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How Should Top Business School Deans Change to Lead the Training Grounds of Fortune 500 Future Leaders?


A Q&A with Korn Ferry’s co-managing director of the Global Education Practice, Kenneth L. Kring.

Kenneth L. Kring is a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry's Philadelphia office and co-managing director of the Global Education Practice

Kenneth L. Kring is a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry's Philadelphia office and co-managing director of the Global Education Practice.

Kenneth L. Kring is a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry's Philadelphia office and co-managing director of the Global Education Practice. In his three decades of executive search consulting, Kring has recruited more than 400 senior level executives and board directors for leading institutions in the education, not-for-profit, and private sectors.

Kring has served on several not-for-profit boards and for more than a decade has been on the executive committee of the University City Science Center. Kring holds a master's degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Management. He was a two-time NCAA finalist in the decathlon while at Stanford University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology.

Q. With approximately 5% of Harvard’s and Wharton’s 2023 classes going into healthcare, 4% for Stanford, and 3% for Yale,1 business schools are a crucial training ground for this vertical’s pipeline of future C-suite leaders. Still, the past year’s complex discussions at top schools has made it challenging to say the least. Per your seminal research regarding the “The Business School Dean Redefined,”2 what progress has been made at top schools to evolve and what still needs to occur in order to train our future C-suite leaders?

Kring: When we were conducting this research, it was clear that business school dean appointments indicated that university presidents, provosts, and search committees valued a new type of leadership for business schools—one that emphasized CEO-style breadth and organizational expertise over more narrow academic mastery. A key reason for this recruitment approach was the accelerating change that not only deans but also Fortune 500 C-suites were facing in terms of alternating “buyer” values, evolving technologies, globalization, shifting demographics, and unprecedented economic pressures. And so forward-thinking schools like Northwestern took a chance on hiring leaders who had these skills.

For instance, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management hired Sally Blount, who emerged from the management department, rather than economics or finance. Before becoming a professor, she even spent two years as a management consultant. As for results, I recall how she was lauded for leading Kellogg’s first-ever major capital campaign which raised $365 million, including a doubling of contributions to the school’s annual fund which surpassed more than $10 million for the first time. Fast forward to today, and with these changes accelerating like generative AI and 2023’s challenging job market for even top-school MBAs;3 frankly, it is definitely a work in progress for our top schools’ deans.

As to elevating the MBA curriculum for the pipeline of future C-suite leaders, smarter deans have recognized the importance of enabling their department heads to evolve content that can meet future-forward market considerations. Note, compared to CEOs who have their C-suites reporting directly to them, deans are largely facilitators as tenured professors determine course curriculum for their departments. Moreover, business school deans are more dependent upon the value propositions for their current students and alumni give the funding calculus.

For example, the percentage of funding from the government is generally higher for Harvard Medical School (HMS) compared to Harvard Business School (HBS). While HMS relies significantly on federal research grants and clinical revenue associated with its medical services, HBS relies more on its endowment, tuition, and philanthropy.4 These enablement efforts have especially centered around creating new collaborative partnerships internally as well as externally.

Q. With several healthcare CEOs pointing to how emerging technologies are crucial for creating new revenue and daily operating models for their Fortune 500s, what are your top three recommendations for business school deans to consider as they build their 2025 strategic plans?

Kring: First, understand the marketplace in terms of what hiring C-suites project for the future. If J&J’s EVP/CIO has mentioned how their employees need to be “bilingual,” meaning an employee is someone who can combine their area of expertise with relevant tech insights to elevate their overall performance and contribute to achieving J&J’s company’s mission,5 then figure out pathways to provide such learning opportunities at your school. Wharton’s Business Analytics curriculum6 is one example of enabling students to secure the classroom training needed to be fluent in the needs of Fortune 500 firms.

Second, go outside your four walls and collaborate with others: with a focus on outcomes. At my undergraduate alma mater, LaunchPad is one of Stanford University’s most successful accelerators. Each spring quarter, a team works with ten new ventures to incubate and launch a real business in just 10 weeks. With the daunting hurdles that start-ups face, this accelerator’s KPI of 60% of LaunchPad ventures are still in business, points to the focus on outcomes.7

Third, build developmental opportunities for your leaders to secure empathy and enable stronger collaboration for resource-constrained organizations. At The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, we collaborated with their respective hiring authorities to recruit new deans from outside and then helped those deans to create fresh talent strategies.

The practices included having the incoming deans pull from the ranks of their faculty and existing staff, many times for two, three-year rotations, taking on better defined professional roles to carry out the strategic initiatives of the school. Sitting on the other side of the table across from faculty and staff counterparts has enabled them to understand and more competently address daily stresses on the administration of the school. These rotational assignments have also elevated their empathy and understanding. Moreover, these assignments built management muscle that enhanced the school’s overall well-being.

Finally, your MBA readers should understand the potential career growth opportunities that healthcare offers and the various subcomponents within it. Just as technology firms have placed big bets on collaborating with healthcare. So has Korn Ferry, as our higher education practice reports into our firm’s global healthcare services team since we believe that there is an inextricable connection between education’s research and healthcare’s ecosystem.

For instance, The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) helps to translate discoveries and ideas created at Penn into new products and businesses for societal benefit. Through their successful facilitation of a broad range of connections between Penn and the private sector, the organization has helped affiliated startups raise or receive over $1 billion in new investment capital.8 And a glance at PCI’s portfolio of companies points to the current and future value of connecting the dots between education and healthcare.

About the Author

Michael Wong is an emeritus board member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.


1. https://www.hbs.edu/recruiting/employment-data/Pages/default.aspx, https://statistics.mbacareers.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/Wharton-2023-Career-Report_.pdf https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/2023-12/report-2023-mba-employment-report.pdf, https://som.yale.edu/programs/mba/career-paths/employment-report-2023-24

2. Kring, Kenneth L., Kaplan, Stuart, The business school dean redefined

New leadership requirements from the front lines of change in academia, Korn Ferry Institute, October 2011

3. https://www.wsj.com/lifestyle/careers/the-m-b-a-s-who-cant-find-jobs-669cc1fa

4. https://finance.harvard.edu/files/fad/files/fy23_harvard_financial_report.pdf

5. https://lnkd.in/eWGftnSw

6. https://mba-inside.wharton.upenn.edu/buan-major/

7. https://www.launchpad.stanford.edu/

8. https://pci.upenn.edu/

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