CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ramona Hood was a 19-year-old single mother when she started as a receptionist at what is now FedEx Custom Critical in Green. Nearly three decades later, she is president and chief executive officer of the subsidiary.
“I wasn’t thinking this was going to be my career and I'd be here for 28 years,” she said. “I was a young mother. I wanted a job that had a stable shift that would allow me to do (college) courses as appropriate.”
Talent, grit and hard work have all played a role in Hood’s becoming the first African American to head a FedEx subsidiary in the company’s 47-year history, when she assumed her duties in January.
Mentors also were crucial in her rare career path from receptionist to CEO of the 600-employee subsidiary, which focuses on business clients, such as wholesalers, hospitals and retailers, she said during a presentation at a Mentoring Monday event on Feb. 24 at Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro Campus.
About 300 registered for the local event, one of many held throughout the United States, to stress the importance that mentoring plays in women achieving career goals. Many attendees, like Mercedes Prodan, were younger women seeking professional advice and inspiration. The executive assistant, who sees herself rising through the ranks at PRADCO, the human resource consulting firm where she works, listened attentively as Hood told how she climbed the corporate ladder with the direction of advocates.
Hood explained how she consistently sought the advice and guidance of mentors. In an industry dominated by white men, Hood frequently was a trailblazer in terms of race or gender, and sometimes both. She recounted how seeking the support of Virginia Addicott, who retired as president and CEO in December, was crucial to her ascent. Hood recalled how she was the only African American on the executive leadership team several years ago.
“For whatever reason, I started to have issues with being the only African American,” she said. “I got the whole head trash, ‘Am I worthy? Did I deserve the seat I’m seating in?’”
Hood said she shared such thoughts with then CEO Addicott, who told Hood, “I’m a woman, but I don’t know what it means to be an African American person.” Still, she was confident she could help her mentee. About a month later, she scheduled a meeting between Hood and some African American female executives, including one who owns her own marketing company.
“I had nothing to do with marketing, but it was a way for her [Addicott] to connect me with someone at a high level, who looked like me,” Hood said, adding that she gained a new mentor and friend from the introduction.
"It is that level of intentionality that you have to have,” she said. Hood seeks to head the subsidiary in the same spirit of being deliberate about diversity.
“I know what I need to do to move the organization further ahead is be even more intentional,” she said. “I now have a team that has no women on it. I have one African American man. As I add positions to the team, I need to focus on the diversity I’m talking about.”
Hood felt comfortable confiding in Addicott. When she met her, Hood had little work experience and no college degree. Hood would later earn an undergraduate degree from Walsh University and an Executive MBA from Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management while working at FedEx. But the young woman had already shown promise, including taking the initiative to cross-train and fill-in on other jobs. Early on it was evident Hood had a “good strategic mind,” wasn’t “afraid to tackle hard things” and took “100% accountability for the outcome of the work,” Addicott said.
“People come into your work life and sometimes you just see things in them,” said Addicott. "It is very clear that the person has the ability, the aptitude to do these things, but they hadn’t been graced with the opportunity. Ramona was one of those people.
“I’ve had great people in my life who have put me into jobs, where other people would have said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” Addicott said. “She doesn’t have this. She doesn’t have that. But they (supporters) still believed in me.”
She said mentoring is one way she pays it forward. Hood has done the same.
Kelli Thomas, now a FedEx supervisor in operations, had admired Hood’s leadership style, which she describes as “very assertive,” from a far. She wanted Hood to be her mentor but thought Hood would be too busy. Thomas finally got up the nerve to send an email making the request.
“And I got the email back saying, ‘Absolutely,’” she said.
For more than seven years, Hood has mentored Thomas. For example, Hood has helped her make connections to learn more about the financial side of the business, often required to move into senior management.
“One of the big things she has done is to get me out of my comfort zone and to be open to taking risks,” Thomas said. “She’s encouraged me to have a strategic plan (for my career) and to be agile in that plan.”
Hood told event goers that they would need a “personal board of directors,” which not only include mentors, but other supporters she terms “coaches” and “sponsors.” Coaches have helped her hone skills by understanding “what my strengths are, my liabilities are, even (what) my blind spots are.” Hood describes sponsors as employees with “authority and a title much higher than yours,” who can advocate for you. She said sponsors became increasingly important as she moved into management.