Regent Interviews: Christopher Klein, Retired CEO of Fortune Brands
Christopher Klein is a new addition to the Board, he was elected to join in 2020. His connection to St. Olaf stems from his son attending the college as a member of the Class of 2019. As his son was a member of the football team, Regent Klein got involved in the athletic department of the college. He values the community-building aspect of sports and wanted to strengthen support for St. Olaf’s athletic teams. After his son graduated, PDA reached out to him and asked whether he was interested in joining the Board. Regent Klein says that through his direct contact with college life (he visited campus about a dozen times per year), he was able to see the great parts of the college as well as the opportunities for improvement. His interest and unique perspective led to him becoming a part of the Visioning Task Force of the Board.
In regard to some of the topics being addressed on campus, Regent Klein has some optimistic views. He sees how the pandemic can act as a catalyst for change inside the college. He sees that the school is making progress in efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, but the statistics do not matter as much as the improvements in culture. He wants to make sure that the culture of the college continues to become more inclusive and accepting. While he was involved with the football team he saw the team make progress with healthy communication that led to a more cohesive and accepting group. In response to the frustration he is still hearing, he wants others to know that we are at an uncertain point as a country, since we are in the middle of big changes in society. He thinks the conservative / skeptical Minnesotan culture can be slow to change, but once there is an understanding of the need to change, change happens, and the strong culture of community support is genuine. Another issue he addressed was the way that the college handles things. He says his experience in business has helped him to analyze how institutions are run, taught him what works for them, and made him identify the need to prioritize progress. He believes that the college can be bureaucratic at times, and he would love to see processes simplified for students, faculty, and staff.
After retiring from being the CEO of Fortune Brands, Regent Klein now serves on the boards of various organizations and institutions. As part of an outside music venue board, he sees a reason for us to be optimistic in the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic: the music industry has been working hard to make plans, and there will be live music around the country this summer. Regent Klein also highlighted some aspects of St. Olaf and some goals of his that he wanted to share with the Ole community. As a parent of a graduated Ole, Klein sees the campus as a tight-knit community that attracts each other and creates a genuinely friendly environment. He sees this campus culture as the best part of St. Olaf. His mission as a Regent is to help the college produce high-functioning adults who can navigate a changing world.
Interview conducted by Rayan Elahi ‘24 and Fricka Lindemann ‘22