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January 2009 Update

Next Steps for the Babson Community: An Action Agenda Born of Community Conversations

Preamble

We are uniquely positioned to use the power of the Babson community in an academically rigorous and instructionally exciting way to have a transformative impact globally. This is not only the correct thing to do—it is the right time for us to do it! —Strategy Paper, September 2008

With the September strategy paper as a departure point, dozens of conversations involving all segments of our community were held on and off campus this fall. Thank you for your active participation in, and thoughtful input to, these conversations. Whether through small faculty group sessions; a larger Faculty Senate meeting; student community meetings; governance, alumni, and parent forums and webcasts; the Designing Babson website or an “on the street” chat, you have spoken clearly.

Many of you said that you found it difficult to respond to the “what” embedded in my first paper without a deeper understanding of its implications for actual change. This paper should, at least in part, address that need and set the stage for moving to a phase of detailed discussion around action and corresponding implementation agendas.

One area of intense discussion in our conversations was gaining clarity around what our entrepreneurship brand really means. For example, most of our faculty recognize the importance of maintaining our position as the global leader in entrepreneurship. Still, some have questioned their role in maintaining and extending our entrepreneurship brand. The challenge has been developing a clear definition of entrepreneurial thought and action that is inclusive and has broad interdisciplinary appeal. As our conversations proceeded, we found much greater clarity around this issue, and in this paper you will see a different—and an expanded—version of what entrepreneurship means.

As exemplars of the Babson Way, throughout these conversations you posed tough questions, challenged my ideas, and prodded me to see things your way. You informed my thinking, enriched it, changed it, and as a result you have helped me see more clearly where Babson is today and where we want to take the College. My leadership team and I sifted and culled all the ideas we heard into a set of proposals for discussion and ultimate agreement, balancing multiple voices and opinions with a senior administration view of institutional capabilities and opportunities. What follows—the outline of a new strategy for Babson College—is a product of our collective wisdom.

The Vision

An emerging theme from our conversations is that there is much we agree on—including a widely-shared vision of Babson’s future. What is central to this vision?

We want to be the preeminent institution in the world for entrepreneurial thought and action—and known for it. We want to expand our leadership in curriculum innovation. We want to extend our global reach. We want to be prosperous and sustainable, having ample resources for our work. And, we want to attract the brightest lights—students, faculty and staff—and produce a generation of leaders who can create great economic and social value.

Why is this vision right and compelling for Babson at this time? The world is changing rapidly around us. Even before the current global financial and economic crisis, it had become clear that the old ways of teaching business are no longer relevant. The traditional models taught at business schools were predicated on three key assumptions—easy access to credit, cheap energy, and an abundant supply of skilled labor at low cost. Each of these assumptions is now in a state of flux.

For business schools the challenges of realigning their curricula with the realities of today’s marketplace have never been greater. Students need to learn in an environment where the overwhelming number of assumptions they are working under will continuously change at a rapid pace. This is the role of entrepreneurial learning. Moreover, it is no longer just economic value that matters. Business schools have an obligation beyond helping our students to build better businesses. We must educate them to build a better world.

This need for entrepreneurial thinking and action on all fronts plays to Babson’s natural strategic advantages. The world wants entrepreneurial solutions and leaders who can create them. Who is better prepared to provide these solutions and educate these leaders than our College? This is our moment—and we have to seize it.

Our strategy to fulfill this vision has four key requirements. Here’s what we must do:

1.  Define entrepreneurial thought and action, translate it into a new curricular form and pedagogy, and extend its reach globally.

And here’s how we will do it:

2.  Achieve sustainability in the College’s operating model;

3.  build Babson’s capacity to attract all necessary resources; and

4.  become a great college to work for, teach at, learn at, connect to, and recruit from.

Whether you are a student or alumnus/a, a member of our faculty or staff, a member of governance or a parent, fulfilling this vision matters. It will strengthen Babson’s academic reputation, increase the value of a Babson degree, enhance what it means to be part of the Babson community, and provide a great place to connect with throughout your lives.

A New Strategy for Babson College: The “What” Agenda

Many members of our faculty have been introduced to a set of ideas developed by Prof. Sarasvarthy at the University of Virginia—ideas which we believe will be critical to defining entrepreneurial thinking and action for the 21st century. Through careful examination of the logic patterns of successful entrepreneurs, she has been able to determine a method of entrepreneurial thought she labels Effectuation. To learn more about effectuation see Ought to Can: Questions for an Entrepreneurial Future (pdf) by Saras D. Sarasvathy and Sankaran Venkataraman, The Darden School, University of Virginia.

