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Transition at the top

After 26 years, Kellogg selects a new dean from within the school’s ranks. Dipak C. Jain explains how his leadership will balance continuity with change to build Kellogg’s brand and academic reputation globally

By Matt Golosinski

7/1/2001 -

Kellogg’s new dean, Dipak Jain, cannot escape the telephone this afternoon in the lobby of the James L. Allen Center. A quick call to his assistant leads to a second conversation. As soon as that call concludes, Jain punches in another set of numbers , then another, launching a sequence that ends 20 minutes later. These calls are all business and Jain handles them deftly, but with the congeniality that marks the dean’s gracious demeanor toward everyone, regardless of rank. In the crush of media surrounding his July 1 appointment as Kellogg’s top administrator, Jain has found himself at the center of international attention. Even under normal circumstances, though, the 43-year-old marketing professor is a walking network hub, and it’s obvious that people enjoy talking to him as much as he enjoys talking to them.

Generally reserved, Jain grows more animated when swept away by his passion for Kellogg or for his research — strategic marketing and new product marketing among his specialties. The dean possesses a wry sense of humor and enjoys telling a good story. When he accents his conversation with a philosophical aphorism, the move seems perfectly natural.

Jain smiles easily. He retains his poise even amid the flurry of obligations that press their way onto his crammed calendar. The smile, however, should not be misinterpreted as a nonchalant management style. Jain’s good humor exists despite the schedule he maintains, a pace that’s been relentless over the last half-decade of a 16-year tenure at Kellogg while he served as the school’s associate dean for academic affairs. During this time, Jain worked closely with former dean Donald P. Jacobs. The two men share certain traits, not the least of which is that each is an indefatigable, jet-setting ambassador for Kellogg. Pass Jain in the hallway on a casual “Going to Germany,” as if he were headed to the local library.

A scholar of international reputation, Jain has written numerous articles and is on the editorial board of several prestigious peer-reviewed journals. He serves as a consultant to some of the world’s premier corporations, including Motorola, Eli Lilly and Microsoft, and has also been awarded or nominated for 21 teaching awards.

Kellogg World interviewed Dean Jain about his vision of the school’s future. In the process, we discovered that his rise through the Kellogg ranks proves the opposite of Leo Durocher’s famous maxim: Nice guys — with talent and dedication —finish first.

Kellogg World: How does it feel to be named dean of Kellogg?

Dean Dipak Jain: I’m deeply honored to have been selected to lead this prestigious school. Kellogg has an outstanding faculty, student body, alumni, administration and corporate support.

KW: What do you see as your biggest challenge as you assume the deanship at Kellogg, and how do you intend to meet this challenge?

DJ: The biggest challenge is building on the reputation of Kellogg. This is not a place where things are broken and I have to fix them. The school is in great condition. It’s important for me to make sure that things continue in this way, but at the same time we have to assess what we can do differently to build on what we have already achieved.

KW : That’s an interesting challenge. You want to innovate but without doing violence to those aspects of the institution that work so well.

DJ: Yes. A big challenge is to continue Kellogg’s culture of change and continuous innovation.

KW : Share your ideas on how you want to pursue this goal. What are some of the agenda items that are likely to cross your desk as you begin your tenure?

I really want to focus on the Kellogg brand and continue to enhance Kellogg’s image worldwide. Dean Jacobs has taken a lot of strategic initiatives in that direction. My job will be to build on those initiatives and identify other areas where we think Kellogg can create great impact. But first, it’s very important for me to do an internal audit on the resources we have. I need to know what is on my plate, what demands are on me and what my resources are to meet those demands. Once I have this analysis, I will know what I can do further. We are taking an analytical approach.

KW: What do you see as the source of Kellogg’s strength in the marketplace?

DJ: We have a very entrepreneurial style of doing things. That is a great asset. If you look at major corporations today, what are these corporations shooting for? How they can build an entrepreneurial culture within large organizations.

KW: That seems almost paradoxical.

