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  Virginia Clarke '84
  Virginia Clarke '84

Alumni Profile: Virginia Clarke '84

Kellogg a 'second home' to diversity expert Virginia Clarke '84

By Chris Van Nostrand

"There's a difference between success and a person's highest or best use," says Kellogg School graduate Virginia "Ginny" Clarke '84. 

That perspective stems from her belief that while a person may rise to remarkable professional heights on ability alone, a more powerful approach involves using self-reflection to chart a unique — and rewarding — path. She says that knowing what you love and where your talent lies can lead to remarkable opportunities. "This should be an ongoing assessment," says Clarke. "You should continually step away from the expectations that others place on you to figure out who you truly are." 

Such insight has served the Kellogg graduate well in her own career, including in her current role as partner for Spencer Stuart, the international executive search firm, where she oversees its global diversity practice and is a member of the firm's financial officer practice. In fact, her personal and professional lives intersect frequently; she's often a speaker at the Kellogg School, where she discusses career management, and she is writing a new book with the working title You Choose. Clarke says the key lesson is that "anything you want is out there, but you need to create a vision and strategy for yourself. If you can't tell me exactly what it is that you want, then you're doing yourself a disservice, and I can't help you."

The process of keeping an open mind as the starting point for defining a clear career path follows Clarke's own Kellogg experience in the Full-Time MBA Program. "I came from a liberal arts background wanting to learn more about business, but I was very malleable. I had a clean slate and just began thinking 'what do I like and what am I good at?'" 

The answer was finance and accounting, which led to a stint in banking and then 10 years in commercial real estate. True to her philosophy, during a period of long reflection Clarke began evaluating her career and experiences to determine whether she wanted to remain in the industry or pursue other opportunities. In the end, she decided that she simply didn't love what she was doing. 

Drawing on her insights about what had motivated her in the past, Clarke realized that managing and recruiting talent had always been a central and rewarding aspect of her life, whether working on admissions committees as a student at Kellogg or recruiting people to her company. Acting on her belief that intuition and insight were her greatest strengths, she decided that becoming an executive search consultant could let her put her talents to work in a meaningful way. "Even then," says Clarke, "it was two and a half years from the time I had the concept to when I actually got the job. But that's the key – you have to approach the process thoughtfully."

As talent management and human resources emerge as key elements of corporate strategy, her own story serves as a reference point in consulting with her clients. "Demographic shifts demand that we know how to deal with fluid talent pools as they move around the world," says Clarke. As companies become increasingly diverse and global, they must become more attuned to the personal motivations driving every employee.  "To find the right fit between an individual and a company, we need to have more personal conversations with the candidate since there are more moving parts," she says. "I need to be aware of cultural and legal considerations, for example. In leading the diversity practice I tell my clients that they need to know how to ask the right questions of people who aren't necessarily like them."

The enormous constraints that Clarke finds in attracting the right candidates for a client — such as whether to take the risk of uprooting a family to follow a job — gives her an appreciation for the opportunity that Kellogg afforded her to take time and think about who she was before entering the workforce. "The school is a second home for me,"she says. "It was where I grew up after leaving my home state of California. I graduated when I was 26, so Kellogg has come to represent my home and my point of professional departure."

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