Rumsey Encourages OEMs’ Patience Through the ‘Messy Middle’

The zero-emission transition includes optimized diesel technology, alternative fuels and battery electricity.

Rumsey and Ditoro during the podcast interview
Rumsey and Ditoro during the podcast interview

Right before Cummins CEO and President Jennifer Rumsey presented the keynote during the Green Truck Summit in March 2023, I was excited to have a few minutes to talk with her. Interestingly, when we talked, it was also Women in Construction Week and Women’s History Month.

We discussed her whirlwind seven months being president and CEO of Cummins, how Rumsey champions women in the industry, and previewed her keynote talking points. In her keynote, she called this period of transition we are in the “messy middle.” Learn more from this Q&A interview with Rumsey.

What has been the most exciting part of the last seven months as president and CEO of Cummins?

I was incredibly honored to become just Cummins’ seventh CEO in our over 100-year history, and it's been quite a whirlwind, I would say, the last seven months. For me, the most exciting part has been that my career has really been focused around three things: purpose, people and impact and shaped by [the question] “How do I use my skills and experiences towards something that really matters that has real purpose,” and doing that through leading people and thinking about the role that people play to have impact. It's what drew me to Cummins to start with, after starting my career working for a fuel cell technology company because I love our industry and the impact that our customers have on the world around us. So, as I became CEO, it was just an incredible opportunity to be out with our customers, with our employees talking about destination zero, which is Cummin’s strategy to decarbonize our industry and our business, and to hear from them, what they're excited about, what concerns they have, and really have the conversation that helps us get more clear-headed on where we need to go. And that was just, you know, really exciting for me to do.

Do you have any advice that you would give to other women who want to work in one of these technical fields?

Jennifer Rumsey and me before our interviewJennifer Rumsey and me before our interviewWell, there's tremendous opportunities. One of my focuses as a CEO, as I think about people, is the role our employees play in tackling some of the tough challenges and the innovation needs that we have. I have a strong view that we need to attract a diverse workforce and create an environment where everybody can contribute and reach their full potential. Women don't always see all the opportunities that are available to them, because you don't always see other women in some of those roles, especially in a construction industry or technical industry.

There's not always those role models. So, seeking role models, really understanding what motivates you and gets you excited, and not being afraid to try new and different things that you may not see others, doing, finding mentors. For me, the most influential people in my life were my mother and then two male mentors, John Wall, former chief technical officer for Cummins, and Tom Linebarger, the CEO before me. That really helped me also see what I could become and encouraged me. So, setting those big goals for yourself, really understanding and opening your mind to the possibilities, and then finding that supportive network of people that will help you reach higher than you might on your own.

Can you give us a brief preview of what you plan to talk about during your keynote today?

So, we're talking about really the technology transition that needs to happen in our industry, and Cummins’ view around what's required to do that and how we plan to use our entire business to help our customers succeed and make that transition. We have a strong view that we need to decarbonize our industry. We contribute meaningfully to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the world. And our industry is really important in driving the economy and keeping the world and many of the things that we all depend on running and successful. So how you do that in a way that is good for the environment, helps our customers businesses to be successful and continues to serve all our needs is really important.

And in that, we think the approach to that is to start today in really reducing CO2 and accelerating solutions that use engines. Cummins built 1.2 million engines last year. So, there’s a lot of engines going out into the field, ours and others, that will operate for many years. Decarbonize those and then also really focus on accelerating and innovating on some of the alternate technologies that will be necessary to reach zero and building the infrastructure to do that. So, I'll be talking more about what we think that looks like and what some of the challenges and opportunities are.

Those are a lot of the topics, major topics, that readers want to see and hear about in the magazine … the step changes, because you can't just, tomorrow, get rid of every diesel engine, right?

And you have you must do it in a phase step way. And the reality is, we can say construction, but there's a lot of different applications in the construction equipment or in the trucking business. So, there's not one solution that will work for all those applications today. So, Cummins is investing in a broad portfolio of technologies: engines, certainly, which we're pretty well known for. Also, we are a leading player in zero emissions technologies through our new power business and growing that business as well.

Where is your favorite place to travel for work and or trade shows?

I love that question. You know, it's a tricky one for me. I am the kind of person that likes change. So, I will say I enjoy going different places. My favorite place is where I have an opportunity to go out and actually see our product in use by a customer and even better if I can actually drive or operate the piece of equipment and experience that. But just seeing firsthand how our customers are using products, some of the environments in which they operate.

I will say from a trade show perspective, I have a bias towards CONEXPO because it was one of the first trade shows that I went to. I spent kind of the middle part of my career working in off highway. I remember going to my first CONEXPO. My youngest daughter was like nine months old, and she went with me along with grandma to help take care of her. Then the three years later, both my daughters were there. So, I have these great pictures of them sitting in excavators and wheel loaders. CONEXPO is amazing, to just see in one place all the different construction equipment that is there.

Is there anything else that our listeners should know about the work that Cummins is currently doing?

As I said, we believe that to decarbonize our industry, it includes both decarbonization of engine-based solutions, and we're investing in next generation engine platforms that will really be best-in-class in terms of efficiency, power and weight, and then also have fuel flexibility. We call them our fuel agnostic platforms.

In addition, we have the broadest portfolio of zero-emission technologies for commercial and industrial equipment. We may be less known for the battery electric vehicles that we have in operation in buses and trucks, fuel cell vehicles again, marine applications, and trains. And then we're also investing in electrolyzers for green hydrogen production. So, Cummins is transforming. We've done some acquisitions. We've made big investments, a record investment last year in R&D of $1.2 billion. The company is transforming along with our customers and their changing needs.

 Editor’s Note: Listen to the full podcast with Rumsey.