UPS looks within for next CEO

UPS said Chief Operating Officer David Abney will become the shipping giant’s new chief executive officer Sept. 1, succeeding Scott Davis, who is retiring after seven years at the wheel.

Abney takes over as Sandy Springs-based UPS engineers a comeback from holiday shipping woes last Christmas, faces potential competition from big retailers including Amazon that might offer their own shipping options, and pursues further international expansion.

The promotion of Abney, 58, tracks with UPS’s history of grooming top executives within the ranks. He started at UPS in 1974 as a part-time package loader and has spent his entire career with the company or subsidiaries.

Before being named COO, Abney was president of UPS International, where he oversaw several global acquisitions. He also was president of UPS unit SonicAir, a same-day delivery service in service parts logistics.

In an interview, Abney said UPS will focus on growing its international presence, adding that “nowhere is the world changing more than in emerging markets.”

He also said the company will also accelerate use of technology, such as its My Choice service giving customers the option to pay a fee to reroute packages to a UPS store or other address.

Davis, 62, will remain on the board of directors as non-executive chairman.

During Davis’s tenure UPS grew internationally and saw annual revenue rise from $49.7 billion to $55.4 billion. But the company has had setbacks in the last couple of years, including the failed attempt to acquire Dutch delivery company TNT Express and the holiday delivery snafus of 2013.

Abney said the company put together a focused plan to handle the peak holiday season this December, and “we’ve had everyone dedicated [to it] since then.”

Abney’s promotion is part of UPS’s regimented approach to succession planning, in a culture that prizes internal promotion. Most UPS CEOs have spent their careers at the company, though Davis joined through UPS’s acquisition of an Oregon technology company he ran.

Davis said the company brought in a consultant several years ago to review internal candidates, with several considered.

Looking at the competitive landscape as retailers including Amazon test their own delivery systems, Abney called them “valuable customers” and said “they’re going to see there’s a lot more value in using UPS than going other routes.”

Davis said UPS has developed its network over 100 years, “and it’s very difficult to replicate in a short period of time.”

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