Stanford Confidential: Sex, Lies And Loathing At The World’s No. 1 B-School

Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy

Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy


Lucey says in his statement that Saloner’s recusal notice, which asks Etchemendy to “approve our thinking on whatever we decide” and “perhaps to weigh in more substantively,”  makes clear that final authority rested with Etchemendy. “Dean Saloner initially proposed that, while he might weigh in on decisions if asked, the Provost would make the final decision on any decisions affecting either Prof. Phills or Prof. Gruenfeld,” Lucey says. 

A month after the purported recusal, Phills contacted Etchemendy about Saloner’s relationship with Gruenfeld, and “the Provost immediately took over all decision making affecting both Professors.” Lucey says. “Dean Saloner was not involved in any other decisions affecting Prof. Phills. They were all made by the Provost.”

Nine months after Saloner’s claimed recusal, Phills received a letter informing him his salary would be $227,686 for the 2013/14 academic year; the lead signature was Saloner’s, and the letter said the amount of the salary was proposed by Saloner and his subordinates, according to Phills’ complaint. Court records do not appear to contain Phills’ salary figures for previous years.


In a Facebook exchange that appears to have occurred in the latter third of November 2012, Gruenfeld refers to Phills – then on leave from the GSB and working for Apple – saying she would meet with Phills the next day to talk about his plans and their divorce. “Maybe he’s staying at apple,” she writes. Saloner as “Jeni Gee” responds, “Let’s hope. We deserve something good tomorrow. We’ve earned it.” He goes on to add, “The universe owes us. Big time.”

In another Facebook chat, which appears to have occurred in early November 2012, Saloner expresses concern that Gruenfeld and her female lawyer and therapist are approaching Gruenfeld’s divorce from Phills “too much as women . . . You are being rational and generous . . . Spewing the anger that you feel, even if it is unrelated to what you want, would make you a less predictable and rational adversary. It might make him think twice about asking for nice-to-haves that require a generosity of spirit on your part . . . one of the reasons he doesn’t settle is that he believes that by being sweet he can get inside you and weasel stuff out of you. Telling him what you really think of his behavior would put that to rest. He would pout, posture, and do the elephant seal thing. But it would push him back like a right to the jaw.”

The male elephant seal is a colossal, blubbery ocean-going mammal weighing up to 8,800 pounds, with a pendulous, trunk-like snout.


Saloner informed his senior team in December 2012 about his relationship with Gruenfeld, court records show. However, until Saloner’s resignation announcement, students remained ignorant  of both the drama playing out in court and the one underway in the offices of the GSB. MBA candidates give rave reviews to their education and praise the school’s operations and leadership.

First-year student Scheybani, after the trips to Colombia and Tanzania, an official GSB trip to South Korea to study consumerism, and one day of class, had “very positive” impressions of the MBA program.

“The school is super dedicated to the success of its students and the student body consists of a lot of great personalities that I can’t wait to get to know better,” Scheybani says. “The profs that I have interacted with thus far have been nothing short of great and looking at the overall quality of the faculty, there is a lot to look forward to.”


Among senior staff whom Scheybani won’t be interacting with are four formerly high-ranking women who left the school since Saloner became dean. Sharon Hoffman, MBA program director and associate dean for almost 11 years after nine years as senior associate director of MBA admissions, departed in June 2012. Blair Shane started as chief marketing officer and associate dean in 2011 and was gone within three years. Kriss Deiglmeier, executive director of the GSB Center for Social Innovation for a decade, left in February last year. Beth Benjamin, director of strategic initiatives and development for two years and previously the founding executive director for five years at the GSB Center for Leadership Development and Research, left in 2010. Three of the women did not provide comment to Poets&Quants. However, Shane, now a marketing partner and the CMO at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, described as “incredible” her three years at the school. “I left Stanford on very positive terms, to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Sequoia,” Shane says.

Etchemendy, in his deposition, says the letter from current and former staff arrived after the decision was made in fall 2013 to reappoint Saloner as dean for another five years. “I had not communicated the decision, but the decision had been made,” Etchemendy says, adding that such decisions are typically made in the fall of the last year of a dean’s term because a world-wide search for a new dean is a lengthy process.

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