Home Depot CFO follows father's legacy at Fed

When Carol Tomé was picked for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta board, “I was driving home pinching myself,” she said.

For Home Depot’s chief financial officer, the post is an honor but also something more.

Her father, a Wyoming banker, had been on the board of the Denver Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. When she told her dad about her appointment, one of his first questions was: How many father/daughter pairs had served the Fed?

It is so rare, said Jean Tate, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Fed, no one at the Board of Governors  office in Washington had heard of another pair.

The father-daughter legacy holds great meaning for Tomé. The Jackson Hole native once hoped to work in her father’s bank, but he sold it while she was still in college. Instead, she set out on a path that would lead her to become CFO of Atlanta’s largest publicly traded company and the nation’s fourth-largest retailer, a rare position for a woman to hold.

CFO Magazine’s research shows there were 44 female CFOs among the Fortune 500 in 2009. There were just 10 in 1995, the first year the magazine began tracking the statistic, said Editor-in-Chief Scott Leibs.

Now Tomé holds another rare title: chairman of the Atlanta Fed board.

She is one of only 36 “C-level” directors at Fed banks nationwide, and only nine of those are women, Tate said.

Tomé leads an impressive field of executive talent on the board of the Atlanta Fed: Delta CEO Richard Anderson, McKinsey & Co. Director Thomas Barkin, and Atlanta Housing Authority President and CEO Renée Glover, to name a few. Her term as chairman follows that of UPS Chief Executive Officer Scott Davis.

Dennis Lockhart, president and CEO of the bank, noted that all the directors are volunteers.

“This is public service for all of our board members, and it’s somewhat time-consuming, so they are doing it for the good of the country,” he said.

Said Tomé: “I’m a CFO and that’s my day job. But it’s a win-win to be able to bring back learning to Home Depot and to serve my country.”

The post carries as much gravitas as a slab of marble. In fact, this being the Fed, it involves a great deal of marble.  Tomé describes the imposing Midtown bank as “over the top.”

“You walk into the marble building, then down a long hallway into a board room where the directors’ names are set in nameplates made of marble,” she said. “I have a gavel I use to start the meeting. It’s very formal.”

Lockhart said Tomé runs a very good meeting: “She has a soft touch, and she moves the attention around to various people and draws out everyone and gets good comments from everyone.”

And she runs it on time, he said.

The Atlanta bank collects reams of data, but Lockhart said directors like Tomé “provide a little interesting wrinkle on how the world really works.”

He said that with unemployment very high, Tomé mentioned to the board that paint was selling well at stores. It turned out that people who were staying at home decided to use the time to paint the rooms they were sitting in, he said. She also noticed more sales of lawn mowers, as people cut the luxury of lawn service.

Tomé, 53, keeps a grueling schedule. She said May will be one of four months during the year when she will work seven days a week. (May brings the shareholder and annual meetings of Home Depot and UPS, plus she needs to close the books on Home Depot’s first quarter.)

Tomé described how she copes with her schedule during a recent speech to the Women in Leadership group at the Commerce Club.

That day she spoke to the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in the morning, the Commerce Club at lunch, had an afternoon meeting with Home Depot investors and a Fed dinner. On top of all that, her husband had company coming to town.

“I tend to rely on my gut a lot,” she said. “I try to be balanced in the moment. I de-clutter.”

That helps her to be present while grocery shopping with her husband of 25 years, Ramon Tomé.

“I focus in that moment and I do not over multi-task.”

While she is the one who balances the books at Home Depot and sets the retailer’s financial strategy (like when and how to borrow money), Tomé does not come off as a bean counter.

She is a snappy dresser with short hair and artsy glasses. She attends the opera and is on the board of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. She lives near Nancy Creek and loves to garden.

Lockhart said, “She is well above a bean counter. She’s a modern CFO of a top company, and has to be grounded in all types of information and knowledge.”

It’s that type of reputation that makes this question inevitable: Will Tomé be Home Depot’s next CEO?

Greg Balter, a retail analyst with Credit Suisse who has been covering Tomé since she was hired by Home Depot in 1995, believes she is a contender, along with Craig Menear, the executive vice president of merchandising.

He said that Tomé is the only senior executive who has lasted through all of the company’s CEOs, from founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank to the “infamous” Bob Nardelli and now Frank Blake.

“You get a sense of what Home Depot thinks of her if you look at the executive ranks,” Balter said. “There’s only one constant and that’s Carol. She holds her own in this company. You can tell Frank listens to her.”

But she is coy when asked whether she wants to be the top dog. She would not say she aspires to be CEO.

“I love leading people and making a difference. Of course, I would consider it,” she said. But no one, especially not her, thinks Blake, 60, is ready to step aside.

“We’d follow him off a cliff,” she said.

One thing she definitely eschewed was the CFO post at Bank of America. She said she was called about the job but wasn’t interested.

“Why leave the best CFO job in America?” she asked.

BIO BOX

Carol Tomé

Chief financial officer at Home Depot

Chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Age: 53

Hometown: Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Education: Bachelor’s in communication, University of Wyoming; MBA in finance, University of Denver

Career highlights: Joined Home Depot in 1995, promoted to CFO in 2001. Vice president and treasurer, Riverwood International Corp. (now Graphic Packaging International). Commercial lender, United Bank of Denver (now Wells Fargo). Director of banking, Johns Manville Corp.

Leadership: Director of Sandy Springs-based UPS; director of Atlanta Botanical Gardens; member of The Committee of 200.

Favorite book: “Let the Great World Spin,” by Colum McCann.

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