Outstanding Achievement in a Chosen Profession

The Outstanding Achievement in a Chosen Profession award is presented annually to a member of the alumni community whose professional accomplishments and achievements are exceptionally noteworthy and distinctive in his or her profession.

2022 Recipient

Kenneth W. Freeman '72

Attending Bucknell as a first generation college student, Kenneth W. Freeman thought he wanted to be a professional musician. Although he honed his keyboard playing capabilities on the Rooke Chapel pipe organ and gave a senior recital, he ultimately decided that music would become an avocation rather than his life's work.

Instead, career success for Ken spans several professions, from chairman and CEO of a Fortune 500 company, to partner at a large private equity firm, to business school dean and professor of the practice at the so-called "other BU."

An upcoming military obligation and his dedication to getting an MBA sooner rather than later meant no employers were willing to hire Ken, until he met Bucknell University trustee Cam Rutledge '33 and his wife, Eleanor, at a trustee event in April of his senior year. Cam invited Ken to an interview where he attained his first job as an internal auditor at Corning Glass.

While at Corning, Ken progressed along the financial track, ultimately serving as corporate controller, before shifting from "counting money" to "making money" as a general manager of a business. He led several businesses at Corning, all turnaround situations, before taking a one-year assignment as CEO at Corning's biggest business – Corning Clinical Laboratories. A series of events after arrival, including fines for prior alleged Medicare billing abuse, very high employee turnover and physician dissatisfaction turned the one-year assignment into an almost-ten-year run, as Ken spun off what was renamed Quest Diagnostics from Corning, ultimately serving as its inaugural chairman and CEO.

At Quest Diagnostics, Ken led a dramatic turnaround that yielded significant returns for shareholders, with a focus on transforming the culture and serving physicians and patients with excellence.

He decided to explore new horizons after an orderly transition of CEO responsibilities at Quest Diagnostics, and private equity came knocking on the door. Ken joined KKR, one of the world's largest private equity firms. He became a partner and served as chairman and CEO of portfolio companies in addition to working with the health care and industrial company teams and serving on the portfolio management committee.

Along the way, Ken received invitations to give guest lectures about leadership at colleges and universities, including Boston University. When the long-standing dean of the BU School of Management stepped down, Ken was nominated by faculty there as a candidate for the role. Although an unconventional candidate, lacking a Ph.D., and with no prior experience in higher education other than as a student, Boston University offered Ken the deanship and he accepted with enthusiasm. For him, this was an opportunity to go full circle by helping other aspiring students, as had been done for him decades earlier at Bucknell by Professor Sidney Miller, who encouraged Ken to aim high, and by Cam Rutledge, who gave him a chance with Corning Glass.

As Ken says, giving back to help develop the next generation of responsible leaders and global citizens, as was done for him at Bucknell, is his passion.

Ken served at Boston University for eight years as dean, presiding over a period of significant innovation and enrollment growth. In addition, the university's school of management took on the name of Questrom School of Business after receiving the largest individual gift in the history of Boston University to that time.

And Ken isn't ready to stop working yet. After stepping down as dean, Ken developed and taught MBA courses in Managing Corporate Turnarounds and Crisis Leadership at BU, and subsequently served in interim roles leading human resources during the pandemic and more recently overseeing the university's foray into providing high quality and low tuition graduate degrees and certificates online.

Here at Bucknell, Ken served as a University trustee for 18 years and as chair of the Board of Trustees for nine of those years.
 
When students ask Ken for career advice, he responds with three simple thoughts:

  • Just Say Yes – Be willing to go where others won't go, take the risk and you have an opportunity to make an impact far and above taking on assignments that are viewed as safe and steady.
  • Arrogance Kills – Have confidence in yourself. However, don't let overconfidence turn into arrogance, which is the enemy of individual and business success.
  • The Power of Thank You – The two most important words in business, and life, are "thank you." Everyone appreciates being recognized and appreciated. Find opportunities to thank your colleagues, your friends and your family and you will be rewarded with a smile and gratitude.

Ken and his wife Janice – celebrating their 50th anniversary this year –have two grown children and four grandchildren. In 2018, Ken was presented with the Stephen W. Taylor Medal from Bucknell. Named for Bucknell's first president, the Taylor Medal is the University's highest honor and is awarded to those who render extraordinary service to Bucknell and who best exemplify the spirit of Taylor, who inspired his fellow University founders to "rise and build." 

Past Recipients

Contact Details

The Center for Alumni & Family Engagement

Location

Alumni House
90 University Avenue

Hours

8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.