Anatomy Of A Rebellion: Inside The Revolt Against Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner

Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner on campus - Ethan Baron photo

Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner on campus in August 2015            – Ethan Baron photo

Looking back, it’s no surprise that when six former high-powered staffers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business came to university Provost John Etchemendy’s office in May of last year to detail claimed workplace abuses by GSB Dean Garth Saloner, Etchemendy’s initial response was, essentially, “Talk to the hand.” After all, Etchemendy himself had enabled one such abuse in the world’s No. 1 business school, one that would later contribute to the dean’s fall – but the half dozen staffers didn’t know that at the time. They wanted Saloner out, and a commitment to action by the Provost on what they believed was a dysfunctional GSB administration. What they got, at least two of them say, was a whitewash.

The six, all women, all highly esteemed for their work in prominent positions in and out of the GSB, and with decades of combined experience at the school, were representing what’s become known as the “Group of 46.” This was a group composed of 27 current and 19 former GSB employees who had signed a letter sent to the Provost two weeks earlier, on April 21, 2014, accusing Saloner of presiding over a “hostile workplace” in which staff, particularly women and people over 40, were hounded out of jobs and roles amid numerous violations of Stanford’s Code of Conduct and HR policies.

Anger and frustration toward Saloner had been building for years among employees. Leaders of the staff revolt portray Saloner as an arrogant narcissist who used staff as pawns in his power plays, meted out punishments against anyone who disagreed with him, and manipulated women out of influential positions so he could surround himself with “yes men.”

For a school whose lofty mission is proudly proclaimed to “change lives, change organizations, change the world,” one thing seemed certain. In the five years that Saloner has served as dean, he had changed the collegial, close-knit culture of the school to what his detractors say was a culture of fear and intimidation, where the back-stabbing politics were so thick that few would dare challenge him.

REVOLT TAKES SHAPE IN SPACE OF A LONG WEEKEND

It would be one perceived retribution that would tip staff over the edge into action and lead the six women into Etchemendy’s office-suite conference room.

That so many current staff signed the letter testifies to the strong feelings against Saloner’s leadership, revolt leaders say. “They were so fearful of retribution,” says Sharon Hoffman, one of the delegation to Etchemendy. Remarkable measures were taken to collect 46 signatures in the short window of a three-day holiday weekend. Any longer, they worried, might allow Saloner to hear about the revolt and crush it. The university ombudsman agreed to let current staff phone in to have their signatures registered on the letter but their identities kept secret. And the leaders of the rebellion believe many more current and former staff would have signed the letter if they weren’t afraid of retribution or other negative fallout. 

Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy

Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy

On the early May morning in the Provost’s chambers, the half dozen representatives of the Group of 46 formed a formidable united front. They had combined leadership experience of 60 years in high positions at the GSB. One had headed the MBA program for almost 11 years. Another had run the school’s Center for Social Innovation for a decade. A third had spent nearly a dozen years in charge of the GSB Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. A fourth was the founding executive director of the GSB Center for Leadership Development and Research.

And this was, overwhelmingly, a group deeply invested in Stanford and the business school: five of the six delegates had degrees from the university, and four of them had an MBA or PhD from the Graduate School of Business.

One of the women, Maria Jenson, had three degrees from Stanford – a BS in industrial engineering, a master’s in higher education administration, and an MBA. It was her ouster from the school that ignited the staff campaign to topple Saloner from the deanship.

  • Tom G.

    “He loves you as long as you agree with him, and if you don’t, you’re toast.” – Anonymous GSB Professor in David Margolick’s “Inside Stanford Business School’s Spiraling Sex Scandal”

  • avery

    Having an affair is one thing. Choosing to have it with a colleague’s wife, then attempting to crush the husband is the m.o. of a wicked narcissist. Ms Gruenfeld should reconsider her relationship with Saloner. Once her divorce is final, and all the drama and destruction he wreaked has subsided, she may find he’s no longer interested in her.

  • avery

    bwanamia sounds like a real narcissist. So, yeah. I’m thinking it’s Garth.

  • Tom G.

    There are six references to Garth Saloner’s narcissism in P&E’s “Anatomy of a Rebellion: Inside the Revolt Against Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner.” His combative behaviors, manipulations and verbal invectives match DSM criteria for NPD. Surrounding himself with Yes-men should not surprise anyone. Deborah Gruenfeld’s romance with him is destined for a disastrous reality-check the first time she materially resists his ideas. In the offing, differences between her and Phills shall seem minuscule. In any case, Gruenfeld should shore up co-parenting relations and activities with Phills for the sake of their children India and Daysii.

  • mikekrohde

    How does GSB teach management students to treat their employees in the real world? Judging by the frozen wages that Americans have suffered through for 3 or 4 decades, I’m guessing that GSB students aren’t taught about concern for their employees or their countries, and that wages don’t matter as long as there is a labor surplus. So donate to Congress to keep the immigration rules for employees business friendly to keep labor over supplied to keep wages down. And any kind of calumny is ok in the war against unions. Something like that. Can we say that business schools have helped construct this no wage gain for the middle class for 40 years and a last place middle class among our national peers? Does it begin in business school, this labor doesn’t matter as long as we can get someone cheaper, where ever they are located?

