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Executives reunite at Kellogg for cutting-edge course

Kellogg on New Directions in Management offers interdisciplinary perspectives and peer-to-peer insights to bolster competitive advantage

By Romi Herron

3/2/2007 -  In the decade since he earned his Kellogg School MBA, Jeff Santelices '96, strategy director for IBM's global technology services division, has risen to career challenges like his current one, a major brand-led transformation to accelerate revenue and profitability for a large component of the corporation's $50 billion services business.

Leading a team focused on implementing the strategy, Santelices turned to Kellogg on New Directions in Management, an executive education program designed to reunite Kellogg alumni for intellectual engagement and peer-to-peer idea exchange, focusing on "Innovative Strategies for Value Creation."

The course, held Nov. 6-8 at the James L. Allen Center, was the third annual program at Kellogg and gave Santelices, and two dozen other Kellogg alums, a chance to reconnect with Kellogg faculty thought leaders and each other to gain perspectives on management challenges they face in their middle- to senior-level executive roles. Santelices said the timing couldn't have been better as he heads in his own new direction with the transformation.

"The program was ideal for me as I set out to ensure that our leadership has the appropriate frameworks and support to truly transform the business," Santelices said. "Each of the topics touched upon areas of the business and strategy that we're currently focused on."

Lisa Fortini-Campbell, adjunct professor, presented "Living the Brand" and said alumni enthusiasm - not only for garnering knowledge but also for sharing it - was apparent throughout her New Directions session.

"From the moment we started, it was clear that all these individuals are committed to a life of learning, and they came to Kellogg eager to share their experiences and hear from fellow alums and from me," she said. "I think participants in an executive education program often approach it asking, 'How can I apply what I've learned here tomorrow?' but these alums were asking themselves, 'How does what I'm hearing inspire me to think about my own challenges differently, so that I can approach a problem in a new way?'"

Other modules included "Using Real Options as a Tool for Valuing Strategic Flexibility," taught by Mitchell Petersen, the Glen Vasel Professor of Finance; "Innovative Supply Chain Strategies for Value Creation" by Sunil Chopra, the IBM Distinguished Professor of Operations Management and Information Systems; "Market-Driving Business Strategies" by Gregory Carpenter, the James B. Farley/Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. Professor of Marketing Strategy; and "Creating a Culture of Innovation," by Thomas Kuczmarski, adjunct associate professor of marketing and president of Kuczmarski and Associates; and guest speaker Surinder Kumar, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at William Wrigley Jr. Co.

If the program's agenda seems particularly diverse, that's by design, explained Eric Fridman, assistant dean and director of marketing for executive education programs, who said New Direction's robust, interdisciplinary theme exposes participants to faculty from several departments.

"It's important to synthesize material with an interdisciplinary approach in today's business context," said Fridman. "Our aim in building this program is to provide specific value that addresses the needs of MBA graduates who have achieved executive positions with different responsibilities from what they had directly after earning their degree." Such roles, Fridman notes, often require these professionals to take a more comprehensive view of their organizations - a challenge for which the New Directions program provides tools.

For example, Fortini-Campbell, who is also founder of market research and consulting firm, The Fortini-Campbell Co., said she designed her curriculum to help participants see that brand building involves more than having good marketing communications programs.

"Everything a company does communicates something to the customer, and it can do so in a way that is consistent with the company's brand strategy, or not," said Fortini-Campbell. The Kellogg professor also discussed the various failures and successes of companies seeking to build customer relationships and a stellar brand reputation.

Offering a finance perspective with his presentation, "Using Real Options as a Tool for Valuing Strategic Flexibility," Petersen addressed valuation at the core of most capital budgeting decisions and discounted cash flow as the foundation of most valuation methods. The program focuses on providing an understanding of valuation of organizational flexibility, through the use of real options methodology, Petersen explained.

Familiarizing alums with technical material, finance language and ways of effectively translating spreadsheet data with clear, simple dialogue, essentially "de-mystifies" finance, the professor said.

"Complexity is difficult to explain in the boardroom, so if you're trying to convince a CEO of the valuation of flexibility with a spreadsheet, [that alone] isn't effective," Petersen said. "I set out to help participants see through the language of finance… and the result is that they'll recognize more flexibility in projects than they ever did before."

For next year's event, Fridman said Kellogg plans to solicit alumni feedback to provide the most compelling and timely discussion subjects, so that participants like Santelices can count on Kellogg to re-engage and replenish the management foundation they built during their MBA studies at the school. Another benefit is offered through the opportunity participants have in working with faculty members they might not have encountered previously, he said.

For Santelices, returning to Kellogg provided the fuel for thought he desired as he drives his team's goals during IBM's brand-led transformation.

"I wanted to capture not only the 'academic concepts' behind each of these subjects, but also the tools and techniques that my team members and I could use to apply the concepts in the business," Santelices said. "The program delivered tremendous academic insight, useful approaches and tools, and a healthy interactive dialogue from the participants that served to frame the topics within the context of our day-to-day business challenges."