A leader for the 21st century
Dean Sally Blount reflects on her first months in office, her experiences with alumni and what’s next for global management education
By Rebecca Lindell
|Photo © Chris Guillen|
Q: You’ve spent a great deal of time meeting with fellow alumni since you began your tenure as dean in July. What has that experience been like?
Our 50,000 alumni are doing amazing things all over the world, and it has been incredible to have a window on that breadth. Over the course of my first months as dean, I’ve been honored to connect with nearly 2,000 alumni in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Boston, New York, Chicago (see page 3) and London (see page 4). I’ve been sitting in some of the top investment banking and private equity firms with our alums, and meeting the CEOs of companies like QVC, Target and DuPont — all of whom are Kellogg graduates. Seeing that range of accomplishment among our alumni has catalyzed me even more to appreciate the breadth that is Kellogg. We are marketing, we are finance, we are management, we are path-breaking leaders on social issues — we do all of those things, in ways that are shaping and changing communities and the world.
Q: What sort of common themes and concerns have alumni been expressing?
One common question is, how do we continue to build the Kellogg brand? We’ve all had phenomenal experiences here as students and we all know how Kellogg has changed our lives. This school made us better leaders, better managers and better team builders, and as a result everyone wants the world to know more about Kellogg, because we each believe in it so deeply. We’re going to have to work together to prioritize as we invest in brand-building and determine where we do that strategically.
Q: What do you think is the best way to build and leverage the alumni network?
Many alumni have asked how I plan to strengthen our alumni network over the years to come. And I answer, “With your help ....” You see, in my mind, the heart of the network is not club events, software systems, or even good parties. While these things all matter, the heart of the network is the relationships that we individually build with each other. In this sense, it truly can only be as strong as the sum of the parts. So to build a more robust Kellogg network, we each need to invest in building our own piece of it — we each need to expand and deepen our “purple” ties.
Fostering these ties is vitally important to me as dean and as a graduate of the school. The key thing for all of us to remember is that it’s not a matter of waiting for Kellogg to come to you. It’s a question of you reaching outward — and inward —to keep Kellogg strong.
Q: You talked about beginning your tenure as dean with a “listening phase.” What are some of the early takeaways?
I’ve been using this listening phase as a generative and reflective process. What is emerging is an agenda for how we’re going to engage our efforts over the next six, 12 and 18 months.
We’ve spent a lot of time reevaluating the proposed site for the new Kellogg building (see page 5). The new site will be more proximal to the Allen Center and will allow us to have a true business campus in Evanston. We’ve also conducted a comprehensive global audit to assess our international activities and assets, which will help inform our global approach moving forward.
We’re in the process of hiring a senior administrator to oversee all MBA programs and drive greater coherence across them. The goal is to assure that from the moment prospective students touch our website to when they graduate and become young alums, that they have a cohesive and high-quality experience.
In the late spring of 2011, we’ll start a strategic planning process around some of the themes we’re beginning to hear about this incredible balance that is Kellogg. Kellogg is a marketing school, Kellogg is better at creating a culture of innovation and teamwork than any other school, but in addition to those things, we have an incredible intellectual richness in our ability to balance the study of markets and the study of management, and we believe that will become even more important in the 21st century. So we’re going to design a strategic planning process that really thinks about how to leverage those themes going forward.
And I think we have to take even more seriously the role of public discourse. Too many people simply don’t understand, or have forgotten, that the practice of business has the power to do so much good when properly directed. At its core, business is about identifying and empowering the ideas that unify human action and facilitate the flow of progress over time. Management is about the task of building strong organizations around those big ideas, that common purpose, and bringing increased value to humankind in doing so. And this is a mighty task — but one that Kellogg, which has such a strong heritage of collaboration and innovation, has a powerful role to play in defining.
Q: You’ve said that “thinking about how to truly globalize U.S. business schools is one of the most interesting aspects of my job.” Can you talk about some of the emerging ideas and possibilities?
The biggest conceptual challenge in my mind is how to globalize not just the student classroom experience—which we’ve got pretty good models for—but also the faculty research and teaching experience in ways that are affordable and effective.
In my former job, where I did a lot of work at the university and college levels on global strategy, I spent time talking to partners in different management consulting and other professional-service firms that were known for their broad, global footprint. I wanted to learn what strategies they were employing to break down the organizational silos between their different national practices around the world. In those conversations, every one of the partners conceded that there is no perfect solution and that all of the answers are expensive to execute. There’s a lot of flying of people around the world to meet and talk — time that’s not “billable,” so to speak.
The bottom line is that globalization imposes a significant cost on expert-knowledge-based entities to execute effectively. While the benefits of taking on that cost cannot always be easily measured, we won’t let the challenges stop us from moving forward. There are huge intellectual benefits to be gained for humankind that make this exploration absolutely worthwhile and exciting. I look forward to many robust discussions over the coming years as we determine Kellogg’s global play for the 21st century.
You’ve talked about the need for leaders to be “locally grounded and globally attuned.” Please explain.
As a leader and manager, you have to be aware of the community you live in and understand how it fits within the global context. The decisions you make have ripple effects, depending on the links between your community and the world beyond. Because to solve global problems like pollution or decay in modern cities, you need people who are invested in local communities.
That local grounding can be part of a virtual community too. It may mean that you represent a group of scholars around the world who come together on certain issues, or a policy community that has a particular concern. But the whole point is that there is a group of people who care about change and relationships and enduring values that you attach yourself to — and that you decide to make a difference within that group. Because it’s the community that we live in on a day-to-day basis that gives life meaning and value.
Q: What’s most exciting for you and Kellogg as you look ahead?
The world needs institutions committed to building leaders with a balanced approach to markets and management, and to developing tomorrow’s organization builders. It’s only through building effective organizations that we move markets, change lives, grow jobs. I am so invigorated by Kellogg’s unique ability to deliver that kind of research and teaching, because of our rich intellectual heritage and our team orientation.
I’m delighted that I’m the dean at this moment in time and that this is my leg of the race. It’s on my watch that we get to create the architecture for Kellogg’s global strategy that will guide us over the next several decades. I can’t imagine a more exciting place to be in business education.
To learn more about Sally Blount’s perspectives and reflections during her first months as dean, visit her blog: kellogg.northwestern.edu/Dean_Blount/