DJ: Paradoxical, or some would say it’s an oxymoron. ‘What do you mean by large corporations being entrepreneurial?’ Entrepreneurship doesn’t mean that everyone starts a new business. It means that people should have the motivation to come up with new initiatives, and then the system should be able to push those initiatives rather than create problems. Kellogg is blessed with the kind of environment where students, faculty and staff can propose new initiatives and, after a short period of due diligence, have those initiatives implemented.

KW: So there’s a structure here that’s not so rigid that it pushes away good ideas that arise from an entrepreneurial spirit.

DJ: Exactly. In fact, the culture at the Kellogg school fosters innovation. That is one strength. The second strength that Kellogg has is this community feeling among students, among staff, among faculty — and that’s a great asset.

KW: Do you think this culture is fairly rare at this level of graduate education?

DJ: Yes. It’s not easy to create. Our students are a wonderful asset, and we will continue working closely with them to obtain their input on initiatives. The third strength that we have is resources and location. Kellogg’s facilities provide the infrastructure to impress and impact many students and executives. That is a real benefit. How many schools in the country have a facility like the Allen Center? Or, for that matter, this natural setting along Lake Michigan? It’s a beautiful location and Chicago is a beautiful city.

KW: What about Kellogg’s synergy within the larger university? How does this affect the business school?

DJ: Our relationship with Northwestern is absolutely phenomenal. The provost, the president, the entire senior staff are all behind Kellogg, and that is the key for us to get things done. So our strength lies not only within Kellogg, but across other schools within the university. Let me tell you, in life, for you to do anything, you have to create an environment where people perceive win-win situations, and it is doable if the intentions of both parties are clear.

KW: It’s a matter of framing the discourse in such a way so that participants can appreciate a common goal.

DJ: Absolutely. It’s more than an individual goal; we look at what’s good for the Kellogg school.

KW: What’s good for Kellogg is good for the university, and vice-versa?

DJ: Exactly, and good for the people associated with the Kellogg school. You see, if Kellogg’s reputation goes up, all of us feel good and our market value goes up.

KW: Is there an area in the school or among its initiatives that you’d like to bolster?

DJ: We will have a more proactive approach to building alumni relationships. We must ask ourselves whether we are doing everything possible for our alumni. We’ll also identify new sources of differentiation for Kellogg. We started this thing called ‘team-building.’ Now everyone is doing that. The term has become common vocabulary.If I mention teamwork, people will say ‘oh, he’s talking in stereotypes.’ I don’t want to use that word anymore. We have to differentiate ourselves, not only from peer institutions but from what we have done in the past so we can determine where we go next. We also need to build the academic reputation of Kellogg, which means identifying new research areas where we can create more attractive research and have our faculty write books and articles that enhance our reputation.

KW: Let’s return to the issue of enhancing the school’s relationship with its alums. What can Kellogg do differently in this area to build value for alumni?

DJ: First of all, we need a better communications system to keep them informed about the initiatives we’ve taken. Second, we need to get the alumni involved in these initiatives. They should not be told what’s [already] happened, but they should be part of the initiative-driving process. Third, we need to find out what kind of programs we can have that would create interest in the alumni so that they come forward and participate fully.

KW: So Kellogg is soliciting from alumni what the graduates would like to see in terms of outreach and programming?

DJ: Exactly. We’re creating a ‘pull’ as opposed to a ‘push’ strategy, asking ourselves what would attract alums. I also believe that one way to create pull may be to enhance some of the things that these alumni have seen while they were here.

KW: Tailoring the school’s initiatives to their real-world lives today?

DJ: Yes. Like our creating the ‘MBA Update’ program. The most important thing is that whatever we do has to have an academic component — but academics tied to corporate impact.

KW: Do you wish to emphasize the link between the theoretical and the practical?

DJ: The things we do for alumni should have a combination of what I call rigor plus relevance. Why would an alum come back to listen to what I have to say unless I can show them this information is being used by IBM, for example, to do their work? They need to be able to relate to those concepts. That is the key.

