When asked about why he was interested in coming to Randolph College, John Klein replied, “It’s a convergence of my experiences and interests. I feel that I have been preparing my whole life to take on this role and am confident I can make a difference here.”
John Klein’s appointment was announced on June 13, 2007. That afternoon in Washington, D.C., he met with Student Government Association President Hillary Peabody ’08. By mid-July he and his wife Susan had hosted a reception in their St. Louis home for St. Louis-area alumnae and had traveled to Lynchburg to meet the College community. “After the campus visit in July, my enthusiasm grew for the challenges ahead,” remembers President Klein. “Susan and I met faculty, staff, trustees, and alumnae who work hard for and believe in this College. I was ready to jump in with both feet.”
John began his presidency on August 15, 2007. Whether participating in a ropes course with the first-years during orientation or sharing lunch with students in Cheatham Dining Hall, he is visible and engaged. He greeted students and alumnae at the Lynchburg Chapter first-year Pinning Ceremony, addressed alumnae at chapter events in Richmond, Lynchburg, and Norfolk, and delivered frank College updates to Alumnae Leadership Council delegates and Family Weekend participants.
“President Klein’s comments about the state of the College and shortterm action plans at Alumnae Leadership Council weekend were straightforward,” recalls Lauren Emory ’04. “He patiently and thoroughly answered my questions. He seems ready to make some tough decisions to make the College thrive.”
A graduate of Princeton University, President Klein began his career as a teaching fellow at International College in Beirut, Lebanon. He received his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and practiced law with the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City. He then began a highly successful 28-year international business career with Bunge North America, Inc., a global agribusiness company. He became CEO of Bunge North America at age 39 and served in that position for 18 years. During his business career, John and Susan worked and lived in Belgium, Holland, England, Argentina, and Brazil as well as the United States.
Eventually, John thought about leaving the corporate world and considered becoming headmaster of a secondary school, dean of a business school, or president of a small college. Before assuming the presidency of Randolph College, he served for three years as Executive Vice Chancellor for finance and administration at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
President Klein and his siblings attended single-sex high schools and colleges. Princeton, his then-single-sex alma mater, is now a coed university. As a secondary school trustee, he was instrumental in successfully merging two St. Louis schools with long traditions of single-sex education into one coed institution.
Community involvement is the Kleins’ hallmark. Ellen Edmondson Jones ’39, a St. Louis-area alumna and acquaintance of the Kleins, says, “My husband and I knew them through the Garden Club and the Board of the St. Louis Art Museum. It’s clear that education is his real love. Both John and Susan were great assets to St. Louis. I encourage other alumnae to get to know them personally.”
The Kleins have a long-time interest in American art and are members of the American Art Forum of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and of the Bryant Fellows of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Also members of the Smithsonian’s American Art Forum are Kitty Stark Caldwell ’74 and her husband Hacker. While on a museum trip in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2006, John and Kitty discovered a shared interest in higher education. They had a long discussion about R-MWC, including the coed decision and the selection of a new name and president. The timing was fortuitous—Kitty then submitted John’s name to the Presidential Search Committee and he began the interview process.
“I was a non-traditional candidate,” noted President Klein. “I arrived at a time when financial aspects of the College have taken on great importance, and I am certain that my background is one reason that I was selected for the job. I came with my eyes open about the problems we face and will do my best to address them in the longterm interest of the College.”
President Klein acknowledges the stresses that alumnae, faculty, staff, and students have experienced over the last two years. “This job has required working with the Board on some tough decisions that have reopened wounds. Those decisions have been difficult and have caused me heartache as well, but they are necessary for the College’s long-term stability and success.” President Klein is now focused on trying to find ways to heal the community. Discussions with faculty, students, and alumnae are already underway.
“I plan to spend this first year asking questions and absorbing and understanding the issues so that, working together, we can enrich the student experience and maintain our academic excellence,” President Klein explained. “We need our bright and talented alumnae and upper class women, with their close relationships, traditions and diversity, to help the first-years embrace the College’s core values and understand that they are the inheritors of the R-MWC legacy.”
President Klein recognizes how important increased enrollment is to the success of the College. “The College’s environment needs to be welcoming, challenging, supportive, and fun, and we must continue to build on the close faculty to student and student to student relationships that have been the College’s hallmark,” he said. “We will need these attributes to attract more women and men to apply, enroll, pay financially sustainable tuition, and stay until they graduate. The quality of the education we provide and the relationships that are engendered are critical to this effort over the long-term.”
President Klein said the College’s problems did not materialize overnight and, although he is working hard to bring the College back into financial equilibrium, it will not happen as quickly as he would like. “Success will not be achieved in one year, and I hope everyone will give us a chance,” he commented. “Over the next five years, I anticipate that the College will enroll considerably more students, that the academic program will expand and improve, that the community will regain its vitality, and that alumnae will be invested in and proud of the College.”