Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2002Kellogg School of Management
In DepthIn BriefFaculty NewsClass NotesClub NewsArchivesContactKellogg Homepage
Leadership in volatile times
The K Team
Sharing their knowledge
Kellogg School White House Connection
In memoriam: Harry Dreiser
Friends and partners
Address Update
Alumni Home
Submit News
Internal Site
Northwestern University
Kellogg Search
  Jennifer Franke '97
©2002 James Kegley Photography
"You're...working at the highest levels of government," says Jennifer Franke '97, the Kellogg School's most recent White House Fellow.

The Kellogg White House connection
Kellogg School culture is playing a part in Washington, D.C. Jennifer Franke ’97 is the latest Kellogg alum to win a White House Fellowship

By Rebecca Lindell

Imagine inviting virtually any high-profile member of government or business to an off-the-record private briefing, during which you pose questions on any topic under the sun.

Imagine they accept your invitation.

Imagine taking a year-long sabbatical from your career to serve as an adviser to a presidential appointee — the U.S. secretary of defense, say, or the attorney general. Your input on legislation and policy is valued and often implemented, even if you have no prior experience in government.

Imagine traveling the world with nearly a dozen other mid-career professionals, meeting with leaders of foreign governments and international corporations. Your chief goal is to learn as much as possible about the issues affecting these nations and their relationship to the United States. You take this knowledge home and recommend changes in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, based on your experiences.

Jennifer Franke ’97 isn’t dreaming about these kinds of opportunities. As a White House fellow, she’s living them.

Franke left a thriving Internet career in San Francisco in September to spend 12 months serving the George W. Bush administration. Her experiences thus far include all of the above — plus an insider’s view of the highest levels of government during one of the most dramatic periods of U.S. history.

“This really is a special experience — something I’d recommend to anyone,” Franke says. “The opportunity for personal and intellectual growth is enormous.”

An elite circle
The White House Fellowship program was created in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to give young professionals first-hand experience in government. Every year since then, each president has selected up to 19 people from a spectrum of industries to serve at the highest levels of the administration.

Franke is at least the third Kellogg alum to receive the honor. She follows in the footsteps of Jim O’Connor ’96, a 1998-99 fellow, and Chris Day ’85, who served from 1994-95. Two Kellogg School faculty members — Public/Nonprofit Program Director Don Haider and Adjunct Professor Anne Cohn Donnelly — are former White House fellows as well, as is Kellogg Advisory Board member John McCarter.

As alumni of the fellowship program, they belong to an elite circle that includes U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and numerous members of Congress. The program has paved the way for some stellar business careers as well, including those of Tom Johnson, former chairman and CEO of CNN, and Robert Haas, chairman of Levi Strauss.

The fellowships are awarded on a strictly non-partisan basis. Fellows are chosen on the basis of their professional achievements, leadership ability and proven commitment to public service. Franke, for example, was president of the General Management Association while at Kellogg. Prior to that, she taught neglected and abused children as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. At the time she applied for the fellowship, she was the director of marketing and partnerships for Embark, Inc., an Internet education portal.

O’Connor’s résumé also shines with accomplishment and service. After graduating from college, he worked in Africa for a year as a volunteer teacher. While at Kellogg he founded

Kellogg Corps, which over the past five years has sent hundreds of graduating students overseas for business-related community service in developing countries. He has also worked for the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and been an A.T. Kearney consultant. He is now managing director of Motorola Ventures, overseeing venture capital investments with strategic importance to the electronics firm.

  Chris Day '85
  © Nathan Mandell
Chris Day '85 recalls his White House tenure as a "life-changing experience."
Day, meanwhile, founded several teaching programs and served on the board of a Sears, Roebuck & Co. venture fund that invested in minority-owned companies. He had also been a director of marketing at Sears and had worked in corporate development for Tenneco Inc. He is now the managing director of Onyx Capital Ventures, an African-American-owned acquisition company that seeks to increase the number of minority-owned businesses.

“The community service component is critical,” Day says. “Most of the fellows haven’t just served on the board of a nonprofit — they’ve founded something, they’ve created something. These people’s profiles are rife with personal initiative.”

