Kellogg Dean Sally Blount To Step Down

Sally Blount, dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

Less than six months after opening the doors to a brand new home for Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Dean Sally Blount today (Sept. 7) announced that she will step down at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year.

The surprise decision, coming in her seventh year as dean, was apparently made in July in Rhode Island at one of Blount’s silent retreats, a multi-day period of quiet reflection that she has taken for the past decade. The 56-year-old Blount intends to take a one-year sabbatical to travel, write and ponder her “final chapters in education.”

The first and only woman to lead one of the famed M7 business schools, Blount has clearly made her mark on the school where she once arrived as a young graduate student in organizational behavior some 29 years ago. Only last month, she successfully completed Kellogg’s first-ever major capital campaign, raising $365 million, including a doubling of contributions to the school’s annual fund which exceeded $10 million for the first time. She was directly involved in every significant detail of Kellogg’s new $250 million Global Hub on Lake Michigan which officially opened in mid-March.

‘TAKING A CHANCE ON A PREGNANT DOCTORAL STUDENT’

The school just welcomed one of its most talented incoming classes of MBAs ever, with the highest average GMAT score ever recorded at the school: 732, up four points over last year and the highest average of any of the world’s most prominent MBA programs with the sole exception of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. The latest increase, moreover, is after a 20-point rise in the average over the previous five years from 708 in 2012.

Even without taking these latest improvements into account, Blount led Kellogg to a fourth-place finish last year on Poets&Quants’ composite ranking, in a tie with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and only narrowly behind the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Stanford, and Harvard Business School. That No. 4 rank is up from seventh place in 2010, largely on the strength of significantly improved rankings from the Financial Times (to 8th from 11th among U.S. schools), The Economist (to 2nd from 11th among U.S. schools), and Forbes (to 3rd from 8th).

In a video message to the Kellogg community (see below), Blount appears misty eyed at times as she reflects on her academic career and the opportunity Northwestern gave her to lead Kellogg as dean. “We’ve insured Kellogg’s place on the global shortlist of premier business schools,” she says. “Our faculty and staff are among the world’s best. And I still pinch myself every time I walk in the Global Hub, our new home. We have done amazing work together. I am so excited about Kellogg’s next chapter. But I am also aware that this opportunity marks a rare opportunity in my own life…. I am grateful for the amazing opportunities that I have had these past 30 years because Kellogg took a chance on a pregnant doctoral student.”

NEXT SUMMER MARKS THE 30TH YEAR SINCE SHE FIRST CAME TO KELLOGG

Only months ago, in March, Bount was remarking on how the school’s board of trustees had challenged her to think about how Kellogg could now build on its new stunning lakefront home. The board asked her to pretend she was a new dean who had just walked into the new building. Her challenge: What would she do next? At the time, she seemed energized by the task. But during her annual summer sojourn of solitude, a time when she disconnects from the world to be alone with her thoughts, Blount came to her decision to leave the deanship.

She realized that next summer would mark the 30th year since she came to Kellogg’s Evanston, Ill., campus as a young graduate student and a soon-to-be mother of the first of three children. Blount says the moment offered a “rare opportunity in her own life” to think about what should come next.

Over the years, she has made other meaningful life decisions in quiet reflection. Before returning to Kellogg as dean, she had been dean of New York University’s undergraduate business program at the Stern School of Business. It was after a weeklong solitary hike in the Arizona desert that she decided not to toss her name in for Stern’s top dean position, a judgment that ultimately led to the appointment at Kellogg a year later.

‘THIS IS WHAT THE PERSON I WANT TO BECOME WOULD DO’

“While on retreat in July, I realized that this inflection point creates an opportunity for me to start thinking bravely about my own life in the ways that i have about the institutions i have led,” Blount says. “I have long dreamed of taking a sabbatical year to travel, to write, and I want to spend some time thinking about my own final chapter in education as the pace of transformation accelerates in our workplace. As my daughter once said to me long ago, ‘This is what the person I want to become would do.’”

With Blount’s forthcoming departure, there will now be only three female deans of Top 25 U.S. business schools: Judy Olian at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Erika James at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, and Idalene F. Kesner of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. None of the Top 20 business schools outside the U.S. has a woman as its top leader.

Blount was initially a reluctant candidate for the deanship at Kellogg. Even after agreeing to meet with the search committee in the Admirals Club at O’Hare International Airport in December of 2009, she was unsure she wanted the job. Kellogg had just come off a failed fundraising campaign, torpedoed in part by the Great Recession. The school’s facilities were badly in need of a refresh. Rival schools had caught on to Kellogg’s differentiation in the market—its pioneering collaboration and teamwork culture—and the school was waiting for a leader who could re-energize the place.

‘LAND AS BIG AND GOLD AN OPPORTUNITY AS YOU CAN FIND’

The daughter of a Bell Labs physicist, Blount spent her early years in New Jersey, earning her undergraduate degree with high honors in engineering systems and economic policy and from Princeton University in 1983. She then made what turned out to be a pivotal choice with her first job. She joined the Boston Consulting Group’s Chicago office as an associate consultant. Blount would later counsel young women to do the same, to go into the most challenging and demanding jobs in business straight out of college, jobs that are more likely to be pursued by their male peers.

“I would argue that the first job is not the time to focus on comfort, balance or even mission,” she has said. “That can and should come later. The first job is the time in their lives for these women to gain credentials, take risks, travel, and land as big and bold an opportunity as they can find (see A Dean’s Career Advice To Young Women).

