As she celebrates her return to her 'intellectual home,' Kellogg Dean Sally Blount is hailed as the 'perfect choice' to prepare global leaders for the 21st century
By Rachel Farrell and Rebecca Lindell
Energy. Perspective. Experience. A demonstrated track record of visionary leadership.
||Dean Sally Blount All photos © Callie Lipkin
Sally Blount has been ascribed all those qualities and more, by those who have worked with her, learned from her, studied her accomplishments and consider themselves fortunate to have been led by her.
"Without her leadership, her innovation, her ideas, her passion, and her drive, we would be very different people," says Ben Funk, a student at New York University's Stern School of Business, where Blount served as dean of the undergraduate college. "There is the potential for greatness, something we have seen within Sally Blount and something, thanks to her, we can now strive for ourselves."
Carnegie Foundation Senior Scholar Thomas Ehrlich, who evaluated Blount's accomplishments at NYU as part of a three-year study, says that Blount is "among the nation's wisest leaders in the realm of business education; the perfect choice to help ensure that Kellogg graduates are prepared to serve the needs of both business and society."
Blount is a recognized curricular innovator and leader with a dynamic approach to management education in the 21st century. It is an approach rooted in a sophisticated understanding of markets and a profound appreciation of management — the human forces that drive economic behavior. It is a global approach that recognizes that decisions made on Wall Street have an indelible impact on businesses in China, villagers in India and entrepreneurs in South America. It is an approach that fully grasps the power and potential of business as the dominant force shaping society.
And it is an approach rooted in Blount's earliest experiences at Kellogg, where as an MBA student in 1988 she experienced the epiphany that was to guide her lifelong work.
Through a different lens
Blount had graduated from Princeton University in 1983 with a joint bachelor's degree in economics and engineering, and had spent several years as a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group and as director of finance and planning for interior architecture firm Eva Maddox Associates Inc. Like many of her peers, she pursued and achieved success, and she knew a Kellogg degree would expand her professional options. She recounts, "When I came to Kellogg in 1988, I saw a school that was on the move, crackling with energy and dynamism."
At Kellogg, Blount sought a lens through which to understand the forces driving the markets, a framework that would allow her to weave together her fascination with economics with her desire to understand the larger implications of management. She was driven by questions: "How does business shape society? How does each organization shape society? And how as an individual do I shape the organization that I'm in, in a way that affects how that organization shapes society?"
As a student in Professor Jennifer Chatman's class on organization behavior, Blount listened with growing excitement as Chatman outlined a field of study that blended economic and psychological models to explain human behavior. "I thought, 'This is so great,'" Blount recalls, smiling at the memory. "She was teaching what I'd been searching my whole life to learn."
From that moment on, Blount saw the world through a different lens. With Chatman's support, she transferred into Kellogg's Management & Organizations PhD program, which was in the thick of cutting-edge research on negotiations and decision-making. "It was there that I found my voice," Blount says. "Kellogg became my intellectual home, the place where I studied with the finest negotiations researchers and game theorists in the world."
More than 20 years later, Blount has found her way back home. On March 30, to the cheers of hundreds of students, faculty and staff in the Jacobs Center Atrium, Northwestern University Provost Daniel I. Linzer announced Blount's appointment as the school's next dean. "I can't wait to begin," Blount told the crowd.
Linzer cited Blount's combination of academic achievement and proven administrative experience at both the business school and university levels. "She is someone who has a demonstrable record as both a scholar and as a leader in the field of global business education," he observed.
In a letter to the NYU community, NYU President John Sexton echoed those sentiments. "It is always difficult to have someone so talented leave our midst," Sexton wrote, "particularly someone who has been so fully a friend and a partner in our academic ambitions — but we are, of course, delighted for Sally, as this is a proper recognition of her enormous gifts.
"Northwestern is very lucky."
'Meaning, meaning, meaning'
Over the past two decades, Blount has built a reputation as an authentic, dynamic and innovative leader.
As a researcher, Blount is fundamentally intrigued by the ways in which people come to agreement and drive organizational change. As an instructor, she takes a balanced approach to the study of both management and markets and believes that global awareness and social responsibility should be infused into the management curriculum. As an administrator, she understands that business schools have a core responsibility to contribute to the well-being of society — both by delivering research that's relevant and impactful, and by educating the next generation of global business leaders.
"In my mind, management is about meaning-making," she says. "Why are we creating this product? Why does it matter? I couldn't go someplace where I didn't believe in our mission. If you want to know what drives me," she says, leaning forward, "it's meaning, meaning, meaning."
Blount's commitment to those values was evident early in her career. As a doctoral student at Kellogg, Blount collaborated closely with her faculty advisers, professors Max Bazerman (now at Harvard Business School) and Maggie Neale (now at the Stanford Graduate School of Business), on several pioneering research papers. One of those studies, "Reversals of Preference in Allocation Decisions: Judging an Alternative Versus Choosing Among Alternatives" (Administrative Science Quarterly, June 1992) is considered the seminal study on preference reversal, now a well-known phenomenon in the field. She also worked with Bazerman on the second edition of his book, Judgment and Managerial Decision Making — a project to which she was "immensely dedicated," Bazerman recalls, noting that she delivered the last chapter of the book while en route to the hospital to deliver her first child (Blount is now the mother of three college-age children).