Achieving the chance to participate in the program is no small feat. Hundreds compete for the fellowships. Only 30 are chosen to participate in a four-day battery of interviews that Franke called “the most intense weekend I’ve ever experienced.”

The gantlet included a series of panels during which the program commissioners sought everything from Franke’s opinion on U.S./China relations to what she would say if she overheard the president making a racist remark.

“They really want to know who you are,” she says. “You’re going to be working at the highest levels of government, and they want to make sure you can hit the ground running.”

Once selected, each fellow is matched with a U.S. Cabinet member or senior White House staff member. Franke’s background in education and child development led the administration to team her with U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

As a presidential appointee to the Education Department, Franke is drafting and analyzing policy proposals, designing performance contracts for presidential appointees, and assisting the department with strategic planning. She is also putting her Internet experience to use, helping to create the administration’s Web site for its faith-based and community initiative program.

“I’ve been able to use my business background quite intensely,” Franke says, “and I’m learning how important good management is in government. You can have the best policy in the world, but if you can’t manage your organization to effect the policy and implement change, you aren’t going to get anywhere.”

Franke’s fellowship was just getting under way when the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 sent the nation reeling. Since then, she has had a front-row seat to the government’s war on terrorism. “It’s actually a great time to be here, because you see how well things are being handled,” she says. “The government wasn’t prepared for a strike of this magnitude, but it responded immediately. It’s amazing to see how all the different agencies are working together on this issue.”

“A life-changing experience”
Day served his fellowship during a less volatile time, but found his experience in Washington no less exciting. Appointed to work with U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, he spent his year focused on issues as varied as the Gaza peace process and a trade agreement with Morocco. He was astonished at first by the amount of responsibility thrust upon him, but rose to the challenge.

Prof. Haider with Paul O'Neill  
Prof. Donald Haider (L) with Paul O'Neill, deputy director for the Office of Management and Budget, circa 1976. O'Neill now serves as Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  
“One of the great things about this program is they took a guy like me — at 31 and with no experience in this area — and threw me into a position of responsibility for 22 countries,” he says. “I was the Clinton administration’s point person for trade and dispute resolution in the Middle East and Mediterranean. It was a life-changing experience.”

O’Connor was appointed to the Treasury Department, where he worked on e-commerce projects, community development and economic policy.

“It was an opportunity to learn leadership skills at the highest levels of government — and from the other fellows,” he recalls. “These people are at the highest levels of their fields — nonprofit, business, law, the military. We were all sharing, learning and developing together.”

Much of that camaraderie is built during study trips within the United States and overseas. This year’s fellows will travel to Ireland this summer with the Rhodes Scholars to meet with world leaders in a variety of industries; later they’ll go to Alaska to study environmental and energy issues.

It’s also fostered during roughly three off-the-record briefings each week. The fellows themselves select the guests; the speakers during Day’s term included the president, the vice president, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, every member of Cabinet and even actor and entrepreneur Bruce Willis.

“I probably spent most of the year kind of numb, because it doesn’t fully sink in until you’re out of the program that you’ve had these kinds of opportunities,” Day says. “You almost get jaded because you get such unprecedented access to people, and you think that’s what life is like. After you get out, you realize, ‘No way!’”

Haider, who served as a White House fellow from 1976 to 1977, believes Kellogg is a natural breeding ground for future White House fellows.

“Kellogg students are really well-rounded,” he says. “They’re leaders, they’re articulate, and most of them already have community service and volunteer work in their portfolios. The notion of ‘giving back’ has always been a part of the school’s culture.”

That’s important, because White House fellows are chosen in part on the basis of what they will make of their experience once it is over.

Franke is already thinking about where her contribution will be. Possibilities include working in the private sector to improve the lives of children, to perhaps running for public office herself someday.

“There’s a huge sense of responsibility that comes along with this,” she says. “It’s an incredible opportunity, but at some point I’m going to have to do something with it.

“In the end, it’s not really about me, but about how I use this experience.”

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University