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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights
New CEO at ETS: Landgraf
E-mail: Barbara Fox@princetoninfo.com
Politicians, executives, and educators like to tout
diversity as a goal, but nuts and bolts experience with diversity
is hard to come by. So when Educational Testing Service proclaims
its brand-new CEO has a "deep and proven commitment to both ethnic
and gender diversity," a cynic might take a less than enthusiastic
view. Then Kurt F. Landgraf starts to tell about his life, starting
with growing up as an orphan in Newark in a neighborhood that teemed
with diversity. "Frankly I didn’t do very well as a kid. I just
didn’t really care," says Landgraf. "Where I grew up, you
didn’t go to college."
When Landgraf takes over as CEO on Monday, August 7, he will have
plenty of tales to tell about diversity in academic, political,
social, and emotional arenas. He spent the last 20 years as a
executive with DuPont, but he has also been an educator, a politician,
a minor league baseball player, a Navy pilot, and a father of five
Landgraf wanted to spend his post-DuPont life as governor of the state
of Delaware, crusading for better education, but when his election
bid was stymied by a technicality, he leapt at the chance to channel
his hankering for public service into ETS. Though he spent four years
at ETS early in his career, he is an outsider to the staid, nonprofit
testing business, and with his no-holds-barred directness, he just
might be able to spark the enthusiasm of a jaded industry and ignite
"I really think ETS must change in order to be a player and be
successful in the education business," he says in a telephone
interview last week, just after his appointment was announced. ETS
must play a more significant role in the national debate on
performance and accountability, he believes: "ETS has the unique
capability to influence the progress of education and education reform
in this country as well as internationally."
The 53-year-old nonprofit with the impressive campus on Rosedale Road
has traditionally concentrated on testing high school students to
predict success in college, but Landgraf wants to reduce ETS’s
on high stakes outcomes testing like the SAT and get into the K-12
assessment markets. He sees a two-pronged broader role to help improve
the quality of education, not just test for it.
"We have the ability to link up and have alliances in
including some of the teachers’ organizations, to provide development
opportunities for teachers and administrators," he says. "We
also have a moral role to help people prepare for the tests."
To anti-testing activists who raise the specter of "teaching to
the test," Landgraf has this reply:
"What I think you need for educational reform and accountability
is a rigorous standard, a curriculum that is supportive of teachers,
and schools with local autonomy. I am a big believer that everyone
can learn and achieve."
He will put increased emphasis on a diverse workforce. "As you
know, ETS is a very diverse organization. Because of what we do, we
have to be ever vigilant to retain, hire, develop, and promote people
from all ethnic and social backgrounds, because that is what our
look like, and what our customers want," he says. "The more
heterogeneous the organization, the better."
If the 54-year-old Landgraf talks like a politician,
it’s because he is one, and in fact the very reason why he came to
ETS, after a stellar corporate career, is that he strongly wanted
to go into public service. Labeling himself a fiscal conservative
and a social liberal, he had every intention of running for governor
and would be on the ticket except for a controversial technicality
regarding Delaware’s six-year residence requirement. Because
job required him to spend six-month intervals in Geneva, Switzerland,
the election board invalidated his bid. Landgraf is not bashful about
saying that his intended opponent was responsible for this thwarting
tactic: "I think I could have won the governor’s race, but we
will never know."
"I was going to run on educational reform," he says, noting
that schools are "substandard" in Delaware, which ranks first
in the nation for percentage of children enrolled in parochial
He is for charter schools; against vouchers; and against abortion,
capital punishment, and state-supported killing of any kind.
Landgraf is committed to meeting the needs of the disabled. "I
am acutely aware of these needs," says Landgraf, who is not shy
about telling the reason. He and his wife, Barbara, have five adult
children, and the oldest suffered birth trauma and has an IQ of 70.
"I am very active in Special Olympics and this fall will be the
keynote speaker for the national meeting of ARC (Association of
Citizens). Especially for someone who spent his life in a corporate
career, I have a very strong social leaning. Real inclusiveness is
extremely important to me."
He intends to channel his desire to be in public service to help all
ETS workers be service-minded. He wants to give every employee the
opportunity — actually the order — to take a public service
day, with pay, to go and do a "good work" in the community.
"We will support them financially, with paint, brushes, T-shirts,
lunch, whatever it takes," he says. "It has two impacts. It
makes them better corporate neighbors, and when people see the need
— that not everyone drives BMWs — they increase their
It worked so well at DuPont that his division’s per capita giving
to the United Way campaign broke all records.
Landgraf demonstrates no self pity about his background. "I am
maybe a little more independent than I would normally be, more self
sustaining — I had academic or athletic scholarships for all my
education." Rather, he thinks his background "makes me very
cognizant of the socio-economic underclasses."
He remembers his years at the Newark orphanage as being uneventful,
certainly not Dickensian, and perhaps more emotionally healthy than
a more disruptive domestic situation. He was adopted when he was 10,
and his adoptive father worked in a gas station, and when they moved
to Rahway, that was considered the suburbs.