Through these experiences and others, Blount developed a keen appreciation of the power of research collaboration.
"I'm deeply aware that it's about the team and not about me," Blount says. "I'm also a big believer in organizational structure. No institution should be overly dependent on a single person."
Upon graduation in 1992, Blount was hired by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business as an assistant professor of behavioral science. For the next nine years, she taught in the MBA and Executive Education programs and was consistently ranked among the school's top professors. Outside the classroom, Blount published several dozen papers on negotiations and behavioral decision-making and won multiple academic awards, including two grants from the National Science Foundation.
In 2001, Blount joined the faculty at New York University's Stern School of Business as a professor of management, and taught courses in management, negotiations and ethics. There, she quickly ascended the academic ladder: In 2004, she was appointed dean of the undergraduate college and vice dean of the Stern School, and was also named the Abraham Gitlow Professor of Management and Organizations. Three years later, NYU President Sexton and Provost David McLaughlin appointed Blount special adviser for global academic integration.
"Stern was a dynamic place with a great deal of potential," Blount recalls. "Clearly, the school had established a solid curricular foundation, but there were opportunities for growth in the areas of global awareness and social responsibility."
To that end, Blount initiated several curricular innovations, including a required four-course social impact core and two global degree options. She also oversaw Stern's $40 million donor-funded renovation of its undergraduate campus and secured the undergraduate college's first-ever $15 million gift (see story, page 37).
"Sally is a shining star," says Ehrlich. "She led the effort to ensure that business education was not a self-contained focus on accounting, financing, marketing, management and so forth, but rather grappled with the ways in which business shapes society and society shapes business."
It was precisely that vision — of business as the "dominant social institution of our age, an engine and a force of change" — that drew the attention and ultimately the endorsement of the Kellogg Dean Search Committee.
"If you look at Sally's background, you can see her priorities: global awareness, business ethics, leadership," says Janice Eberly, the John L. and Helen Kellogg Professor of Finance and chair of the Dean Search Committee. "She has thought seriously about the future of management education and is intensely devoted to preparing for the landscape that lies ahead of us."
"She is incredibly committed, incredibly energetic, incredibly curious and incredibly principled," adds fellow search committee member J. Keith Murnighan, the Harold H. Hines Jr. Professor of Risk Management. "When you add those characteristics together, you have a human dynamo who is willing to take you right up the summit."
Kellogg's next century of greatness
Blount is certainly starting from a high point, following the notable legacies of Donald P. Jacobs, who completed his 26-year tenure as dean in 2001, and Dipak C. Jain, who led the school from 2001 to 2009.
Among his many accomplishments, Jacobs spearheaded the Executive MBA Program, built global alliances to establish Kellogg's international footprint and championed the "Kellogg culture" of collaboration. Jain, in turn, took further strides to expand Kellogg's global presence and brand and augmented the school's curricular offerings in entrepreneurship, leadership and social responsibility.
As she begins her deanship, Blount is eager to extend that heritage of excellence. Indeed, she spent the months prior to her official July 15 start date in a series of on- and off-campus meetings with many of her new constituents, including senior Kellogg staff and faculty, key student groups, the Dean's Advisory Board and other administrative units. During these meetings, Blount listened carefully to the needs and concerns expressed by the Kellogg community.
Bryan Law '10, immediate past president of the Kellogg Student Association and member of the Dean Search Committee, was among a group of students who met with Blount on April 15. During an hour-long session with KSA members, Blount "expressed that she wants student leadership at the table as we consider where Kellogg needs to go two, five, 10 years from now," Law says. "She really believes that the students have an important voice in the direction of the school."
Listening to and collaborating with others is central to Blount's leadership style, notes Murnighan. "She's not simply someone who wants to politicize and push an agenda," he explains. "She wants to know how things work, what's going to work best, why it's going to work best, and why we should support it. She is very much driven by values and knowledge. And that's not common for administrators."
Blount is also adept at building relationships. Members of the Dean Search Committee say that Blount's ability to connect with others was clear from the onset of their interactions with her: During her first meeting with the committee, Blount knew the name, title and background of every person
"We didn't even have to introduce ourselves," says Law.
Building on the best
True to her reputation as a relationship-builder, Blount has said she intends to spend her first months at Kellogg listening intently to her constituents. The concerns, hopes, ideas and insights that she will gather will be integral to her decisions in the coming era.
Kellogg's foundation, Blount asserts, is strong. The spirit of collaboration upon which Kellogg is based — "the fundamentally forward-looking, innovative, entrepreneurial willingness to take risks on behalf of the group" — will shine the way as the school prepares leaders for the 21st century.
"We're going to take the best of Kellogg," Blount promises, "and make it brighter and more vibrant than ever before."