A Kellogg state of mind
|Photo © Callie Lipkin
Dean Sally Blount talks candidly about her research interests, fundraising philosophies and vision for the next generation of business leaders
Q Twice in your life, you've said "yes" to Kellogg — first as a graduate student and now as dean. What attracted you to Kellogg then and now?
A As a graduate student, I saw that Kellogg was a school on the move, crackling with energy and dynamism. Intellectually, it was a place where I could combine doctoral study in psychology and economics and explore those topics with some of the best minds in the country. Kellogg's unique approach helped me to find my intellectual voice. Personally, I also benefited tremendously from its distinctly collaborative and progressive faculty culture.
Now, as dean, I see in Kellogg a school that uniquely balances the study of markets with the study of management and truly embodies collaboration and innovation in research and education. It is a place that doesn't rest on past successes. It is a school that constantly strives to do and be more, to earn its reputation every day. It is a business school like no other.
Q As the new dean of Kellogg, what do you see as your primary responsibilities?
A At a fundamental level, my responsibility will be to push us all toward four principles that drive the success of any excellent academic institution:
1 World-class research — creating and communicating the knowledge that drives the understanding, practice and performance of managers and markets worldwide.
2 Outstanding teaching — designing and delivering the most innovative and rigorous educational experience available for graduate and executive students interested in the study of management and markets.
3 Vibrant community building — engaging our students, faculty and alumni as dedicated, deeply committed, lifelong members of the Kellogg community.
4 Reputation investment — establishing Kellogg as the premier management education institution in the world.
While this foundation is very consistent with what guided the great work of Deans Don Jacobs and Dipak Jain, the business context and economic environment in which these principles need to be applied is rapidly changing. It will be my role to help Kellogg re-envision research and management education for Kellogg's next century of greatness.
Q As a researcher, what areas of management and organizations do you find most compelling?
A I'm fundamentally intrigued by how and why people reach agreement. We're each so unique and different from each other; how we create ongoing harmony is an amazing process.
What interests me now is our limits to creating harmony — how we don't seem to be able to organize to the scale and complexity levels that we're currently living at, how difficult it is to build effective and resilient organizations in this complex political and economic environment, how difficult it is to find leaders who can move organizations forward productively. This leads to several important questions: How do we identify and educate leaders? How do we enable people to find their own path and develop their own distinctive voice? And how do we as a society support leaders so that they can be as effective as possible?
Q Your fundraising style is rooted in relationship-building. Please explain.
A In my mind, fundraising is about building relationships with people with a shared passion for an institution. It's about connecting their desire to give back to the needs of an institution. Sometimes that will be gifts of money, sometimes that will be gifts of time, and sometimes that will be gifts of resources. There are all kinds of ways that we can each help to make Kellogg stronger.
I loved fundraising at NYU. I can imagine how much more I'm going to love it at Kellogg, because I have an affinity for Kellogg independent of my experience as dean. You develop a passion for a school in your role as dean, and you often have a passion for a school because you went there. I've never had the opportunity to put these things together before.
The idea that I get to sit in a room, share my passion for Kellogg, learn about the people in the room and figure out how they can help move Kellogg's agenda forward is incredibly exciting and energizing.
Q How do you view business-school rankings?
A When viewed collectively, rankings are one signal of an institution's external brand strength and reputation. Several other metrics also speak to these, including the quality of our applicant pool and the strength of our faculty hiring. Kellogg has and continues to be strong on these components. To maintain and strengthen our reputation in the world, we need to keep striving every day toward greater excellence in the four principles I outlined above. If we do this right, the rest follows.
Q Please talk about the importance of global awareness in business education.
A If our job in academic institutions is to study the world as it is, globalism is an obvious fact. But you want globalism with local grounding. We don't want people to become a part of the global wandering elites, who never commit to a community. We want people who are grounded in a local culture and local set of values — because that's how you build relationships and social institutions — but who also understand how that local community is interconnected to the rest of the world. I don't want people to mistake globalism for simply having a broad and flexible world view. That's incredibly important. But the only way to build strong organizations and social institutions and cultivate new leaders is to be locally grounded with a global perspective.
Q What is your vision for management education?
When people ask me to start focusing on the MBA market, I understand what they mean and I understand that by nature I have to think about that — but I'm not in this field to be part of an MBA market. I'm in this field to help people build strong and resilient organizations and institutions that benefit society for generations to come. I'm in this field to educate the leaders of the next generation.
A As academics, we have the privilege of working in research universities, where our job is to step a bit apart from society and study it with a critical eye. Our job is to approach business — the dominant social institution of our age — as an engine and a force of change. What we need to be asking ourselves is, why are we doing what we're doing? What is the value we're bringing to society?