After a two-year stint at BCG, Blount joined an interior architecture firm as director of finance and planning, until going to Kellogg in 1988 for both her MS and PhD in organizational behavior, specializing in the behavioral psychology of decision making and negotiations.

  • Don Quixote M

    I am a Kellogg graduate, and I moved to Evanston earlier this year. I could write for hours, but I will start slow.

    1) A post I saw said “Dean Blount will meet with you.” She would not meet with me, I requested a 15 minute meeting with her to discuss a business I am starting. I went to her office in the Global Hub, and was met outside the closed doors that lead to her inner sanctum. One of the main reasons I moved to Evanston was because I thought Kellogg could help me start my business, like other schools do.

    2) The Global Hub is ostentatious, pretentious, and doesn’t belong on a college campus. Personally, I’m embarrassed that I, as a Kellogg grad, am in any way associated with it. When you walk by the building, you can’t help but think that it is out of place, and that people are probably cursing it, and Kellogg. On an aside note, I am not an architect, but there is no way that building should have cost $350 million to build. I bet Trump could have built it for about one-third as much. The old Kellogg building was modest, and you would always have a hard time even finding it. I liked the Chicago campus, where I took the majority of my classes. It was very understated, but we didn’t care, because we were attending the #! BUSINESS SCHOOL IN THE WORLD. I weep for my school now.

    3) Kellogg has been ranked #7 and #9 in the last two Business Week surveys, if I am correct. That’s unbelievable to me, as I attended when were #1 – a source of great pride. I’m sure people on this board understand how bad that is, and how many lives of Kellogg grads that affects. The Business Week numbers suggest that corporate employers do not want to hire Kellogg grads. This is especially a shame for younger grads and current students, given how much they invest in their education (or indoctrination) there. The worst part is that Evanston and NU seem hell-bent on becoming the ‘Berkeley’ of the Midwest.

    I’d like to know how many recent Kellogg grads haven’t found employment, and are working at Starbuck’s, etc.

    More to come…

  • Brad

    It was a pleasure to have Dean Sally as the Dean when I was at Kellogg. She is energetic, inspiring and hard working. It is an incredible achievement on her part to raise the kind of money she did and lead the effort on the new building. She will be remembered fondly by the Kellogg community as one of the best deans of any business school.

    If there is one small area where Dean Blount could have done better was focusing on the career services (CMC) which has been weakened since Roxanne Hori left. I hope Dean Blount or the next Dean who comes look at what other top schools are doing to revamp career services.
    – the school needs to hire more business development officers who have deep relationships in their respective industries so that they can leverage those networks to attract companies to campus.
    – Wharton and Booth have full time dedicated business relationship officers in major cities London, New York, and San Francisco,etc to aid in attracting companies to recruit from their schools.
    – all other M7 schools now have grade non disclosure (GND). It puts Kellogg students at a competitive disadvantage during recruiting. Firms like Goldman only interview Kellogg students with a 4.0 GPA while they cannot have such a blunt mechanism at other Top 10 schools because of GND . It is one thing if students vote against GND but this issue cannot even come up for a student body vote at Kellogg while most schools vote on GND.

  • Kellogg Student

    Completely disagree. She gets paid an absurd amount of money to be a cheerleader and raise money (and she crushed it in these departments). If a student wants to speak with her, you can email her to set up a time. I don’t need her walking around the Hub giving high fives. We have other deans that serve that purpose.

    To each their own though.

  • MBAtlast

    I totally agree. Other than the big events in the OLC where she touted Kellogg’s “transformation” with flowery consultant-speak (and I always left still clueless as to what exactly would be transforming), I never ever saw her wandering the halls of the Jake and speaking to students. Dean Jacobs, who is retired, spent more time in the Jake while I was there than she did, and from what I understand from students who went to Kellogg during his tenure, was always out interacting with students. I felt like I was part of an ignored generation of students who was caught up in a transitional period. Sally was so concerned about the long game while forgetting that we only spend 2 years there and needed her to focus on the “right now” as well. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time at Kellogg and will always be happy about my decision to go there, but if her only legacy over 7 years was fundraising and building the new building, then she’s missed a huge part of what makes a dean a dean.

  • HarvardWinsAgain

    Well, she did put Kellogg above Wharton at one point, so she is not a total failure. She was not asked to put Kellogg back to number one, so one can hardly blame her for leaving a niche school still as a niche marketing school.

  • avivalasvegas

    Don’t miss how Blount feels the need to spew out the numbers from her 7 year long sales campaign, reminding us all about her pregnancy and gender. If you think that Sally did more than fundraise for a new building, you’d be wrong. It’s almost as if she was hired to court donors and raise ranking metrics. All while waving her hands around furiously.

    The reality is that her lieutenants ran Kellogg while she sold. And she sold hard. Ziegler, Smith, the revolving door of career management center directors etc. And if you find her video message synthetic like I did, you haven’t scratched the surface with her staff.

    Kellogg would be wise to find a replacement for Don Jacobs and erase the last 7 years entirely from its memory. In the end, it takes more than a glass building to leave a legacy.

  • Bmor16

    I was so fortunate to have Dean Blount as my dean during my Kellogg education. She is brilliant, compelling, inspiring, and a true leader. Her tenure at Kellogg has been a gift to the institution — and to me. I fully support her decision to reflect and pursue a new challenge, and I am so excited to see what she will do next in her career. Go Sally!

  • kay

    how many times is it necessary to mention she was pregnant/is a mother

  • hbsguru

    terrific (and fast!!!) article John, it captures very well Blount’s bio, accomplishments, vision and major contributions to Kellogg.
    And it goes without saying, but you said it, “SHE ROCKS.”