After a rewarding 30-year career as an executive for General Motors (GM), no one would have blamed Thomas (Tom) E. Kimble if he had just drifted into the sunset to enjoy the freedoms associated with retirement. Yet, for Kimble, his retirement actually meant having more time and freedom to help empower people and communities throughout Michigan.
Kimble now serves as state president of AARP Michigan. In this capacity, he is the lead volunteer in the state for the 1.4 million members. Nationwide, AARP has more than 37 million members.
Kimble is the key spokesperson for the state’s organization and serves as chair of AARP’s State Executive Council, an all-volunteer panel of leaders from various regions throughout Michigan. He, along with Jacqueline Morrison, AARP Michigan state director, takes on pertinent issues and initiatives that impact members in Michigan.
A veteran AARP volunteer, Kimble describes the organization as an outstanding nonprofit, nonpartisan entity that advocates on behalf of older individuals and communities by helping them navigate through issues such as health care, employment security and retirement planning. The organization also helps its members obtain high levels of products and services at discount prices. AARP has offices in all 50 states, including such other locations as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
For Kimble, it’s always about achieving the organization’s vision, mission and strategic priorities. “The key thing for me is to stay focused on AARP’s mission, which is to help people live with dignity and purpose as they age,” said Kimble, a Clarkston, Mich. resident who is eight months into a two-year term. “I feel that I was created for the sole purpose of better serving others and helping to empower them regardless of race, creed or color.”
Before retiring in the early 2000s, Kimble was vice chairman of the GM Foundation and director of the auto giant’s global philanthropic administration. He also held key positions with the corporation as a finance director and comptroller of several GM plants in the region. Kimble believes such executive positions helped prepare him for the success he enjoys with AARP. He points to such attributes as experience in leadership, visionary planning, overseeing fiscal operations, motivating people and building strong networks of people and organizations as major components of why he is able to empower others connected with AARP’s state membership. He also credits William (Bill) C. Brooks, former vice president at GM, with mentoring him and encouraging him to learn as much as possible about leadership.
Growing up in the projects of Dallas, Texas, Kimble never imagined that he would one day become a senior executive with a powerful corporation such as GM, or serve as president of a prominent advocacy organization. He grew up in the 1960s in a segregated community where he attended segregated schools. African-American role models representing major corporations were rare.
Yet, Kimble’s parents, members of the community, and his church instilled a “can do” mentality into the youth.
“I always had a great support system of people that saw great potential in me and gave me the values to excel even though I was raised in a low income inner-city community,” said Kimble. “My mother always told me to ‘live better best, never let it rest; make good better, and better best.’ So, I have always attempted to do better, even when I thought that I was doing pretty well.”
Initially, young Kimble had thoughts of becoming a minister because of the compassion he naturally had to help people. He later decided there were other ways in which to empower people to do better in life. After graduating from high school, he attended Bishop College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and financing. Subsequently, he went to UCLA where he received an MBA degree. While other companies showed great interest in hiring Kimble based on his education and potential as a professional, it was GM that offered him a career opportunity that he could not refuse. Thus, in 1972 Kimble joined GM as a junior accountant at its Pontiac truck division operations in Pontiac, Mich.
Now, 41 years later, Kimble continues to be a major force in Michigan. In addition to his presidency with AARP, he volunteers his time and talents with other organizations in the area. Over the years, he has served on several boards, inclusive of the Arts League of Michigan, Oakland Family Services, Hospice of Michigan, Oakland County Workforce Development, Baker College (Auburn Hills), and Oakland University College of Arts & Sciences.
While his work with AARP is with an older sector of the population, he often interfaces with young people, always ready to impart knowledge and wisdom.
“I tell all young people to work hard and have the tenacity to never give up,” said Kimble. “I tell them to never stop learning, never stop growing and to always be in control of their emotions.”