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

Stanford 2015 MBA Alvaro Alliende at the Graduate School of Business - Ethan Baron photo

Stanford Graduate School of Business campus      – Ethan Baron photo

At this time, MBA student surveys were showing high levels of satisfaction, and the program’s applications and yield were exceptional. To meet Saloner’s demand for innovation, she and her team created an academic advising program pairing students with staff, and initiated weekly meetings for all student-facing staff to address issues affecting particular students.

Nevertheless, in February 2014, Saloner called Hoffman in and told her he was moving her from the MBA program, where she oversaw 800 students and 70 staff, to the in-transition one-year Sloan master of management program, overseeing about 70 students and three staff. The new job would also require two to three months of travel per year, in six- to eight-week blocks. She had three children at home, and considered the travel obligation impossible to fulfill. The HR department told her if she didn’t take the new position, she’d no longer have a job at the GSB. She refused the position.

NO, NOT LEAVING TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH FAMILY

To announce her departure, the dean’s office sent out a message indicating that she was leaving to spend more time with her family, a claim Hoffman dismisses as “complete and utter baloney.” She asked that Saloner’s office correct the statement, but Saloner refused, she says. So she sent out her own notice to students and staff, telling them she was leaving because the dean wanted new leadership in the MBA program. “I figured he could send out the email he wanted but I was damn well going to send out my own,” she says. “I wanted everyone to know, given the miserable way in which it happened, that I was being pushed out.”

Humiliated by her treatment, she left the school. “You can’t overemphasize how mortifying this was. There was a lot of crying. It was just an absolutely miserable way to leave what was a spectacular career with amazing students in an altogether fantastic institution that I still really love.”

The Group of 46 letter sent to Etchemendy arrived in a package containing 13 testimonials, plus other statements, from former staff describing their experiences under Saloner’s leadership. Although each testimonial might seem unsurprising when considered singly, together, the testimonials suggest a pervasive pattern of dysfunctional management in which rules and protocols were routinely trampled. 

One testimonial alleges that a program director was laid off within 10 months of retirement eligibility. “There are very few corporations or other educational institutions in this country that would lay off a long-term employee with excellent performance reviews who was within a year of retirement,” according to the testimonial. “Most would find an alternative role for that person if the current role were no longer an option. This Director indicated willingness to accept another assignment in lieu of the layoff and that due to a pre-existing medical condition she needed continuation of her health insurance coverage. Garth was unwilling to discuss any options. He insisted he had big plans for her department, but since her departure, this program has never advanced.”

ALLEGATION OF BROKEN HIRING RULES

A second testimonial asserts that in 2013, the GSB posted a job opening for a chief marketing officer. A man already on the GSB staff applied, and Saloner not only offered him that job, but the position of director of executive education as well, according to the testimonial. “The current Director of Executive Education, a woman, had not yet made any public communication of plans to retire and her job had never been posted. This man was not interviewed for the Executive Education job by any other person involved in Executive Education and the announcement of his new, combined position was seemingly a surprise to all involved,” the writer of the testimonial says. “An announcement that the current direct of Executive Education would be retiring followed shortly thereafter. A female member of the GSB then spoke to HR, saying that she had hoped to apply for the Executive Education Director role, but was never given the chance as it was never posted.”

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