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  Denise Palmer
Photo © James Kegley
Denise Palmer '80
Denise Palmer
Publisher charts venerable paper's future

By Carl Vogel

With 25 years at the Tribune Co. - the last three as president, publisher and CEO of The Baltimore Sun Denise Palmer knows the Kellogg School made a dramatic impact on her career.

A CPA and senior auditor at Coopers & Lybrand in Dayton, Ohio, Palmer wanted to attend a top management school to help her acquire the skills to succeed on the operational side of business. After moving to Chicago to attend the Kellogg part-time MBA program in 1980, she found a position at Tribune Co. as a corporate auditor. Soon, she began to climb the ranks, a journey that has included stints as finance director and station manager at WGN Radio, vice president/development, strategy and finance for the Chicago Tribune and president and CEO of ChicagoLand Television (CLTV), the region's news cable channel.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I think when I started at Kellogg that I would end up at The Baltimore Sun," says Palmer '84. "I cold-called companies looking for a job when we were going to move to Chicago, and Tribune was by far the most interesting. While at Kellogg, I got all the tools I needed to move to the business side. My degree was vital; I couldn't have competed to get the WGN job without it."

In her current role, both the editorial and business side of the operation report to Palmer. In addition to the paper's print edition, which is read by more than 1 million people each week, the Sun produces several community papers and a Web site. "While many of the [responsibilities] between my last job and this one are similar, the big difference is the size and complexity of the organizations CLTV had 125 employees; The Baltimore Sun has 1,500," she says.

The media world is undergoing tremendous transformation, and much of Palmer's job is charting the future of the 165-year-old paper. "I spend a lot of time thinking about what will give us the best advantage in the marketplace," she says. "I'm somewhat agnostic about how people get their news. I want us to have the best information, the best reporting in the region and individuals can decide how they want to get that information. Of course, the challenge is how to make money with these new outlets."

Palmer also serves on a number of boards and other organizations, including Northwestern University's Council of 100 Women, a group of female alumni from schools and departments across the university who mentor students and recent graduates, primarily women. Palmer recalls that, as an undergrad earning a bachelor's degree in business administration with an emphasis on accounting from the University of Dayton, gender disparity was obvious.

"There was sometimes only one other woman in my classes," she says.

By the time she enrolled at Kellogg, the classes were more balanced, which she sees as a good thing.

"When I entered business, there were not many women to look to as mentors. Graduates today come into a more diverse workforce, and I like to think that [this situation] makes it easier for women [to succeed]," she says.

Reflecting on her career, Palmer says that her Kellogg training emphasized strategic thinking to see all sides of a problem. These skills, and her experience in many different media and roles, have served her well. Her advice for today's students is to network extensively and acquire diverse perspectives through this interaction.

"When I talk to young women through the Council of 100, I tell them to reach out and make friends with other students not in their department," says Palmer. "You learn a lot about other disciplines, and you never know who will be an important contact later in your career."

Continue to Christina Ksoll '98

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©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University