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Tamara Barker: From delivery driver to company VP

The UPS chief sustainability officer and VP of environmental affairs and domestic plant engineering started off behind the wheel.

It was “game on” from the very beginning for Tamara Barker. “I recall the day that I went on a test ride with a human resources recruiter,” she related. “She explained that the job of a UPS package delivery driver was a very difficult one, where candidates would be required to drive large vehicles safely and deliver 300 to 400 packages a day. She questioned my stature and ability to do that.”

Not one to shy away from hard work or a challenge — something Barker said stems from growing up “getting my hands dirty whether it was working around horses or with friends who tinkered with race cars” — she began a 30-year career at UPS as a package delivery driver. But Barker didn’t last long in that role.

Tamara Barker of UPS.

“Once an engineering manager at UPS found out I had a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology, I was recruited into plant engineering,” Barker explained. “UPS is an engineering company that delivers packages. I believe the fundamentals of engineering, thought processes, strategic thinking, and innovation helped prepare me for a career in transportation with UPS.”

Over the years, Barker held the roles of facilities engineer, project manager, and vice president of plant engineering for the Southeast and West regions. Currently, she oversees the plant engineering function for all U.S. small package and freight facilities. “Plant engineering offered me the opportunity to be hands-on and to utilize engineering and management skills to lead a team that consistently seeks ways to be innovative, improve our systems, operate more efficiently, and of course sustainably,” Barker said.

Today, Barker’s team oversees a cross-functional Sustainability Leadership Council that establishes key performance indicators and goals for the company. She is also a member of the Corporate Sustainability Steering Committee, which includes four executives from the UPS Management Committee, the top tier of the company’s leadership structure. She is also active in outside sustainability initiatives, including Business for Social Responsibility, Georgia Nature Conservancy Trustee, the Nature Conservancy, and the Atlanta Sustainability Network.

Most valuable to Barker is what she called “an intangible trait—that burning in your gut that won’t ever let you give up so you always strive to be the best.” She added that it takes a strong sense of who you are and perseverance to be able to enjoy success.

“There have been challenges to overcome in a male-dominated industry, and I do believe that those challenges early on were far more common than they are today,” Barker said. “I encourage women to know who they are, know what they want, and have a plan to get there. Find your style of management and be confident.

“While I have seen more women in leadership roles over the years and it’s important to be at the table, it is far more important to have a voice that is heard,” Barker continued. “Once the voices and opinions of all are equally considered, regardless of gender, we will see changes in the industry. Work-life balance is also extremely important; however, you must take charge of the balance. It’s up to the individual to make that a priority.”

Now approaching the end of her career at UPS, Barker is looking forward to being a grandmother and as an avid outdoors person to actively volunteering.

“It was really by luck that I landed in this industry and at UPS,” Barker stated. “Transportation can be very complex and complicated, but with a great deal of common sense anyone can have a long and successful career.”

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