Pamela Carter has achieved success in the worlds of politics and business, serving today as a key leader at one Fortune 500 company in addition to sitting on the boards of two others.
But she considers her family her greatest accomplishment. Carter says she puts her husband Michael and their two children ahead of everything else.
“I have never really sought out any of these positions I have held,” says Carter, president of Cummins’ Distribution Business Unit, one of the four major business units at the global power leader. “I have been blessed to have many opportunities in my life and a wonderful family that supports me.”
Carter says her experience in both business and politics and her grounding in family not only make her a better leader at Cummins but also a better board director. Carter is on the board of Spectra Energy, a leader in natural gas infrastructure, where she chairs the Corporate Governance Committee and is a member of the Compensation Committee.
She also is a board member for the transportation giant CSX, where she serves on the Corporate Governance and the Public Affairs and Operations Committees. Up until last year, Carter served on the board of Meijer, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer that operates 197 supercenters and grocery stores throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.
“The most effective leaders I’ve worked with have a broad background that helps them see the big picture and a natural curiosity to learn everything they can about the world around them,” said Carter, who recently received the Aiming High award from Legal Momentum, the nation’s oldest legal defense and education fund dedicated to advancing the rights of all women and girls.
“Our longtime CEO at Cummins J. Irwin Miller studied Greek and Latin at Yale and philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford,” she added. “Mr. Miller had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and wasn’t afraid to ask a lot of questions. He ended up leading our company for more than 40 years and the wisdom of his leadership is still felt today.”
Family has always played an important role in Carter’s life, instilling in her as a young girl a sense of purpose and a commitment to excellence that helped her become the first African American woman elected a state attorney general in the United States.
Her father was the owner of a successful janitorial service while she was growing up. Carter’s mother was a reading and math specialist teaching in the public schools. Together they raised three daughters, Pamela being the oldest, to believe in the importance of family, faith, education, social justice and community service.
An early interest in the law was instilled initially by her paternal grandfather. The son of a slave and orphaned at 14, he studied and loved law. Pamela was frequently quoted provisions of the Blackstone Commentaries on English common law by her grandfather who shared much about the law with her.
Carter began blazing trails early in life, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while still a teenager. She remembers being initially frightened by the angry mob that lined the streets in Chicago as she marched with Dr. King. But she experienced a transcendence of that fear as she thought about the importance of the cause she was supporting.
Carter seemed headed toward a life of public service after that, eventually obtaining her master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan in 1973 and then her law degree from Indiana University in 1984.
She first practiced law in the private sector as a litigator. Her litigation skills eventually led her to then Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh’s staff where she served as his Deputy Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant for Health Policy and Human Services, which constituted about two-thirds of the state budget.
After four years on the governor’s staff, Carter left government and was working for one of the largest law firms in Indianapolis when she was recruited to run for Attorney General.
She became Indiana’s first African American Attorney General in 1993 and the first African American woman ever elected to that post in the United States. She had a successful four years as Attorney General, winning all four U.S. Supreme Court cases her office was involved in. She also oversaw the Mike Tyson sexual assault case at the appellate level which resulted in his imprisonment.
Carter then left the Attorney General’s office and in 1997 was recruited to Cummins as Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary – the first African American woman to become general counsel at a Fortune 500 company.
In 2000, she was promoted to the position of General Manager for the Fleetguard division at Cummins Engines. In that position, she was responsible for operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She and her family moved to Belgium. A string of promotions followed, including: Vice President – Global Sales, Marketing, 2001-2004; Vice President – Fleetguard, 2004-2005, and President – Cummins Filtration, 2005-2007.
In 2007, Carter became the President of Cummins Distribution. She is the first woman to lead one of Cummins four largest business units. She oversees a profitable business with a presence in 190 countries and territories, operating in 21 market segments with 13,000 employees.
“Cummins embodies core values, high standards, significant innovation, and superior products and emphasizes environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility,” Carter says. “That is the reason I came to Cummins and remain at Cummins. It speaks to my values. I’m dedicated to Cummins and its success. I love Cummins.”