This thought process represents a logic which is complementary to the classic causal logic of entrepreneurship as a discipline. Most important, it holds the promise of a documentable and teachable method that represents a different mode of thought and provides an alternative logic for the creative process across any setting. The concept of effectuation provides us with a significant opportunity to develop a pedagogy which will differentiate our curriculum, extend our lead in integrative teaching, enhance our discipline-based teaching, and develop the type of thinking that enables our students to take positive action to change the world around them.

  1. Develop a pedagogy supporting “entrepreneurship as a method” across all of our program platforms.

    We are known for manufacturing superb teaching/learning environments. We pioneered the integrative curricular models which characterize much of what passes for innovation in business education today. And we are increasingly recognized for these qualities—witness the December 2008 Business Week recruiter rankings that position us as the 4th most innovative MBA curriculum—after Stanford, Chicago and Northwestern. We have an opportunity with entrepreneurship as a method to step onto the “stage” in a significant way. The effort requires the involvement of faculty from all of our areas and relies heavily on the insights derivable from liberal arts disciplines.
  2. Expand the focus and use of entrepreneurial methods and disciplines beyond traditional conceptual boundaries of business.

    The Lewis Foundation gift—$10.8 million to create an Institute on campus focused on social enterprise—provides us with the first tangible opportunity to extend our work beyond traditional conceptual boundaries of business in a significant way. There is growing recognition that the solution to our economic, social, and environmental problems will come out of entrepreneurial thinking. At the same time, our students have demonstrated a strong interest in this shift to social responsibility and a large number of faculty have self-identified their interest in this shift as well. Given our commitment to entrepreneurship as a method, and the faculty’s recent endorsement of the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education, there appears to be a significant opportunity to develop our pedagogy in such a way that these issues, which are largely peripheral in other business schools, become core in our curriculum.
  3. Support the continuous documentation, diffusion, and renewal of our intellectual efforts.

    We need to adequately resource curriculum documentation efforts and systematically engage in the diffusion of materials and our pedagogies. Adding this work to our portfolio of activities is a critical step in the process of extending our reputation globally, along with the creation of incremental revenue sources for the institution. Finally, it represents a formal mechanism for faculty who define themselves primarily as pedagogues to demonstrate thought leadership to the academic community.
  4. Extend our geographic reach and impact.

    We have to define a global strategy for this institution that extends our global reach consistent with our resources and our interests. This strategy requires that we establish fewer, but more substantive, geographic relationships with institutions that share our world view. We will implement this strategy through the creation of a Global Entrepreneurial Education Network (GEEN) whose mission will be the diffusion of the “Babson Way” of educating students. GEEN will adapt the “Babson Way” to different geographies (with the reciprocal revisions to a global approach here in Wellesley). Through GEEN we will train a global cadre of faculty who are committed to our content and pedagogical approaches.

    The intent is to finance GEEN activities through the philanthropy of the International Babson Alumni network, the support of peer institutions and their governments, and fees for material distribution and educational program revenues. GEEN would subsume, and dramatically extend, the global education agenda currently addressed by our 25-year involvement in the Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE).

A New Strategy for Babson: The “How” Agenda

If defining and extending entrepreneurial thought and action throughout the world is what we must do, we have to do it within the constraints of our resources. That requires examining Babson’s business model and making sure it is viable and sustainable. By focusing our strategy agenda on “how,” we can build a multi-year operating model which is not only dependable and sustainable, but also attractive to our students, corporate clients, and academic partners.

Achieve sustainability of the College’s Operating Model

  1. Increase the focus on the highest and best use of our faculty by addressing issues of workload and composition, curriculum structure and modularity, calendar structure and program delivery, key program growth opportunities and faculty hiring, training and development.

    The economic events of the past few months have given rise to much review of our revenue and cost categories, along with a longer term view of the affordability of our educational model for us and for those who invest in education with us. I have already written faculty, staff, and governance on multiple occasions to highlight the dimensions of our situation and the steps we are taking to address these issues over the coming months. In addition to this immediate work is the need to address a set of longer term issues that are linked to our two most costly assets—our faculty and our facilities.

