How I Made It: Noel Massie


The gig: Noel Massie is president of United Parcel Service’s Southern California District, which has 20,000 employees and serves 144,000 customers in the area that includes the Southland, Hawaii and the southern tip of Nevada. On top of being responsible for a typical budget of $190 million, Massie oversees every aspect of the district’s operation, including sales and customer relationships. Massie was installed as chair of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce this year.

Early days: Massie grew up in an integrated East Oakland neighborhood, where his appreciation for people with diverse backgrounds would later apply to his work at UPS. Massie attended Berkeley High School for its math and science curriculum. The proximity to UC Berkeley had a profound effect, increasing his determination to attend college.

Role models: His grandfather owned a barbershop where Massie pitched in as a boy, helping sweep up hair. Massie said he got his work ethic and sense of responsibility from his grandfather, who worked long hours and treated his customers with respect. Massie also had two working women to look up to: his mother and grandmother, who owned a beauty shop. Massie has supported issues relating to women in the workplace throughout his career. He was given the Man of the Year Award by the National Alliance of Women Business Owners in 2013. “I come from a family of strong women. I’m very aware of the differences [between men and women in a workplace] that are real and how women need to be supported differently in business.”


Company man: Massie began at UPS as a part-time truck loader in Oakland in 1977. He was studying electrical engineering at San Jose State and needed something that could provide spare change without costing too much study time. “It was a perfect job. I could finish college, and I was making four times minimum wage and only working four hours a day.” His bosses took notice of his work ethic and made him a supervisor within three months. Three years later — a semester before graduation — they offered Massie a full-time position as a manager. He’s had numerous job titles and promotions at UPS since, including manager of UPS’ Chicago district in 1997.

Big decision: An electrical engineering student, Massie landed a prestigious internship with IBM, working with engineers to develop a laser printer in 1977. But when the internship turned into 10- to 12-hour shifts, he began the search for a part-time job that brought him to UPS. As graduation neared, Massie accepted a position at Hewlett-Packard Co. to put his engineering education to use, but was lured back by UPS, even after accepting the job. “Working at IBM gave me a lens into what an analytical job would look like,” Massie said. “And I bounced that against what a career at UPS would look like. And leadership was more what I felt I was inclined to as well as the partnership.”

Road not taken: Had he not pursued a career with UPS, Massie thinks he would have worked in software design or engineering, perhaps ending up at Microsoft or Apple or running his own business. “If I wasn’t working for UPS I’d be working in Silicon Valley, because I’m an enterprising individual and those companies were the Google and Amazon of their day.”

Business advice: As a member of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Massie spends a lot of time with small businesses. His advice: 1) Get beyond your comfort zone. Know what you don’t know and find someone who has considerable expertise in that subject to help you. The best businesses always go into areas that are unconventional. 2) Be charming. Sometimes in networking it’s not about pitching your product or selling what is sure to be a great partnership. It’s just being warm and genuine. “If you’re talking to me about business and then you say, ‘What can you do for me?’ they lose me. It’s better when they say, ‘Here’s what I can do for you,’” Massie said.

Breaking barriers: This year, Massie became the first African American to chair the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in the organization’s 125-year history. “Like anything, every door’s gotta open once for others to go through.... I am honored they chose me.”

Personal: Massie lives in Yorba Linda with his wife, Amanda. They have two sons who are both in college. Massie is an avid musician who plays bass guitar and loves jazz and easy-listening music. His favorite activity is taking his Harley-Davidson motorcycle out for a ride on the California coastline.


Twitter: @james_barragan