2019
Chandler
Photograph by Polina Osherov

Cummins' Mary Titsworth Chandler Is Fighting for 'A Good World That Is Getting Better'

Chandler talks promoting gender equality and the global work of the Cummins Foundation.

BY ANNE MOORE

Mary Titsworth Chandler, ’11, is vice president of corporate responsibility and community relations at power leader Cummins Inc., a $20 billion global company based in Columbus, Indiana, and CEO of the Cummins Foundation. Under her guidance, Cummins gave more than $20 million last year, including an $11 million worldwide initiative, Cummins Powers Women, to address gender inequity. “This is Cummins’s most ambitious community program,” she noted. “The time is now to advance women.”

To make the world a better place, Cummins’s 60,000 employees volunteer in local communities to help solve problems. I just got back from India, where we have a pilot project in Maharashtra to capture, redirect, and meter water. Water scarcity had led to failed farms and suicide. We’re also working with farmers to plant crops that use less water. This is a project that changes lives, and it’s scalable.

Employers around the world have trouble finding vocational skilled workers. At the same time there’s high unemployment among people lacking technical education and soft skills. TEC: Technical Education for Communities is a Cummins’s initiative I started in 2012. TEC educates and trains students to work for any employer who needs skilled workers. We have 22 schools in 14 countries; we’ve graduated nearly 300 students. We’ve focused on developing countries, but we also started a tech program in Memphis, Tennessee, bringing employers into schools.

Gender equality is my focus and passion. CEO Tom Linebarger and his leadership team are spearheading the Cummins Powers Women initiative. I guide their engagement and work with them directly on how to advance women and girls in our communities. Cummins partners with nonprofits with a proven record of advancing equality for women. We address the complex array of challenges facing women and girls, globally, with scaled solutions. In one year we reached 34,000 women and girls, and our nonprofit partners advanced 37 advocacy movements in three countries.

Impact is ferociously hard to measure in the work we do in our communities. We have no problem tracking spending and hours (our employees volunteered 375,000 hours in 2018), and it’s a little easier to measure environmental work because that’s scientific data. When we advocate for laws and policies that address equity and inclusion and see those passed, that’s progress. Our impact on graduation rates, racial justice, opportunity for those who need it most? That’s a lot harder to measure, but we keep swinging for the fences. 

At Booth I was inspired by the globalism and intelligence of students and teachers, by the social and economic problems that were being tackled. That dynamism motivated me to use my Booth education to make a difference on important issues that improve lives. I’ve lived in Indianapolis my whole life and had long been aware of Cummins’s commitment to equity and community prosperity. I thought we’d be a good fit and I was right. 

Solutions look a bit different in Nigeria than they do in Indiana, but the problems are common: the need for a clean and healthy environment, strong education systems, opportunities for advancement. I am so lucky to visit Cummins locations around the world, where I see the community work of our employees. I travel to Latin America, India, Europe, China, Africa, and the Middle East. In developing economies there are enormous opportunities for the advancement of women and girls. I’ve been engaged in making public policy for many years. I learned in Indianapolis how all communities can thrive.

Effective mentoring is a commitment that stretches over many years. I’m a leader because a handful of people took an active interest in my professional development over a long period of time. For it to work, mentoring must be brutally honest, clear, consistent. When I mentor women I tell them to work for firms and managers who are committed to a diverse and inclusive environment, who want to attract and retain talented women. Take risks. Be open and authentic. Get out of your chair, walk down the hall, and talk to someone instead of sending an email.


Take risks. Be open and authentic. Get out of your chair, walk down the hall, and talk to someone instead of sending an email.

Mary Titsworth Chandler

When I need advice I turn to my husband, Bryan. He level sets me. He works in commercial real estate and has a busy career of his own. He’s patient, calm, and funny. I could not have achieved what I have without his partnership. In 2009 I’d been a practicing attorney for 20 years and a stay-at-home mom for five. I needed a business education, and got into Booth’s Weekend MBA Program. Every weekend for three years, he took care of three small children. 

A favorite professor at Booth was Linda Ginzel, whose courses on negotiations, management, and leadership inform my career. When I graduated, she gave me Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women Become Leaders by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli. It’s still on my bedside table as a reminder of the challenges women face in business and how to meet those on the path to leadership. Also on my table is Ginzel’s latest book: Choosing Leadership: A Workbook.

To relax and recharge I try to get outside. I run and swim and ski. I’ve lived in the same community my whole life: I have a rich network of friends and family. I have my husband and my kids. English literature was my major in college and for many years I read only fiction. Now I read mostly nonfiction—I read David Brooks. I read about leadership.

The vitality at Booth reminded me of the house I grew up in. We were a family of mostly girls. All seven of us sat at our long kitchen table for dinner, to eat and talk, in open and honest conversation. It was a vibrant household full of dogs and music and laughter, my father’s gentle lessons on social justice, my mother’s ambition and drive for us. My belief that we live in a good world that is getting better is the manifestation of that beautiful upbringing.