    A systemic review of these issues is an essential precondition to developing a model which insures appropriate compensation, competitive workload, and attractive working conditions for our faculty alongside an institutional economic model which has long term viability. The development of a viable workload requires that all of these variables be considered in addition to the incremental activities for our faculty proposed earlier in this paper. Too much of the curriculum work of the past 15 years has paid inadequate attention to issues of affordability (in dollar cost and time commitment) and has resulted in an operating model which works largely on the backs of, and with the good will of, many of our faculty. We can’t rely on this approach for the long term sustainability of the institution.
  2. Increase the focus on the highest and best use of our facilities—calendar structure and program delivery, attracting alternative revenue streams through campus utilization, and key program growth opportunities.

    These issues should be obvious to those who observe the dramatic shifts in campus usage patterns throughout the calendar year. Our campus is a critical attraction point for many who choose to attend Babson; at the same time it is an extremely expensive proposition to maintain with the revenues available through current usage. We must actively search to reduce our facilities costs as a percentage of our revenues without eroding the value of this marvelous asset.

Build Babson’s capacity to attract additional resources.

  1. Selectively grow our Undergraduate Program and MBA Fast Track Programs and increase revenues from them and from our enhanced global partnerships.

    A review by the President’s Cabinet of the markets for all of our programs and our projections for their future leads us to conclude that our Undergraduate and Fast Track programs, alongside executive education, represent the most substantive opportunities for attractive revenue growth for the institution in ways that represent continuity in our operating strategies.
  2. Increase the value of the Babson alumni network as a base for building a longer term culture of philanthropy.

    We have materially underinvested in our alumni network and corresponding development activities and have paid a price in both arenas for our limited efforts. We have already begun to see some progress this year, but it will be a multi-year effort to build a robust alumni network linked to the institution in a broad number of ways. We are likely a decade away from declaring a culture of philanthropy among our alumni base. In the meantime, we are critically dependent on larger gifts to assist us in the transition.
  3. Focus on a few “big” ideas that will capture the imaginations of “impact” philanthropists.

    For much of its recent history, the school has relied on small scale, entrepreneurially-oriented ventures and projects to provide whatever incremental support we required. While it might prove to be an individually fruitful approach, it does not come close to providing the incremental resource base the institution aspires to operate with. We must learn to bring the interests of a new constituency —“impact philanthropists”—into the domain of our constituency maps and we must organize ourselves around a limited number of “big” ideas that are consistent with our institutional mission and attractive to this new group. At this point we see ourselves organizing around the following “big” opportunities: Entrepreneurship as a Method and a Discipline, Global Entrepreneurial Education Network, Social Enterprise and Sustainability. These incremental resources allow us to insure a steady stream of resources from our operating budget to support our research and academic activities at the College for those who choose not to involve themselves in these identified opportunities.

Commit to being a great college to work for, teach at, learn at, connect to and recruit from.

  1. Actively engage in a systematic program of data collection, objective setting, and performance improvement with each of the following constituencies—students, faculty, staff, alumni, recruiters and donors.

    We need to be systematic and thorough in establishing a data-based understanding of the attitudes and perspectives of all of our key constituencies. We must move beyond our dependence on a limited pool of idiosyncratic anecdotes and embrace data feedback, relationship development and improvement as a key part of our skill set.

    The efforts of faculty, staff, and students, in particular, are heavily influenced by the quality of their day-to-day experiences with the College. We simply must move the issue of being a great place to work and learn higher on our priority screen—and quickly.
  2. Work more aggressively on campus to leverage the diverse and multicultural backgrounds of our community members as a way of attracting the best faculty, staff, and students to our school and maximizing the competitiveness of our students in the global marketplace.

    To accelerate these efforts, discussions with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff are underway to create:
    1. curricular and co-curricular programs that develop transcultural leadership skills; and
    2. a transcultural leadership advisory board, composed of students, faculty, and staff who will pursue new ideas and activities on an ongoing basis.

Next Steps

Last fall’s conversation was an important step in gaining alignment around a new strategy for the College. Today we have a bold vision—an ambitious vision—but I am confident that if you join me it is a very achievable vision. Every constituency of the College has an important role to play in realizing this vision.

I am fully confident that we have the talent and resolve to turn this vision and strategy agenda into concrete actions. In the coming months, I will be asking you to join specific action groups to refine these proposals and make them a reality.

Thank you again for all you have done to move this process forward and all that I know you will do to further enhance the greatness, and the impact, of this institution in the world.