” 

After transferring into the safety division, a senior-level employee asked Hood what she hoped to achieve careerwise. 

“I shared that I was interested in leadership; I felt I had something to offer and enjoyed seeing others develop their potential. Being a part of that was something that made me feel fulfilled.”

 

The Climb Begins

Hood’s willingness to learn and accept greater responsibilities led to opportunities in multiple divisions, with each promotion providing a more diverse understanding of how the organization’s pieces connected. She received her Executive MBA during this era. 

Taking on the leadership for a wholly-owned company offered new challenges. 

“I had the chance to help shape the DNA of that organization through strong leadership, setting a vision and strategy so that they understood why we were doing the things we were doing and how there were great opportunities in the marketplace to make a contribution.”

Throughout, Hood followed a fundamental set of values that she credits as being instrumental in her current executive appointment and upon which she will rely in what she calls her next few chapters. They are:

  • Build a career board of directors: a coach who supports your aspirations, a mentor and confidante who understands the situation and can offer advice; and a sponsor—a co-worker with a senior title. Of this last, she said, “Most women don’t have sponsors—someone of authority who is advocating for you to be a part of the plan. 

  • Be intentional in your goals: “This meant identifying the things I have passion for and the career progression I want—and sharing this with others,” Hood explained.

  • Get comfortable with the uncomfortable: “It’s important to take risks,” she added, “otherwise you don’t have the ability to know your full potential. If you’re not taking risks you’re not willing to fail, and failure is how you learn.”

And the rewards Hood has gleaned are personal as well as professional.  She was elevated to President and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical effective January 1, 2020, following the retirement of predecessor Virginia Addicott.  Upon learning of her mother’s promotion, Hood’s eldest daughter asked, “Does that mean you’ve broken the glass ceiling?”  

Reflected Hood, “What that moment meant to me—with all the emotion of being proud to be the first African-American President and CEO of a FedEx company—it showed that my daughters’ saw that with hard work and purpose there are possibilities you can achieve even if no one has achieved them before you.”

 

Leading in Crises: COVID-19 and George Floyd

In the early days of her new role, the newly appointed leader sought to create an environment that encouraged communication. She established “Ramona Round Tables” to give team members a venue to share ideas.

Then came March 11, 2020—the day the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. It was followed two months later by the news of George Floyd, a black man whose death at the hands of four Minnesota police officers led to worldwide protests and racial social unrest across the US. 

The need to adapt to the pandemic and determine how an essential organization could continue to thrive in a never-before-seen environment guided Hood and a core team of cross-functional leaders. They refined and implemented a business continuity plan that allowed employees to work remotely. The move was successfully deployed within five days.  

The fallout from Floyd’s death presented other challenges: there was a tremendous emotional component for many on the FedEx team. In an organization-wide letter, Hood focused on the company’s values and urged healing. “This was a time for us to listen, learn and grow to help ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

During the months of disruption, Hood and her leadership team emphasized increased communication to the organization, which included sharing information about resources for those struggling with physical or emotional concerns.

 

Worthy of Recognition

Hood has enjoyed significant career acknowledgment within the FedEx organization and from external industry sources, among them Woman of Influence from the Women In Trucking Association, and the MEECO Leadership Institute with the International Thought Leader of Distinction Award, and serves on the boards for the Transportation Intermediaries Association and Walsh University.

Hood closed her webinar with a timely comment on the importance of leading even in uncertain times:

“The ability to pivot and address [unexpected] things is critical—to be who you are and show up during times of crisis. And to be authentic so the organization understands that at times leaders do not have the answers, but are listening and understand the challenges—this is the responsibility of action that goes beyond words.”

Looking for more inspirational stories to end 2020 with? Check out some of the other great educational resources from this year’s in.sight user conference + expo.