KW: Are there any other keys worth considering?

DJ: We need to create some new centers of excellence, like we have done in the direction of biotechnology. I honestly believe that we have somewhat exaggerated the high-tech side of things, and now we need to incorporate new centers or areas of ‘high-touch.’

KW: High-touch? Explain that.

DJ: Focus more on the person, or what we call people skills. Because, at the end of the day, we are still human beings. One can teach you all the analytical skills, but you have to be a people person to fully implement them. However, if you’re a nice person without the ability— [shrugs]. A foolish friend is worse than a wise enemy. So people have to be smart — that’s an essential condition — but in addition to being smart, you have to have more people skills too.

KW: How would you sum up your philosophy of education?

DJ: Education is a continuous process. It’s not something that ends. For me, education not only makes you more informed, it also makes you a better person. What is education at Kellogg? Education here doesn’t just mean being in the classroom. When people come here to pursue their MBA, they are not only taught in the classroom, but all the group work and extracurricular activities they get involved with help them develop a better personality. My view of education goes beyond learning the specific tools and business concepts. It involves making you a total, well-rounded person.

KW: What you’re saying suggests the original Latin sense of the word education: to draw potential out of yourself. Then, of course, there’s the Renaissance ideal.

DJ: Absolutely, but there is one more thing that as a professor I need to do at the same time: I need to make sure that students harness their inner skills.

KW: One person, one teacher alone, probably can’t do this. You enlist the services and synergies of an entire academic community.

DJ: Yes. That is a foundation of the Kellogg culture.

KW: What about your philosophy of management? How do you approach running an institution like Kellogg?

DJ: My concept of leadership is one of inclusivity. I don’t run alone; we all work collectively. I don’t believe in a hierarchical structure, but I do believe in accountability and responsibility. I’m a big believer that we all are here to work together for one common goal. That is, making sure that the Kellogg school continues to flourish and grow.

KW: Can you cite any early formative experiences that helped shape these philosophies and who you are today?

DJ: I have always believed that in life you don’t really know initially what is good or bad. What you know is what you get through your environment. You should do the best you can with the opportunities and skills afforded you. I have never believed in the concept of optimization. I believe that we perform a task in a manner such that the person assigning it next time gives us a much stronger responsibility. I’ve always believed that you should not be so focused on the outcome. Outcome is the sight; the process to reach the outcome is the insight. That’s where the reality is.

KW: There’s a Buddhist element to this perspective. Zen Buddhism in particular values the process over the product, telling us that we should attend to the details of what we’re doing now, at this moment, rather than jumping ahead to the outcome. The future doesn’t really exist in the way many of us believe.

DJ: That is my honest belief. Exactly. This way we make sure we know where the potholes are along the path. I’ve also always believed that I am what I am. So I have to believe in myself. I know myself better than others, so I have to be self-critical. At the same time, if people know things about me that I don’t see, I should be focused on them. I believe that when people tell me something about myself, even if it’s not the thing I’d best like to hear, I should pay attention because that person’s criticism has a good intention. In life, clarity of intentions is what matters the most.

KW: To adopt this perspective would seem to require a profound sense of self-regard — not in an arrogant sense, but in the sense of strong self-confidence.

DJ: I am Indian. I may have an American passport, but that doesn’t change who I am. Some may find this strange, but I’ve always believed that if you are what you are, then you can add more richness to a group than if you tried to become one of the group at the expense of your own personality. The diversity that I bring to the group because of my background should be a positive sign rather than a negative. People say ‘behave in Rome as the Romans do.’ I think you should behave in Rome as yourself, but do something that the Romans find appealing and not offensive. Teach the Romans something or at least have them say ‘let’s see what this guy is doing.’”

KW: Then the community may incorporate your way, your perspective, into how they act. They might learn something new from you, and vice-versa.

