NO TRADITION OF GIVING HAD BEEN ESTABLISHED WITH THE SCHOOL’S ALUMNI
Perhaps her greatest challenge was the need to raise substantial funds for the construction of Kellogg’s new global hub. The school had never run a successful capital campaign. One such effort collapsed in the Great Recession before she arrived, raising little more than a quarter of the $250 million goal. Before that, Jacobs had smartly leveraged the resources from Kellogg’s executive education programs to support the school, relying more on a tuition-based business model. The upshot: No tradition of giving had been established with the school’s alumni.
“I don’t think the alumni network was ready to be tapped when Sally began to approach alumni for support,” says Harry Kraemer, who earned his MBA from Kellogg in 1979 and ultimately became the chairman and CEO of Baxter International. Now a clinical professor of strategy at Kellogg, Kraemer says that 20 to 30 years went by without a major fundraising campaign. “By the time Sally came in asking for money, many of the alumni were more attached to their undergraduate institutions, their churches, museums and charities. It was a big, long haul for her to convince people to get the ball rolling.”
Undaunted, Blount persevered, raising more than $365 million, without the benefit of a mega gift. By the time she leaves, that total could come closer to half a billion dollars. She landed major gifts from Miles White, the long-time CEO of Abbott Laboratories, and his wife, Kimberly, as well as former Motorola CEO Christopher and his wife, Cynthia Galvin, both alums. But most of the money for the building was raised from a large segment of the alumni, without a big footed gift. Blount estimates that she has invested a third of her seven years as dean on the planning and fundraising for the Global Hub.
‘WE WENT FROM BEING IN A SUB-BASEMENT TO A PLACE THAT IS INCREDIBLE’
The building has had a transformational effect on the school, encouraging more interaction among faculty and students than was possible in what was affectionately called “The Jake.” The 415,000-square-foot building consists of two atriums stacked on top each other, with the fourth- and fifth-floor atriums designed to get criss-crossing faculty members to collide and collaborate with peers they otherwise may not have seen for months. The atriums are modern versions of an Italian piazza, an academic village of sorts for the learned.
“Two weeks after being here, I have seen faculty I hadn’t seen for a year and one half,” says Schonthal. “It is allowing for behavior we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to have in the old building. Our culture existed despite The Jake. This building has been designed to be a thoughtful representation of the culture’s ideals in collaboration and forward thinking.” Adds Kraemer, “It has been day and night. We went from being in a sub-basement to a place that is incredible, beyond phenomenal. And she spent an amazing amount of time and put her life and soul into building this thing.”
Indeed, more than just a building, the new Global Hub reflects the intensity of its dean and her extraordinary devotion to even the smallest details. “Every single piece of this building has her fingerprints on it,” says Ziegler. “It is like this permanent monument to millions of small decisions she made.”
‘EVEN HER BIGGEST CRITIC WOULD AGREE THAT NO ONE OUTWORKS SALLY’
In fact, many at Kellogg cannot imagine a more devoted person than Blount. “Everybody here knows she is always working harder than you are,” says Hubbard. “There is no one who comes close to how hard Sally has worked. Even her biggest critic would agree that no one outworks Sally. She is wickedly smart and very genuine. You never have to worry about hidden agendas with Sally. It’s not her nature to be cautious and part of her boldness is her own transparency. She shares a lot about herself and she can be a very demanding boss, but she gets a lot of loyalty from those she is most demanding of.”
“She is deeply passionate,” believes Ziegler. “You can feel that in her fiber. She is a very thoughtful and caring person. She is all in. There is an intensity to her that I like. I see her regularly off hours and she is always buzzing, always thinking. That is an energy that I find very exciting to be around.”
For a self-described introvert, leading one of the world’s premier business schools has sometimes been personally challenging. Blount concedes that as a woman, she has at times faced the struggle between being her true self and being something of a public figure as dean. “I love being the conveyor of the culture,” she says. “But I cannot be fully Sally on a stage and be true to myself. To be fully Sally is to be passionate. People don’t like impassioned females in certain settings. In so many places I have to go in a box and speak much more calmly and tempered.”
‘THE JOB WAS A CALLING BUT I WANTED TO DO SOMETHING THAT COMES FROM MY HEART’
Nonetheless, she has discovered her own rather strong voice, recently being named by LinkedIn a Top Voice of 2017 for her essays in management and workplace. Blount has written on a wide variety of topics from getting more women into c-suite jobs to reimagining effective cross-functional teams.
In her Global Hub office, with flames gently blazing in a gas fireplace, Blount recalls how she came about her decision to give up Kellogg’s top job. It was in February of 2016, Blount says, when she saw her post-dean self for the first time. At that point, she had been a dean at NYU and Northwestern for a dozen years. Blount had never had more than two weeks vacation nor an academic sabbatical. She didn’t even take maternity leave when her children were born.
“The building at that point seemed far away, but I knew I wasn’t a lifer,” she says. “Don was in this job for 26 years. It was fun for him, but for me it was work. It absorbed me. It was a calling but I wanted to do something that comes from my heart.
‘IF I ONLY HAVE 12 OR 15 YEARS LEFT, WHAT IS SALLY PASSIONATE ABOUT AND WHAT SHOULD SHE DO?’
“My brain is really good at solving the analytical problems, but not so good about what Sally wants and needs. I had never really stopped to say what is the right next step for Sally? You are head down to the grindstone when you are a working mom. You don’t think about yourself.
“I was divorced. I buried both my parents. My children were on their way. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have an obligation to another human being. So it was profound. I asked myself, ‘If I only have 12 or 15 years left, what is Sally passionate about and what should she do?’ In my heart, I am the middle child, trying to bring everyone together. I had to come to peace with that. I love being the person who moves others along. But it’s time for other people to carry some water.”
She remains bullish on business education. “Business is the predominant institution in our world. Markets are not fair, kind of wise. So more throughtful people is what the world needs. That requires more business education, not less.”
‘SHE GAVE THIS PLACE A JOLT OF ENERGY’
Once she presides for the last time over Kellogg’s commencement in late June, Blount will take a one-year timeout to decide what’s next. In the meantime, she’s running faculty seminars on what it takes to be a business school dean and will be working with two student teams this winter on social enterprise concepts.
One thing is certain. Sally Blount will sorely be missed. “She has had a complete commitment to making the place better,” believes Ben Jones, faculty director of Kellogg’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. “She took an institution that was in a more stationary place and gave it a jolt of energy. There is this sense that we can do anything now. You can feel this hum when you walk into our building. I hope our new dean can live up to her.”
If anything, there is some concern that no one will be able to top her in the job, a concern that some may well have had when she herself took over seven years ago. “She has had a sense of urgency that I am worried we will lose,” admits Schonthal. “She was impatient and I hope she established a level of impatience here that will last. Sally did an amazing job staging us, but now it’s time for the community to take it for a spin.”