Who Is Michael L. Eskew?

Michael L. Eskew was the Chairman of the Board and CEO of United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) from 2002 to 2007. From 1998 to 2014, he served on the Board of Directors.

Key Takeaways

  • Michael L. Eskew is best known as the former CEO of United Parcel Service.
  • His biggest contribution to "Big Brown" was to diversify UPS's services and operations around data-driven logistics.
  • Eskew retired from UPS in 2007 and is currently a member of the board of several corporations including Eli Lilly & Co.

Michael L. Eskew Biography and Career

Michael L. Eskew was born in Vincennes, Indiana, on June 28, 1949. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University in 1972. He also completed the advanced management program at the Wharton School of Business.

Career at United Parcel Service

Eskew joined United Parcel Service (UPS) in 1972 as an industrial engineer manager. In 1994, he was named corporate vice president for industrial engineering and became group vice president for engineering in 1996; he was named executive vice president in 1999. The following year, he was named vice chairman and held this position prior to becoming CEO. He succeeded James P. Kelly as CEO and was succeeded by Scott Davis.

Synchronized Commerce

UPS's origin story is the stuff of legend: In 1907, 19-year-old James E. ("Jim") Casey, borrowed $100 to start a private messenger service in Seattle, Washington. During its more than a century of existence, UPS has at times been controversial. The company reportedly has fostered a culture of nearly military discipline from the beginning. Its brown delivery suits and trucks reflect the discipline and efficiency the company expects from its employees.

Eskew was named the group vice president of engineering in 1996, and under his direction, UPS invested heavily in technology to improve logistics. As said in Forbes in January 2000, "UPS used to be a trucking company with technology. Now it's a technology company with trucks."

In 1999, Eskew was made executive vice president. That expanded his responsibilities to include corporate strategic planning. Eskew doubled down on investment in technology and logistics including developing information services and internet commerce.

Eskew's objective was to create "synchronized commerce" where all of UPS's processes, from package delivery to inventory storage, would be synchronized so that each matched the others in perfect timing. Pickups were intended to be perfectly coordinated with space on trucks and in airplanes so the company would not have to invest time and space in warehousing overflows.

During the internet craze of the late '90s, this was seen as an intelligent move, and it proved to be so in the long term. as evidenced by the great expansion in the delivery logistics and services sector. After the company's spectacular IPO in November 1999, the stock price stagnated for three years but has grown steadily since, keeping track with the S&P 500. 

The Logistics Economy

Eskew's long-term bets only appear to have paid off after he left the company. The logistics economy has come under fire, however, in the last years of the 2010s as innovations in logistics and synchronization have added profits to corporations but have eroded the quality of work for employees.

UPS has also had a history of disputes with labor, including a strike by the Teamsters Union in 1997 when Eskew was with the company. Books like The Package King: A Rank and File History of United Parcel Service and The Big Brown Lie: United Parcel Service's War on Its Worker's and Their Making of a Radical Teamster Union Member detail how technocratic management instituted by Eskew led to disaffection in the ranks. 

Michael Eskew After UPS

Eskew has also been a board member of 3M Company, Eli Lilly and Company, The Allstate Corporation, and International Business Machines Corporation and a trustee of The UPS Foundation and The Annie E. Casey Foundation. In addition, he served on the Business Roundtable.