In the video above, Kenneth Freeman talks about building on SMG’s established strengths. Video by Devin Hahn. Photo (below) by Kalman Zabarsky
When Kenneth W. Freeman was offered the School of Management deanship, the former CEO turned to an old and trusted advisor: his father. The 97-year-old Freeman père, who immigrated to Massachusetts from Nova Scotia as a teenager, told his son that when he came of college age, during the Depression, he’d hoped to attend BU, but his family couldn’t foot the tuition — “which he recalled was $100 a year,” says Freeman.
“My father said, ‘Ken, this is a gift for you, and for me. If I were you, I’d take the job.’” Freeman will start on August 1.
In another respect, Freeman, 60, has lived his father’s life, and then some. The elder Freeman, a self-made businessman, inspired his son to enter the business arena, where he’s best known as a turnaround expert, shepherding Quest Diagnostics from a problem-plagued upstart to the world’s leading medical testing company. The results of a study conducted by professors at INSEAD and published earlier this year by the Harvard Business Review rated Freeman the 67thbest performing CEO in the world.
Freeman, now a member with private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., will replace Louis E. Lataif (SMG’61, Hon.’90), SMG’s Allen Questrom Professor and Dean, who has helmed the school for 19 years. Freeman is the trustee chairman of Bucknell University, his alma mater, and an executive-in-residence at Columbia Business School.
University President Robert A. Brown says the appointment meshes man and mission. “Management education faces unprecedented challenges in the years ahead as we prepare the next generation of leaders in the global economy, who accept their responsibilities to society, as well as to their firms," says Brown. "It is exciting to have Ken Freeman as our dean of the School of Management. His business experience, his intellect, and his values are the perfect tools to lead our faculty in shaping the future of management education and continuing the positive trajectory of the school.”
“I’m thrilled to join the Boston University community,” Freeman says. “The School of Management has great momentum. I look forward to doing a lot of listening and learning in the early days as we prepare to further distinguish the school by building on its unique strengths.”
While he says that detailing any immediate to-do list would be premature, he sees his role as “chief advocate.” Freeman intends to dedicate himself to building strong relationships: with the faculty, the staff, the students, and alumni.
Under Lataif, SMG leapt 15 spots in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings of American business schools, to number 31. It was the largest improvement by any school in the rankings, which reflect academic quality, the mean starting salary/bonus of graduates and their employment rates, the quality of entering students, and reviews by peers and recruiters. SMG was among the five highest-rated business schools in New England, and in that group, it had the highest percentage of graduates placed in jobs within three months.
During Freeman’s four-decade-long career, the profession and practice of business has been transformed by new regulations, new investment vehicles, powerful new technology, and globalization. “I bring to the school an open mind and a keen interest in driving innovation in what we teach and how we teach, how our students engage in learning, and in scholarship. I hope to bring the ability to anticipate and lead innovative changes in conjunction with the faculty and students, who in the end likely know as much or more than the rest of us about technology.”
With business scandals dominating the news, Freeman says, business education “is at a crossroads. It’s not just about developing core quantitative and analytical skills. It’s about developing strong leaders who know how to effectively interact with each other around the world, treat each other with respect, and work in a team environment, having at the core a very strong value system.”
“I also see the opportunity and the need for us to be focused very heavily on procuring the resources that will assure that SMG has the talent, technology, and ethical standards that place it among the best business schools globally,” says Freeman. His efforts will build on the work of Lataif, who garnered significant resources for the school in the form of increased annual fund and capital giving and the establishment of a number of endowed professorships.
When Freeman took over the predecessor company to Quest Diagnostics in 1995, the business was part of Corning, Inc. At that time, the lab testing industry faced allegations that it had overbilled Medicare by charging for unnecessary tests. At the beginning of 1997, Corning spun off the business to its shareholders, and it took the name Quest Diagnostics.
Freeman, who had worked at Corning his whole career, led a dramatic transformation of Quest Diagnostics from an embattled company facing massive challenges on multiple fronts into the leading provider of diagnostic testing in the world. “The secrets of success,” he says, “involved relentlessly focusing on creating a strong company culture grounded in core values and satisfying the needs of employees and customers, driving organic growth through the development of an industry-leading esoteric testing capability, investing in continuous improvement in operations, and strategic acquisitions that dramatically increased the company’s market reach.”
The bottom line: under Freeman’s leadership the market capitalization of Quest Diagnostics increased from $350 million at the time of the spin-off to $9 billion-plus when he handed over the reins to his successor as CEO in 2004.
At KKR, which he joined in 2005, Freeman serves on the Portfolio Management Committee, which oversees all of the firm’s private equity investments around the world. He is a director of hospital operator HCA, Inc., medical device maker Accellent, Inc., and building products manufacturer Masonite Corp. After taking over as SMG dean, Freeman will continue his affiliation with KKR as a senior advisor.
Freeman earned an M.B.A with distinction from Harvard Business School in 1976. His nonbusiness passions are spending time with his family (married 38 years, he has two grown children and two young grandchildren), music (especially playing the piano), reading, watching sports, and keeping fit. He once considered a keyboardist’s career, but says he “discovered quickly that if I wanted to eat, I would need to do something other than performing music.”