Last Thursday We Lost a True Values-Based Leader

When a true values-based leader passes away, it leaves an empty feeling for those fortunate to have had the opportunity to know them. That is what happened to me last Thursday night with the passing of Professor Walter Scott, better known to students, faculty, and almost everybody, as “Wally”.

As I have shared frequently in previous posts, when I stepped down as the CEO of Baxter International in 2004, I was very fortunate to receive a call from Dean Don Jacobs informing me that he wanted me to join the Northwestern Kellogg faculty. What I haven’t talked much about is that after Don cornered me with his infamous, “Harry, I think you told me you would do whatever I asked you to do?”, one of his first directives to me was: “Harry, get together with Wally Scott right away. I need you to develop future leaders the way Wally does.”

Wally was a remarkable person. He was always available to “show me the ropes” and help in any way possible. In our first meeting, he recommended I quickly read at least ten of the hundreds of leadership books in his office. He made sure I met everyone on the faculty that was involved with leadership development.

Wally was a great example of a values-based leader. His amazing career (see the obituary below) included leadership positions in banking, operations, government, education and not-for-profit enterprises. He was very humble about his accomplishments. It was not until I questioned him about some of the pictures in his office that he admitted that he was in the White House during the Nixon and Ford administrations and had a “front row seat” during the Watergate investigations.

Wally was also very self reflective. He was a strong Christian and believed that we all have an obligation to help those less fortunate. He was on many non-profit boards, including the One Acre Fund. He made sure I shared his enthusiasm and support for all of these organizations. When he met with students he would always ask them how they planned to make a positive impact in the world. We often discussed the fact that many people assume that someone else will handle all of the world’s problems, that infamous group of people called “those guys”. NO, he would say, “Harry, as folks fortunate to come to Kellogg, WE are ‘those guys’!!!”

When Wally “retired” several years ago (I am putting “retired” in quotes because although Wally may have officially retired, he never stopped working. He was at Kellogg advising students as recently as two weeks before he passed away), I asked him if he would like to share my office, and we became what he referred to as “roomies”. I was fortunate to be able to receive his advice and wisdom for several additional years.

I had the opportunity to visit Wally in the hospital two days before his passing. He knew he had terminal cancer and a short time to live. However, rather than be remorseful or scared, he had a big smile on his face and welcomed me into his hospital room by proclaiming, “Hi, roomie! I want you to know how incredibly blessed I am, Harry, with my amazing wife, Barbara, and my remarkable family. I thank God every day for how fortunate I am.” He then went right to business and wanted to know if I wanted to keep all of his leadership books in our shared office.” I told him, “Of course, roomie!!!”

I realize that going to my Kellogg office won’t ever be the same without Wally’s big smile and hearty, “Hi, roomie!!!” However, I am confident he is already smiling down on all of us.


Walter Dill Scott Obituary

Walter Dill Scott, age 86, died February 8, 2018 in Evanston, IL from lymphoma. He was at peace and surrounded by his adoring family.

He graduated from New Trier High School in 1949, attended Williams College, and graduated from Northwestern University in 1953. He received his MBA from Columbia University in 1958. After 3 years as an officer in the Navy, he began a long and successful career in business. He spent 15 years in investment banking in New York and Chicago, finally as a senior partner running the Chicago office for Lehman Brothers in the 60s and early 70s. Service was always a high priority, including 2 years as associate director of the United States Office of Management and Budget during the Nixon and Ford administrations. After leaving Washington, he worked as EVP/CFO at Pillsbury (now General Mills), CEO of IDS Financial Services (now Ameriprise) and Chairman/CEO of Grand Metropolitan USA (now Diageo).

In 1988, he joined the faculty of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where he taught courses in leadership and nonprofit board governance and co-founded the Center for Executive Women. As he described it, he mostly hung out and advised students and student organizations. He loved initiating and introducing new programs and activities. Most of the time he felt he was the same age as the students. At Kellogg, he had an immense impact on the school and generations of students. He maintained strong and continuing relationships with many former students.
He served on 15 corporate boards and 25 nonprofit boards, to which he devoted considerable time and effort and which he found particularly rewarding. In 1987 he had a life changing experience while serving with a Kairos Prison Ministry team in a men’s prison in Raeford, Florida. He felt his life transformed and became a committed Christian.
He was blissfully married to the very special Barbara Stein Scott for 56 years. She enriched his life every day. Survivors include his wife Barbara, his three sons Tim (Linda) and David (Barb) of Minneapolis, and Gordon (Anne) of Northfield, Illinois, and eight adored grandchildren, who taught him lots.

His intelligence, sense of humor, optimism, whimsy, and love of family, God and friends will be sorely missed by all. He was a mentor, strong influence and great example to many, many people.

In lieu of flowers or donations, he asked that he be remembered by his friends and family by their reaching out to someone in need for an hour, a day or a lifetime. If any also wish to make a financial contribution, please make it to the Mary Lou and John Scott Inner-City Education Fund (Account #5649) at Northwestern University Development Office, 2020 Ridge Road, Evanston, IL 60208-4307.

A memorial service is planned for Sunday, February 18 at 3:00pm at Winnetka Presbyterian Church, 1255 Willow Road, Winnetka, IL. A reception will follow.

One comment

  • Wally was one of my favorite professors at Kellogg. His leadership course was absolutely amazing!

    My favorite Wally story came after Kellogg when I was working at a large multinational company. I emailed Wally about an introduction to the CEO of a privately held company, on which Wally served as a member of their board of advisors, to explore “business development opportunities.” Wally quickly replied with something like, “Yes. But so you know beforehand, the company is not for sale under any terms.” Great leaders have a good sense for direct communication. And by the way, acquiring the company was the intent for the introduction.

    I have not only repeated (many times) one of Wally’s terrific leadership stories, I lived it because of him. After Wally announced his retirement from Pillsbury he submitted an order to sell some of his stock in the company. Between when he initiated the sell order and before it could be executed, bad news was released about the company. The situation was something in which Wally had no involvement, nor of which he had any prior knowledge. The first thing Wally did was cancel the order to sell his shares. It was legal for him to sell at the time. But his reputation was important, and he did not want others to think he was “getting out” before the bad news took a hit on the stock price. So Wally withdrew his sell order, waited for the stock price to adjust to the news, and then placed his sell order.

    Similarly, as the president of one of the aforementioned company’s business units, I changed the vacation policy to “use it or lose it” because time off from work was an important part of our wellness program. We gave all of our teammates a year to adjust to the new policy, and then we would buy back any unused vacation. I told the CFO that the buyback would apply to everyone but me. I then shared with the CFO Wally’s stock order story and did not want others to think that I approved the vacation policy change for personal gain.

    I am most certain Wally is resting in peace.


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