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  Wendy Lewis
  © Nathan Mandell
Wendy Lewis '95

Going to bat for Kellogg

by Rebecca Lindell

Wendy Lewis rarely misses a chance to sing the Kellogg School's praises.

Whether it is as a speaker at the Black Management Association's annual conference or as a panelist discussing the economics of sports, Lewis is there, sharing her perspectives as an enthusiastic Kellogg alum.

For Lewis, it's all part of giving back to an institution she feels changed her life.

"This might sound like a commercial, but I'm not trying to sell anything," Lewis says. "My time at Kellogg was one of the most extraordinary times in my life. I'm very proud of being selected to go there, to have graduated from there, and to have the experiences and relationships I gained there."

Talking up the merits of the school, particularly to prospective students deciding between Kellogg and another MBA program, is one way for Lewis to say thanks.

"I don't think it's fair to get extremely blessed and not do something about it," Lewis says.

It's not as if Lewis doesn't have enough to keep her busy. She is the vice president of strategic planning for recruitment and diversity for Major League Baseball. Under Lewis, the organization has brought more than $250 million in baseball contracts to certified minority and female-owned businesses. These include marketing and public relations firms, legal services, maintenance, transportation and catering companies, and others.

Lewis has received numerous honors for her achievements, including the Legends Award from the Black Women in Sports Foundation, the Pioneer Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Sports Executive of the Year award from Rainbow/Push. In 2003, The Network Journal named her one of the 25 most influential black women in business.

In 2002, Kellogg bestowed its own honor on Lewis: the Schaffner Award, in recognition of her outstanding professional achievements and service to the school.

A career in professional sports was not one Lewis had imagined while growing up in a close-knit family in Milwaukee. A psychology major at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh, Lewis was the personnel coordinator for Lutheran Child and Family Services before joining the Chicago Tribune as an employment specialist in 1981. In 1987, she moved to the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs to be the ball club's manager of human resources. Two years later, she became the Cubs' director of human resources.

While investigating educational opportunities for Cubs executives, Lewis learned about the Kellogg Executive Master's Program. When the senior manager who was to be the organization's first Kellogg enrollee opted out, Lewis jumped to fill the position. "I knew an advanced education from Kellogg would be an invaluable professional asset," Lewis says.

Attending Kellogg while working full-time for the Cubs and raising three daughters as a single parent was daunting. "To tell you the truth, I didn't think I was going to make it," Lewis recalls. The assistance of her daughters — who became "extremely self-sufficient" and even helped Lewis bone up on calculus — proved critical to her success.

Shortly before she graduated, she moved up to Major League Baseball's New York headquarters and increasingly high-profile human resources roles.

Today, Lewis considers it an honor to speak to groups on behalf of Kellogg. "One of the school's attractions is its richness and diversity," she says, adding that she sees herself as an embodiment of those qualities. "I have dreadlocks; I'm not conventional. If someone is talking about women in business, mine is not the image they are going to come up with."

That is something the Kellogg School is hoping to change.

"From a recruitment standpoint, people need to know Kellogg is looking at all backgrounds and all institutions," Lewis says. "I want to help manage the brand."

That she does, sharing her enthusiasm for Kellogg at workshops, panels and events in New York, Chicago and at ball clubs around the country.

"If you want something done, ask a busy person. That's absolutely the case with Wendy," says Jim Corboy, director of Kellogg alumni relations. Indeed, Corboy often asks Lewis to share her experience and insights at Kellogg events. Lewis, he says, rarely refuses.

Corboy recalls one week when he saw her at three different Kellogg-sponsored events in three different cities.

"In her position at Major League Baseball, she could easily go in a thousand different directions," Corboy says. "But this is a person who makes it a priority to put Kellogg on her schedule."

Not that there's a lot of room in that schedule for additional activities. After one particularly busy period, Lewis jokingly implored Kellogg administrators to put her on hiatus. "You've got to give me a break," she recalls saying. "'I'm swamped.'"

"'We're not going to give you a break,'" was the half-serious reply. "'You've been coming to everything we sign you up for!'"

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©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University