  • H

    Hi Garth!

  • Skeptical

    All knowing Middle-Eastern-Manager, name these unqualified Saudi graduates.

  • BullMoreDog

    make sure to have m&ms, tissues, diapers, and peanut butter when you go..

  • BullDog

    This would never happen at Yale SOM. GOOOO YALE

    Top 10 in 2 of 5 main rankings. Soon will be 5 for 5. Every year for eternity. LETS GO

  • YaleHarvard

    Great article. Honestly, you guys are doing a tremendous service despite what all the GSB haters say. Bad people like this should be outted, and repeatedly dragged through the coals. The dean is a bad man and i would honestly be happy if you published 100 articles about this dirtbag. He deserves every bit of bad news written about him.

  • eddysham

    the donkey is a donkey.

  • Guest

    …so both of your wives then?

  • Middle-Eastern-Manager

    He is supported by some wealthy middle eastern families and officials, do you know that in almost every year, the lowest GMAT of accepted people are from certain country in Middle East, Saudi Arabia. Most (if not all) saudi alumni from Stanford are within 500s GMAT, yet they got in because of this corrupted system at Stanford MBA admission. I know personally number of people graduated from there and It is really shocking when you know that they did their MBA at Stanford. Saudis Call Stanford MBA as the easy program for connected people, sponsored, and wealthy, but no achievement at all. Till now no single Stanford MBA in middle east has done anything significant or achieve anything. They are shame on the school.

  • C. Taylor

    Yes, paying the bills by discussing his favorite topic–MBA programs. He makes money off of articles which are picked up by news outlets. And scandal sells.

  • bwanamia

    Learn to read critically. There’s nothing here.

  • marcus

    agreed… glad to see John Byrne knows more about TMZ blogging (still waiting for his investigative reporting to uncover explosive and epic snapchats).. than why Stanford is the school of choice (he still thinks it’s because of palm trees and sun). I would be disappointed if he does not extend this into an epic miniseries.. but next time John please post more pics

  • syed

    Why ???? Why let it go ????

  • syed

    His actions here can not back any reputation. I am a layman. But I clearly see complete disregard to the notion of fairness. Philosophy professor with a technology twist He is a bad man. In bed with another bad man. Or perhaps he is the face of the establishment who were just happy looking at the financial growth. Like a greedy corporation forgot ethics. Why blame Enron executives ? Look at the guys who taught them !!!

  • bwanamia

    That’s the point. Etchemendy has an impeccable reputation.

  • tama

    everyone has an agenda against currupted systems and people. It is our right to get rid of them.

  • syed

    Why dont they go after this guy Etchemendy guy ? He is as much responsible for the actions of Salonor. These guys Salonor and Etchemendy should be banished for acadamic world.

  • JohnAByrne

    Perfect

  • Ethan Baron

    The Stanford GSB trains students to become the most powerful and productive people in the world, and sends its graduates into influential and often game-changing roles in economically important companies. So it is a major engine of the U.S. economy, not to mention that of Silicon Valley, and the effectiveness of its management is of high public interest. Also, alumni and other donors pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the school, and deserve to know how it’s managed. Students in the school, and those considering applying to it, have a powerful interest as well in knowing how it’s run. Serious allegations have been made that cast doubt on Saloner’s effectiveness as a leader, his style of management, and his willingness to abide by the rules of the school and the University. To understand that this story is far from minor you have only to look so far as Saloner’s resignation.

  • marcus

    John Byrne has an agenda.. anyone figure it out yet? YAWWWWNNN

  • Give it a rest

    Ethan Baron, John Byrne,

    Did Garth sleep with one/both of your wives as well? That’s the only possible explanation I can come up with to explain your apparent vendetta against Saloner.

    We understand that there is a (minor) story here, and that it deserves the (very minimal) coverage given to it by (actually) reputable news sources like the WSJ and NYT. However, your multiple articles on the topic, and mind-numbing level of detail, is borderline obsessive. LET IT GO. It’s not as big of a story as you apparently think/want.

  • honest

    bwanamia: Is that you, Garth?????

  • DeeFan

    Sounds like someone forgot what they learned in the ethics class – not that one can learn and actually internalize any ethics in an ethics class.

  • Spartan 22

    I believe every word of it. Mostly because I’ve seen this type of thing before at previous jobs, and the fact that he was willing to fire an employee with whose wife he was sleeping without any regard for protocol or the consequences suggests a certain arrogance and narcissism that often takes down leaders, as we’ve seen here. That said, just when you thought that P&Q had already squeezed every last bit of juice out of this story, they go ahead and publish this. Now it’s starting to look vendetta driven.

  • Let it go

    Slow news day? Why are you rehashing the same stories that weren’t even relevant the first time? As Elsa said, let it go.

  • Middle-Eastern-Manager

    believe me he is very corrupted man.

  • bwanamia

    This is completely unpersuasive. Hoffman’s tale of woe does her no credit. Almost a quarter century at Stanford after her summer internship with the ACLU (of all places!). Paints a picture of a time-serving mediocrity moved through a succession of otherwise unimportant positions until new management, i.e., the dean, noticed she wasn’t worth retaining. So what.

    First rule of management is that real managers shuffle the deck. Not everyone gets a nice pat on the head.