Ken Freeman, dean of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, will be stepping down from his post after a nearly eight year run in the job. He is one of only three active deans of a Top 50 school who is from the corporate sector and only one of two without a Phd on his resume.
In a letter to the school’s faculty and staff dated Nov. 15th, the 66-year-old Freeman said he plans to quit the deanship at the end of this academic year. “The time is right,” wrote Freeman, who earned his MBA from Harvard in 1976.. “We have recently completed successful reaccreditation visits and our first ever academic program review, and the University is about to begin the process of developing a new strategic plan for the next decade. The new dean will help define that strategy and take BU and Questrom to the next level.”
University Provost Jean Morrison said that a national search will be guided by a soon-to-be-named Questrom Dean Search Advisory Committee. The committee will likely face a difficult job because there already are three major business school dean searches underway at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and NYU’s Stern School of Business. The Questrom panel is expected to recommend three to five candidates to the university no later than May 25th of 2018. Freeman’s successor will be selected by BU President Robert Brown and Morrison, with approval by the Board of Trustees.
BROUGHT IN THE LARGEST GIFT IN THE HISTORY OF BOSTON UNIVERSITY
Freeman, who set the stage for his deanship when he moved into a small second-floor office with a glass wall to be more accessible to students and staff, led a revamping of the school’s undergraduate and MBA curricula, putting a greater focus on ethics and global citizenship, and sectors that are dramatically impacting the world economy – health and life sciences, digital technology, sustainability and social enterprise. Just two years ago, he also helped to bring in the largest gift in the history of Boston University, a $50 million pledge from alumnus and long-time retailing giant Allen Questrom and his wife, Kelli. The gift will endow 10 faculty chairs and enable planning to establish a new graduate program facility (see BU Gets $50 Million Naming Gift).
It was under his leadership that a highly unusual master’s in management studies was launched two years ago, a program that Poets&Quants named one of the most innovative business school ideas in 2015 (see A Management Master’s With A Difference). Instead of settling for a bland, me-too specialty master’s degree, the school literally took out a blank sheet of paper and designed an unusually creative curriculum which has no sylabus, no graded tests, even no formal classes. Instead, the pass-fail program evolves around three client-consulting projects that put the learning in the hands of the students.
Freeman also initiated the first ever comprehensive global conversation about the future of business education between academia and industry in 2014, and co-authored “Reimagining Business Education: Insights and Actions from the Business Education Jam,” published in 2016.
LEFT KKR TO BECOME A BUSINESS SCHOOL DEAN IN 2010
He became dean in 2010 after a five-year stint as a managing director and partner of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR). Freeman began his corporate career at Corning Inc. in 1972, progressing through the financial function before leading several businesses. He joined Corning Clinical Laboratories in 1995, and the company was spun off as Quest Diagnostics Inc. soon thereafter. He led a turnaround of Quest Diagnostics as chairman and chief executive officer through 2004.
Taking on a deanship without having been in academia is highly unusual. Currently, there are only two other deans from the corporate sector leading Top 50 schools: Former McKinsey Senior Partner Scott Beardsley at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and James Ellis at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Ellis had a lengthy career in the business world before joining academia, working in senior management positions with Broadway Department Stores, American Porsche Design and several other companies. Beardsley earned his doctorate in higher education management before taking on the job as Darden dean, but both Ellis and Freeman do not have Phds and are both MBA graduates of Harvard Business School.
In his letter to the Questrom community, Freeman expressed his gratitude for the level of support he has been given at the school. “Reflecting on almost eight years as dean and a proud member of the BU community, I am deeply grateful for your energetic support of our efforts to transform the school at a time of tremendous enrollment growth and change. Our programs are stronger than ever. Plans to add faculty and construct a new graduate programs building continue to advance. Our community of faculty, staff and students is exceptional. And our alumni are increasingly engaged in helping to advance the school through sharing time, talent and treasure. Thank you very much for the privilege of serving as dean during a time of great change and momentum. Your support, advice, and friendship is an inspiration.”
BELIEVES IN TERM LIMITS FOR CEOS & APPARENTLY FOR DEANS
One of the few business school deans from the corporate sector, Freeman appears to be taking his own advice of not staying in a top leadership job too long. In an article he penned for the Harvard Business Review on succession planning 13 years ago, he advocated term limits for CEOs.
“Companies and individuals achieve greatness when they embrace change, taking risks to move to the next level,” he wrote. “Occasionally, a CEO can continually reinvent both himself and his organization; most often, though, the CEO’s actions become predictable over time. The company gets comfortable with the status quo, and the organization’s ability to change is severely diminished. I’ve come to realize that it’s better to give your all during the finite time your leadership is still fresh and people are still on their toes. Furthermore, knowing that your days are numbered injects a sense of urgency into your work.
“But there’s another reason that a CEO shouldn’t view his or her job as a permanent position. As the issues facing a business evolve, the CEO must also evolve. At some point, though, evolution isn’t enough: The chief executive’s talents will no longer be matched to the strategic challenges facing the company. At this stage—or, even better, before it—the CEO should yield to someone with skills better suited to the issues at hand. Even here, the ego problem can rear its ugly head. I think it is safe to say that some CEOs are so attached to the prestige they have enjoyed in their leadership roles that they secretly hope to see their successors stumble, thereby making their own achievements look better in retrospect.”