DJ: Yes. At every stage in life you should have a learning mindset. Even after a dinner conversation you should walk away feeling that you’ve learned something. ‘I didn’t know the health benefits of vegetarianism or of chili peppers.’ That sort of thing. You should be able to contribute value to the conversation so that others learn and you too can learn something.

KW: Though you’re just beginning your tenure as dean, can you look ahead and give us an overall snapshot of your approach to this new role?

DJ: I would like for people to say “I learned something valuable and it was good to work with Dipak Jain.”

KW: There are some people who might tell you that assuming the deanship at Kellogg after Dean Jacobs is a daunting task. What’s your response?

DJ: I say that this circumstance is an honorable burden. Yes, it’s difficult to follow him, but I also got my training under him. The last five years working with him have been very valuable for me. I know his likes and dislikes, but at the same time if I continue to do what he has done, that is not right. Then I’m not being myself.

KW: That’s a real challenge, because here’s a guy who, for his time and place, did some incredible things, but yet you still want to differentiate yourself from him.

DJ: I don’t want to differentiate just for differentiation’s sake. I want to make sure that the right initiatives are taken and that we all work to take Kellogg where it should be. Then take new initiatives that are not deliberately opposed to what Jacobs did, but to build a whole portfolio of new ideas too, where there is synergy in the system. There are a lot of things we can do. I’ve always believed that the biases of any individual should serve as the source of insight for success. Why does a person hold certain biases, and what can I do with those biases? Times change and people change. There are some things I may choose to approach differently than Jacobs, but it’s not that I’m going against him. He was right at that time; I may be right at this time.

KW: You’ve been well regarded in the classroom as a teacher, a professor whom students admire and benefit from.

DJ: [deadpan] You have been misinformed.

KW: [laughs] Talk about some of the similarities and differences between that role — and the skills it demands — and the role as chief administrator and the set of skills that come into play for you to be a good dean.

DJ: The first thing is, to be a good teacher you need to love teaching. In all things in life, the most important thing a person wears is his or her expression. You can wear a nice suit, but the expression on your face is what has the most impact. If I am a good teacher and have passion for teaching, the same passion should come to bear when I’m dealing with people or situations associated with the school’s administration. You have to show others that you love doing what you’re doing. If you treat certain aspects of your work as the cost of doing the job, you won’t be successful.

KW: By ‘certain aspects’ do you mean those components of daily work that may not offer one a full degree of excitement or pleasure, yet still must be addressed?

DJ: Yes. You’re not going to like everything you do, but it’s all part of the job. For instance, it’s very difficult to tell a professor that he or she didn’t get tenure at the Kellogg school, even if it is the appropriate decision for all parties.

KW: We inhabit all these various social roles we assume, but it all comes down to acting out of our genuine nature for the best of the community, and for the best in a particular situation.

DJ: Yes. I don’t believe there is a single ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Everything can be right under one condition and be wrong under another. I believe in multiplicity of viewpoints.

KW: One of your endearing qualities is your sense of humor. You take your work very seriously, yet you don’t appear to get caught up in personal ego to the point that you take yourself overly seriously. I recall you telling a couple humorous stories about your early days at Kellogg — including an initial encounter with Don Jacobs that left something to be desired.

DJ: [laughs] Oh, yes. I used to participate in many activities at Kellogg. My very first year here there was an alumni reunion weekend — as we have each May. Don saw me at the Allen Center during one of the activities and got very angry. He was mad! He said that this is not the place for us [as junior faculty members]. We should be teaching and doing research, and not eating dinners at the Allen Center. He knew I was on the faculty but he didn’t know my name since I was hired while he was out of town. I always believed that’s why I got the job.

KW: A rather inauspicious start to your Kellogg career, but things turned out okay.

