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Milestone Award Winner CEO of the Year: Former W. L. Gore CEO Terri Kelly

Katie Tabeling
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When Terri Kelly first entered the job market in the early 1980s, a degree in mechanical engineering from University of Delaware in hand, DuPont was the big company on the market. Instead, she opted to go for a smaller company at the time to give herself better options to explore her new career.

Terri Kelly. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NEMOURS FOUNDATION

Terri Kelly. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NEMOURS FOUNDATION

So she went to work at W. L. Gore & Associates where she would find herself sitting behind a drafting board.

“I realized I would have gotten very bored very quickly,” Kelly told the Delaware Business Times. “So I was fortunate to be able to gravitate to process engineering where I really had that connection of making stuff that had connections with the customer. I spent the better part of my career working to integrate all the different functions of products.”

Over the course of her 35 years with W. L. Gore & Associates, Kelly had worked on selling waterproof fabric Gore-Tex to the U.S. Department of Defense for uniforms, sparking a global business that eventually stretched to NATO countries.

“That was one of my first babies,” Kelly said with a laugh. “I was the specialist and then it was one product that lends itself to a whole portfolio. It was almost like a stepping stone from there.”

Kelly was later tapped for the leadership team for Gore’s global Fabrics Division where she worked on products like consumer fabrics, firefighter gear and health care products. In this role, she helped establish a fabrics manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China, the company’s first fabrics plant in Asia.

Around 2005, hundreds of Gore associates were asked who should step up as the company’s next leader when Charles Carroll decided to retire – Kelly was on the short list. By the time she stepped up, the company had 10,000 associates with over 45 manufacturing and sales locations.

“I’ve tried to be very thoughtful about the kind of leader I want to be. I’ve found the CEO role is more about architecting an environment to empower teams that are on the cutting edge of finding new applications for products,” she said. “It’s about putting the right checks and balances and making sure there’s the right clarity on our message. When you have that and everyone is aligned, you’ll find the other parts of business go much more smoothly.”

Since Kelly retired from Gore in 2018, she continued her work on the University of Delaware Board of Trustees and was named chair in 2022. She also serves on the board of United Rentals, the largest global supplier of rental equipment in the world, as well as ASML Holding N.V., a semiconductor company that focuses on lithography equipment. She is also a trustee of The Nemours Foundation which manages a $9 billion endowment.

“As I’ve stepped down from being an active CEO, I feel like I’m more on my time. I make a conscious choice about what I’m involved in and I love it. I have to be engaged, no matter what I’m doing,” she added.

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