Checking In With Kellogg’s Dean Sally Blount

Dean Sally Blount Kellogg

~A Stacy Blackman Exclusive~

It’s been a busy first year for Kellogg School of Management’s new dean, Sally Blount. Since coming on board last July, Blount has:

  • overseen the launch of Kellogg’s new Think Bravely advertising campaign;
  • restructured Kellogg’s decades-old organizational structure;
  • conducted a six-month international competition to design Kellogg’s new state-of the-art building on Northwestern’s Evanston campus (the winning firm architecture firm, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg was announced earlier this month); and
  • embarked on a nine-month strategic planning process with Kellogg faculty to investigate their positioning goals as educators and researchers.

“I don’t know any other dean who has had to do this much in the first year,”Blount said when I had a chance to speak with her recently. “I would have loved to save some of that for year two or three, but the world is moving fast.”

In fact, Blount believes the fundamental structure of the education field is currently changing, undergoing the globalization that many other industries have already experienced. Therefore, she believes that business education needs a larger refocusing than the broader focus on ethics that many called for after the 2008 economic crisis.

“I believe in ethics,” says Blount. “However, I’ve also done a whole lot of research on the effectiveness of ethics education. While people like to teach ethics, it’s not clear what kind of teaching of ethics actually changes behavior.”

Instead, Blount continues, “I think we need to educate a generation of students who have a much deeper appreciation of the interface between private enterprise and public governance and social well-being.”

In the face of criticism, Blount believes that business schools must demonstrate relevance in everything they “do, research and teach.” One approach Blount has taken in accomplishing this is developing strong corporate partnerships and bringing them into the classroom. She is also proud of what she calls some of Kellogg’s unusual hiring decisions, such as a former PepsiCo CFO and a former McKinsey partner.

Though Blount is one of the few women who have been appointed dean at a top-ranked business school, she sees this oversight changing as well.

“Historically, there has been a feeder issue,” says Blount. “There haven’t been as many women in business education. As we get more female faculty, we’re beginning to see more female deans. We’re beginning to see some wonderful appointments just in the last year. For example, Allison Davis-Blake at Ross. Also, I think we’ve reached a place in modern society where women can take leadership positions and be true to who they are as people, and not have to mute their behavior to look like a more traditional stereotype.”

I ask Blount if she has any advice for the female leaders following in her footsteps. One technique that has served her well is focusing on relationship-building as opposed to traditional networking.

“I don’t work a room to meet 15 people. I try to meet two or three, have very real conversations and figure out where there’s a connection and how we might help each other in the future. Networking and just saying I know someone has never gotten me very much or been very satisfying to me as a human being.”

Blount is also a believer in honest self-reflection.

“I’m good at seeking feedback from people around me about what I do well and what I don’t do well,” Blount states. “As one of the early women leaders, you’ve got to constantly understand when you’re being effective and when you’re not, and how to adjust to be more effective.”

Blount practices what she preaches. At least once every year she goes away on a 7-10 day Jesuit retreat, during which participants may only speak during one hour a day. She says these trips help her gain clarity not only about herself, but about the world around her as well. Perhaps it’s this insight that has allowed Blount to so clearly articulate her vision for Kellogg’s future.

“Kellogg redefined business education under Don Jacobs in the 20th century,” says Blount. “We’re the people who brought team work and collaboration into the business school domain and changed how everyone is educating. We need to be doing that again. That’s our role in the marketplace. It’s Kellogg’s job to constantly look forward about what education, research and impact look like in the 21st century.”

Indeed, when Kellogg’s search committee interviewed Blount, who is a Kellogg alum, she made clear her desire to act as a change agent for the program.

“I’m not a status quo person,” Blount says. “Kellogg really is committed to being that different voice. What I love about our advertising campaign is that it has really nailed for us what we’ve represented. [Think bravely] is not just a tag line. It’s a true mission for what we’re trying to do moving forward.”

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