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


An excerpt from a GSB staff letter to the Stanford Provost

An excerpt from a GSB staff letter to the Stanford Provost

While the GSB continues to ride a wave of success under Saloner’s leadership, rancor and fear seethe beneath the surface, a letter by staff to Stanford Provost John Etchemendy suggests.  An April 2014 letter to Etchemendy attached to the Phills lawsuit and purportedly signed by 27 current and 19 former GSB employees, attacks Saloner’s leadership, refers to the affair with Gruenfeld and demands that the dean not be appointed for a second term. Although the letter was put into the court record without the signatures. Etchemendy has acknowledged in a deposition that he received the letter, and did not disagree with a lawyer’s reference to 46 signatories. It appears nearly all signatories – now known in the school as the “Group of 46” – were administrators and other staff, including senior personnel. 

“Under the leadership of the current dean, we have observed an increasingly disturbing pattern of inequitable treatment in the form of reprimands, censures, curtailing of responsibilities, demotions, retribution for expressing concerns or raising issues, offensive behavior and decisions that have led directly to tangible employment actions such as dismissals, undesirable reassignments, forced resignations, and inequitable access to promotion opportunities,” the letter says.

“There have been numerous violations of the University’s Code of Conduct as well as its HR policies. The numbers alone paint a striking picture . . . Of the 40 senior staff members who have left the GSB since 2010, the vast majority are women and over 40 (the remainder are almost all men over 40). 

“The current GSB dean – and the leadership he has put in place – have . . . created a hostile work environment – especially to women and individuals over 40 – ruled by personal agendas, favoritism, and fear.”

An excerpt from a GSB staff letter to the Stanford Provost

An excerpt from a GSB staff letter to the Stanford Provost

Breaches in the confidentiality of the annual employee survey have ratcheted up the climate of fear, the letter suggests.

The letter charges that Saloner “has repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for the rules, policies and guidelines put in place by the University . . . his actions have become increasingly brazen.” The letter calls Saloner’s affair an example of “poor judgment,” saying that in entering into a relationship with a subordinate he opened himself up to sexual harassment charges, exposed the school to liability, set a bad example for students, and acted in a manner “stereotypical of the behavior of many discredited CEOs and other leaders.” 

Sources in the GSB say Phills was not involved in the letter’s production and didn’t sign it.

Phills, 55, and Gruenfeld, 54, married in 1999, and started at the GSB in 2000, both as organizational behavior professors, but only Gruenfeld was tenured. They separated in June 2012 by mutual accord, Phills says in court documents, and Gruenfeld moved out. They have two daughters, now 11 and 14. Phills’s lawsuit complaint says that after the couple split, his daughters were living with him in the “family home,” along with Phills’s elderly mother, and that he and Gruenfeld were sharing equal custody. Phills filed for divorce from Gruenfeld on December 7, 2012.

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