Right out of Rahway High School, he signed as a pitcher with the
but soon was traded to the Phillies, playing for the summer with the
farm team in Reading, where he had a miserable earned run average
and did not make the cut. On an athletic scholarship to Wagner College
he encountered an economics teacher who changed his life. "It
was the classic story," says Landgraf. "He paid attention
to me, and from there my whole academic career changed. I decided
I wanted to do more than work at the Wawa, and I went from being a
mediocre to poor student to being on the dean’s list. I had a reason
to do well."
After graduation in 1968 he did a two-year stint as a U.S. Navy pilot
stationed on the aircraft carrier U.S. Kitty Hawk, among other
and then continued to serve in the reserves. In addition to discipline
and teamwork, he points out, serving in the military teaches respect
for people who do all kinds of jobs. For instance, a pilot’s most
valuable asset is the maintenance crew. "You learn how to deal
with all kinds of people," he says, "and as a very young
you get responsibility for very large capital assets. You learn
leadership skills very early on."
After four years at ETS, from 1970 to 1974, he spent six years in
various marketing and financial management positions with the Upjohn
Company. Along the way he earned several master’s degrees, in
educational administration, and sociology, from Penn State, Rutgers,
and Western Michigan respectively, and has taught these subjects.
He also is an alumnus of Harvard’s Advanced Management Program. He
joined E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company in 1980. From 1983 to 1986
he was based in Frankfurt, Germany, where his teenage children went
to international schools.
As president and chief executive officer of DuPont Merck
Company in the early ’90s, he grew the business tenfold in three years
and attributes the growth to using multiple task forces and teams
for decision-making and work implementation. A 1993 Harvard Business
Review case study highlighted his efforts to create a highly diverse
and inclusive organization at DuPont.
In 1996 he became chief financial officer and later executive vice
president and chief operating officer DuPont and chairman of DuPont
Europe, with responsibility for DuPont’s consumer health presence
in electronic commerce through its venture with WebMD. His most recent
position was chairman and CEO of DuPont Pharmaceuticals.
Landgraf comes to ETS as it is recovering from a shaky
economic situation. ETS is the world’s largest private educational
measurement institution; annually it administers more than 11 million
tests in 181 countries. ETS has 2,100 full-time employees, most in
greater Princeton. Landgraf is the fifth person to hold this job.
Founder Henry Chauncey was president from 1947 to 1970, William
from 1970 to 1981, Gregory Anrig from 1981 to 1993, and Nancy S. Cole
from 1993 to 2000.
Cole is an assessment professional known for her work in gender
and her announced goal at the beginning of her term was to put ETS
on a crash course to computerize. She did this, though it cost a
penny, and she devoted her energies to the organization itself,
her public appearances to the crucial ones.
Landgraf is going to be much more public. He is chairman of the board
of the Delaware Public Policy Institute and in addition to serving
on the board of the Biotechnology Industry Organization and a fistful
of other pharma/bio boards, he is on the board of IKON Office
the National Alliance of Business, the University of Delaware Research
Foundation, the Christiana Care Health System, the Wilmington Grand
Opera House, the Delaware Business/Public Education Council, the
State Chamber of Commerce, Goldey-Beacom College, and Wagner College.
When Landgraf addressed the entire ETS staff last Friday, he brought
outbursts of applause from the usually taciturn group, and the rest
of the speech, one observer said, was like a State of the Union
measurable on an applause meter.
One of his first crowd pleasers was to announce he was
doing away with the bigwigs’ parking spots, several spots in front
of each building marked Corporate Officer. He said that he would take
out those signs on his first day if he had to do it himself, since
preferential parking sends employees a subtle but negative message.
Then he debunked his bio by referring to an archived copy of a 1970
newsletter discussing his former job at ETS. His resume says his title
was associate director of marketing, but the newsletter talked about
less glorious duties for the 24-year-old Landgraf. "The newsletter
was right," says Landgraf. "I was in charge of the
box." He also decried his abbreviated baseball career.
In a pointed reference to ETS’s financial troubles, Landgraf tipped
his cap to Sharon Robinson, the current chief operating officer, and
said that he is glad she has decided to stay. ETS had been
a reported $15 million a year to fund the transition to computer-based
testing, and Robinson is getting the credit for helping the company
to get back in the black. Other approval-triggering promises:
College Board and the Graduate Record Examination. His opposite number
at the College Board is the former governor of West Virginia, Gaston
Caperton, who thinks like a venture capitalist and whose first move
was to turn the College Board website into a dot-com. The two
are likely to be a good match. Says one observer: "I see these
two going at it full tilt."
not respect ETS as much as it used to, he will use his last ounce
of energy to fix that.
several years) and more time on revenue growing.
snickers from critics of ETS’s standardized tests, is to put a stop
to graded performance appraisals, saying that if someone consistently
rates a "three" or "average" they will stop trying
to perform at an above average level.
Happy about his new job, Landgraf tells how he felt when he drove
back to his former stomping ground: "I felt like I was coming
home, like it was exactly what I wanted to do for my life. I had had
a terrific corporate career, but I didn’t want to do it another day.
I found value here. You know, the staff here is just extraordinary.
When I walked in, there were signs all over; it brought a tear to
my eye. I loved it from the moment I drove on the campus."
— Barbara Fox
08541. 609-921-9000; fax, 609-734-5410. Home page: www.ets.org.
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