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Meet 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient Thomas J. Falk ’80

Tom Falk was a key player in the company’s acquisition of Scott Paper, and also in the turnaround of European operations, achieving major efficiencies.

Thomas J. Falk ’80

Tom Falk grew up as the oldest of nine children in the Milwaukee area. After earning his UW accounting degree, he began his career with what is now Grant Thornton, and in 1983, he joined Kimberly-Clark, known for brands such as Kleenex, Huggies, Scott, Kotex, Cottonelle, and Depend.

The company sent him to Stanford to earn a master’s degree in management, and he steadily worked his way up the ladder, serving as chair of the board and CEO for 16 years before retiring at the end of 2019.

During Falk’s 36-year career, Kimberly-Clark’s total shareholder return outperformed the S&P 500, and he was instrumental in transforming the company into a global leader in consumer products. Over the years, Falk has garnered numerous accolades for his business acumen. Forbes magazine has described him as an “operations wiz,” and Barron’s said he was “a master of efficiency” who ended each day with an empty in-box.

Falk was a key player in the company’s acquisition of Scott Paper, and also in the turnaround of European operations, achieving major efficiencies. He was the chief architect of Kimberly-Clark’s global organizational structure and Go to Market initiatives, which saved more than $200 million in two years by reducing costs in the supply chain. Falk also led sustainability initiatives and increased gender diversity during his time at Kimberly-Clark. An avid reader, he made a habit of preparing an annual booklist so that his team could get to know him better.

Falk has served on the board of visitors for the UW’s business school and has been chair of the board for the UW Foundation. Falk and his wife, Karen ’80, have been generous with UW–Madison, supporting endowed faculty chairs and scholarships in both the School of Business and the School of Education, which Karen graduated from.

Falk serves on the boards of Lockheed Martin and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and as a national governor of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He also chaired the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’s 2013–14 fundraising campaign, and he and Karen chaired the 2019–20 campaign. They also made a generous gift to the organization’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund.

Falk says that the motto he has lived by is “Never stop learning.  Never stop being curious about the world around us and the people who live in it. They will teach you something new every day.”

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