DJ: I never thought that the same man who was so angry at me then would, in June of 1996, make a very strange phone call in the middle of the night to me. I was at Columbia University at a marketing seminar. I was asleep when the call came at 12:35 a.m. I picked up the phone and said ‘Sushant (my wife), what’s wrong with the children?’ A voice said ‘This is not Sushant. This is Dean Jacobs. I want to make an announcement at the Oh Be Joyful dinner tomorrow and I felt that I should inform you first since I understand that you will not be there. I want to announce that you will be my associate dean for academic affairs. Now go back to sleep.’ I haven’t slept in five years!”

KW: That’s very funny. Speaking of your early days at Kellogg, I understand the circumstances surrounding your being hired were a bit extraordinary. How did you come to Kellogg as a young professor?

DJ: The way it works in academics is you get your PhD and you apply to a number of schools. Most of the top schools in the U.S.  invited me , except Kellogg. I knew when I left Dallas for the interviews at the American Marketing Association in Washington, D.C. in August 1985 that I would be meeting with a number of schools. Stanford, Wharton, Harvard, MIT; everyone except Kellogg. So I knew the one place where I cannot get a job was Kellogg. Kellogg had interviewed some people from my university the previous year and was not impressed by them. There were some students from my university who had been interviewed previously by Kellogg, and these students didn’t enjoy the interview at all. They told me horror stories about the interview process at Kellogg. In my mind, then, I was thrilled that they didn’t call me, because had they called me I would have to go through this experience! So I said, fine, I’m not missing anything.

I interviewed with a small school from New York in the afternoon, and it quickly became apparent that we were not made for each other. I was doing pure mathematical research and this guy interviewing me had no interest in what I was saying. After five minutes he said why don’t we change the topic? He asked where I was from. I said India, so he said let’s talk about Indian cooking. But then he realized that I don’t know how to cook so I had little to contribute about Indian cooking. At that point we decided to stop wasting each other’s time and let me prepare for my next interview. I went into the hotel corridor and was standing there and I saw a guy near an ashtray smoking a cigarette. He was Prabha Sinha, a faculty member at Kellogg. We all wore name badges and he saw mine. ‘You are Dipak Jain,’ he said. ‘I have heard very good things about you but I understand you are not interviewing with us.’ I said ‘yes, because I never heard from you.’ He told me that Kellogg tried to call me for an interview but I had already left for Washington. He asked me what I was doing right then. I said I was waiting for my 3 p.m. interview with the University of Chicago. He told me to wait a minute while he went into the room where his Kellogg peers were interviewing another candidate. He brought Andy Zoltners out and he and Andy talked to me in a small room that was not even being used for the AMA event.

KW: An impromptu interview?

DJ: That’s right. Informal. They asked me what research I was doing and I said heuristics. Andy and Prabha have mellowed down now, but at that time they were quite rough in the sense that they would ask real questions and not think it impolite to ask them. Prabha says ‘I don’t believe what you’re saying. Why don’t you just prove the theorem?’ [laughs] He gives me a pad and pencil. So I took the paper and in five minutes I filled three pages. I’m sure he didn’t know if it was right or not, but at least he knew I knew how to write equations! They then invited me for an on-campus interview. It all happened that way. There was no planning.

KW: That’s astonishing.

DJ: I knew when I left for the conference that the one place I will not get a job was Kellogg.

KW: And now you’re the dean.

DJ: I could never have imagined this. This is a true story, and the same thing happened with Rajat Gupta at McKinsey. When he graduated from Harvard he applied many places, and McKinsey rejected him. One of his professors interceded and called someone at McKinsey and said you are making a big mistake; give this person an interview. They did, and Rajat got the job and eventually became the CEO. I have to tell Rajat that I had exactly the same experience as him.

KW: Incredible.

DJ: See, we all make mistakes when it — [looks at clock] I have to run to teach my executive seminar!

At this point, Dean Jain literally jumps out of his chair, grabs his suit jacket and bolts down the hallway in the Allen Center, returning to the Kellogg teaching that he loves. Sidenote: Professor Jain, after five years, returned to the classroom to teach a marketing research class. His students provided him with proof that his skills remain as sharp as ever: Their course evaluations ranked him 9.9 out of a possible 10.