THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO THE GLOBAL HUB
The development of the Global Hub has been a long and winding journey for Blount, if not the crowning achievement of her seven-year deanship. “It took every ounce of faith, grit, and patience” to get it done, she says. Though there had been talk about the possibility of a new home for Kellogg since 2004-2005, little had been done. Yet the issue was always on the table, so much so that Blount, then dean of the undergraduate business school at NYU Stern, requested and gained the “go/no-go” decision on anew building before taking the job.
Blount also got some unequivocal advice from a highly influential alum of the school who had been a professor at Kellogg for the past five years. “Don’t do it. Don’t build a new building,” urged Kraemer, who had earned his MBA from Kellogg in 1979 and spent a 23-year career at Baxter International Inc., culminating as chairman and CEO before joining the school as a clinical professor.
Blount recalls a lengthly one-hour phone call from Kraemer, who had a good deal of expertise in such investments as the former chief financial officer and CEO of Baxter, the $12 billion global healthcare company. “When somebody says they want to build a new building,” Kraemer says, “my first reaction is, ‘Do you really need to do that?’” Kraemer says his initial hesitation came from the massive costs required to build something new, the tradeoffs of the investment, and questions about whether the money would be better spent on more productive things, though he now concedes the Jacob Center was “a pretty miserable environment.”
YEARS OF TALK BUT NO MONEY. NO PLANS. NO SITE
Still, when she arrived at Kellogg in July of 2010, there was no money, no plans, and no site for a new building. Notwithstanding Kraemer’s initial perspective, Blount quickly concluded that the Jacobs Center had outlived its usefulness and had ruled out a major renovation of the place, partly due to the need for more flexible use classrooms.
She decided to move ahead with a new building that July, believing that an upgrade was critical to stay competitive, especially if one believed that online education would not ultimately disrupt a prestige school’s residential programs. “If we were going long on face-to-face education, I realized we had to do it,” she says.
The immediate consequence of the decision was that she had to launch a major campaign to raise $350 million to help pay for the building and support faculty and programs in it. Blount has sinced helped to raise more than $330 million and expects to exceed the target this summer when the campaign officially ends.
AN ARCHITECTURAL BAKEOFF THAT LED TO A TORONTO FIRM
Within a month after settling on a new building, Blount then had to find an ideal site for it on campus. Early options ranged from the center of campus to a ‘floating a building on top of the lagoon beside the lake. Instead, she settled on the current crop of land next to the lagoon and the university’s practice football team right on Lake Michigan.
From there, the school launched an international design competition in the spring of 2011, inviting proposals from 20 architectural firms and getting submissions back from a dozen. After winnowing it down to five finalists and meeting with each three times, the school chose Toronto-based KPMB Architects, which had also designed the University of Toronto’s Rotman School and Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business in Montreal.
KPMB won the business in late spring of 2011, says Blount, because their translation of Kellogg’s design brief fit both the culture of the school and its future needs most seriously. The current design with four connected wings tilted so that each affords a view of the lake, coupled with the double atriums that bring down the apparent grandeur of the building’s central interior, made all the difference. “A lot of business schools are about power and donors,” says Kuwabara. “This is about collaboration.” Or as Blount puts it, “They listened — and they got our culture.”
‘BLOUNT IS FEARLESS BUT SHE ALSO KNOWS WHEN TO CONSULT AND TAKE ADVICE’
It wasn’t an easy process by any means. The development of the Global Hub represented a deviation from the status quo at Northwestern for one. Traditionally, building projects were run out of the university, not by the dean of a school. Even more, Blount publicly committed herself and her team to a seven-year plan, holding the school accountable to donors, students, and university leadership alike. In the end, this public proclamation turned out to be a masterstroke. Kellogg met or beat every metric in its plan. Even more, the school actually came under its $250 million building budget, allowing Blount to plow back surplus funds into the hub for such amenities as a fitness center.
The process was also aided by the experience of Blount, who’d spent time working as a business manager at an architectural firm early in her career after graduating from Princeton with a degree in engineering and as an NYU dean who oversaw the construction of new facilities there. As a result, she brought a deep understanding of the development and construction process to the table.
She proved flexible, yet hard-nosed, enough to make tradeoffs, such as choosing a LEED Gold certification over LEED Platinum to shave 10% off the building’s cost. She also knew how to stick to a budget and check scope creep once construction began in April of 2014. Notably, she asserted the need to get design right the first time, while pushing back against dreaded change orders, which would simply pile on costs and push back timelines.
Blount’s leadership of the entire project wins praise from the architects. “She’s fearless,” says Marianne McKenna, a founding partner of KPMB. “But she also knows when to consult and take advice. That is the quality of a great leader. You not only know how to lead, you know when to consult.”