Leading Through Uncertain Times

Alumna Ramona Hood is steering her FedEx division in the midst of the pandemic and global protests over racial injustice

Ramona Hood standing behind a FedEx logo PHOTO: Mark Cardew – USA Today Network

Ramona Hood

Ramona Hood (MGT '16) was seven weeks into her job as president and CEO of FedEx Custom Criticala subsidiary that ships the most fragile and urgently needed goods across North Americawhen COVID-19 started interrupting business operations throughout the country.

During five intense days, she oversaw the move of nearly 1,000 employees from offices to their homes, where many managed round-the-clock shipments and tracked delivery-truck locations via satellites.

It was one more challenge successfully tackled by Hood, who started with the company as a 19-year-old receptionist. She took on more responsibilities during the following 28 years, demonstrating a keen ability to identify problems, propose solutions and surpass expectations.

"If we play life safe, we don't take risks," said Hood, the first Black CEO to head a FedEx subsidiary. "And if we stay in a very comfortable place, we don't grow, and we don't know the possibilities that are really out there."

Based in Green, Ohio, FedEx Custom Critical provides same-day or next-day delivery of tens of thousands of shipments annually, handling items that are delicate, expensive, temperature-sensitive, high-security, or require white-glove treatment.

Even before the pandemic, it was delivering essential hospital equipment and medicine, with other shipments ranging from new consumer electronics to a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known as the "Nation's T. rex" that traveled from Montana to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Zak Mattocks, the division's managing director of operations, said he and other colleagues predicted years ago that Hood would become CEO. "I saw the way she thinks, the way she operates, her ability to get buy-in and clarity," he said. "She's been successful at every responsibility that she's had."

Hood joined what was then Roberts Express in 1991. (FedEx bought the enterprise in 1998 and renamed it FedEx Custom Critical.)

A single mom with a 6-week-old daughter, Hood took the receptionist job for the regular schedule and flexibility to attend college at night.

She quickly saw ample opportunities for advancement. And after she was promoted to the safety department, Hood's new supervisor, Virginia Addicott, urged her to strategically pursue her aspirations. Addicott ultimately became CEO and remained a mentor to Hood.

Over time, Hood secured leadership roles throughout FedEx Custom Critical and another operating company, FedEx Supply Chain, to better understand areas from operations to sales and marketing. She also earned an Executive MBA at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management. "I was probably a senior manager when I started the program," she said. "And by the end of the program, I was applying for [vice presidential] positions."

At the Weatherhead School, Hood gained experience building consensus among classmates across different cultures, organizations and industries.

"Under Ramona's leadership," Mattocks said, "there's been a very, very concerted effort around building up a diverse leadership team and a diverse workforce, not only in terms of ethnicity and gender, but also in our ways of thinking."

Those skills became even more critical after the killing in May of George Floyd, whose horrifying last minutes were captured on videos that sparked global protests over police brutality. Hood hosted companywide town halls and encouraged "courageous conversations" about injustice, prejudice and privilege. "I am the mother of two Black young adults, and I want nothing more than for my kids not to be judged by the color of their skin," she wrote to employees as she urged more listening, learning and healing.

"The stronger you are as a leader, the more authentic you can be as yourself," Hood later explained. "And the compassion you can have for your team members in those particular times and situations are what will help you navigate through unprecedented environments."

— Janet H. Cho