In her career as an executive recruiter, Ginny Clarke ’84 MBA relied on her deep understanding of what makes a great leader. Clarke developed that insight early, as a Kellogg student working with Dean Emeritus Don Jacobs. She entered his orbit as a member of the admissions committee and as president of the Black Management Association.
“Just watching him, it was the way he respected people. He looked you in the eye. You weren't incidental to him. He remembered your name. As a student, he made that impression on me,” Clarke recalls.
Clarke remembers Jacobs as a “straight shooter.” “He was honest,” she says. “He would acknowledge when he didn't know something. And to me, that was one of the best models that we could have in a business program that ultimately is about leadership.”
In the years since, Clarke has further developed her own model of leadership. “I’m linking my early awareness to something that hit me much later: Leadership is much more about the who than the what. It’s about who you are and putting that imprint on your leadership.”
Now, as founder of Ginny Clarke, LLC. Clarke helps executives and organizations build what she calls a Conscious Workplace, enriched with values that Dean Jacobs would endorse: self-awareness, honesty and inclusivity. She offers courses for individuals and groups, has a podcast called Fifth Dimensional Leadership and is working on her second book.
One recent podcast guest was Dean Francesca Cornelli, who holds the Donald P. Jacobs Chair in Finance. “I’ve gotten to know her,” Clarke says, “and I adore her.” Clarke’s continuing engagement with Kellogg has shown her that the positive culture that Dean Jacobs fostered is enduring.
“I speak a lot about leadership and culture, and what I say is that your culture is not your brand or your reputation. It's the soup that your people are swimming in. And it's an amalgam of the behaviors of the senior-most leaders.”
Asked why she gives back to Kellogg, Clarke pauses. “It just comes from the heart, you know? There's just something magical about Kellogg.” Her relationship with Kellogg extends to volunteerism as well. “It’s what I’m compelled to do, which is to go back and speak to a class or at an event. I don’t know that I’ve missed a year doing something on campus.” She says she feels her efforts are multiplied because she can help inspire people to perpetuate the Kellogg culture even beyond their own careers.
“I want to challenge people to effectuate change,” Clarke says. “I want to see people own what and who they are and bring that into the workplace and the work that they do and to the leaders that they become.”
Clarke grew up in Riverside, California. Her mother was a physical therapist, and her father held leadership roles with the Department of Corrections. After earning an undergraduate degree in French and linguistics from the University of California, Davis, Clarke decided to supplement her liberal arts education by attending a business program. “I got in at Kellogg. I fell in love with Chicago, and it was just the best thing I could have ever done. It felt like home.”
Early on, Clarke admits she felt out of place. But a large part of the appeal of Kellogg was that so did many of her fellow students. “I knew it was part of why I had been admitted, and why I loved the program so much, because they expressly sought to have people from various backgrounds.”
She learned with and from people who had been nurses or doctors or had run non-profits. “I had to kind of find my own way, not to mention the fact I'm an African American woman. There weren't a lot of us.”
After graduation, Clarke spent a decade working in commercial real estate, then made the move to executive recruitment. She joined global executive search firm, Spencer Stuart in the mid-90s and became a partner. She left after 12 years to write a book called Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work in 2011. Most recently she served as director of Leadership Staffing at Google. Clarke led a team filling non-technical senior positions, led diversity for all leadership staffing and was head of internal mobility for senior Google employees, concurrently. Lately, she’s been building quite a following on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok offering leadership and career advice.
When Clarke decided to run her own business, she was excited to move back to Chicago. “Here, on any given day, I'm going to run into a Kellogg alum,” she says.
“It sounds almost like a platitude to say I owe a lot of my career success to Kellogg. I do.” Clarke says. “There’s always someone I can call, and I want to put something back into the till for whoever might need it.”