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Execs leave lasting legacy


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Two senior Cummins executives plan to retire April 1 after a combined nearly 40 years of service to the Columbus-based Fortune 500 company.

Jean Blackwell, executive vice president of corporate responsibility and chief executive officer of the Cummins Foundation, and Mark Gerstle, vice president of community affairs, made an impact on the company and their communities, from improving local education to changing the way Cummins shares its expertise with nonprofit organizations around the world.

Blackwell and Gerstle are members of the Cummins leadership team, which has 11 other members, including CEO Tom Linebarger.

Mark Levett, general manager and vice president of high horsepower, will fill both positions starting April 1.

“Jean and Mark have had an immeasurable impact on Cummins and were instrumental in the company’s transformation over the past 10 years,” Linebarger said in a Thursday news release. “Their leadership has also inspired many Cummins employees and greatly improved our communities.

“They have provided wise counsel to many Cummins leaders, passionately advocated for Cummins values, and consistently added insight and humor to our workplace,” Linebarger added.

Blackwell joined Cummins in 1997 and served in key positions including general counsel and chief financial officer.

Most recently, in her role as Cummins Foundation CEO, Blackwell implemented the company’s new community involvement strategy, which focuses on leveraging employees’ expertise on projects with long-term impact. Pushed by former Cummins CEO Tim Solso, the new approach allows Cummins to improve its communities across the globe, and ranges from building greenhouses for Developmental Services Inc. in Columbus to providing more high-efficiency cook stoves to Indian villagers, reducing pollution and increasing the health of villagers.

As part of those efforts, Blackwell oversaw “the largest increase in investment in communities around the globe,” the company said.

Blackwell, 58, lives in Indianapolis, and her community involvement includes The Mind Trust, Central Indiana Transit Task Force and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, where she serves as vice president of the board and recently received the Sablosky Mentor Award.

Darcey Palmer-Shultz, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, said Blackwell passionately supports the community’s youth.

“Through the support of Jean and Cummins Inc., our agency had the opportunity to conduct a Six Sigma project that has resulted in significant program enhancements and positive results for the boys and girls we serve,” Palmer-Shultz said via email.

“(Blackwell’s) commitment to helping those around her is also evident through her own personal service as a mentor,” she said. “I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside her on behalf of our community’s girls and boys.”

Gerstle, 57, who lives in Columbus, joined Cummins in 1988. His assignments have included general counsel, corporate secretary and chief risk officer.

In his role as vice president of community affairs, he was charged with increasing the company’s involvement in southern Indiana, focusing especially on education.

Gerstle served on boards of local universities, National Association of Manufacturers Institute and Columbus Economic Development Board.

Local education leaders lauded Gerstle’s passion for and dedication to local students. Gerstle helped establish the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Columbus, which is used by IUPUC, the Columbus/Franklin campus of Ivy Tech Community College and the Purdue College of Technology.

“He’s been a tremendous asset and a tremendous leader for the community,” said John Quick, superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Quick highlighted Gerstle’s efforts to expand early childhood education as one of many examples of Gerstle tacking tough challenges with a boundless energy.

Gerstle excelled at getting people together, removing the clutter and focusing on how to get things done, Quick said.

John Hogan, chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus and Franklin, said Gerstle has an immense spirit for helping others, especially students, succeed.

Hogan said Gerstle’s legacy locally certainly would include the iGrad program, through which volunteer tutors help at-risk students graduate from high school.

Gerstle typically deflects credit for the effort, Hogan said, but it would not have happened without his energy and vision.

“He’s one of a kind,” Hogan said.

Levett, who will take over the responsibilities of Blackwell and Gerstle, has had roles in Cummins including in finance, engineering and sales. Since he began heading the high horsepower business in 1999, global revenues in that division have increased by nearly 600 percent, the company said.

“Mark’s experience at Cummins has provided him with a truly global view and a deep understanding of our customers and markets,” Linebarger said. “Mark’s knowledge of the Cummins business and his skill and enthusiasm for coaching and developing people will serve him well in his new role.”

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