Babson’s Future: Observations and Thoughts to Shape a Community Conversation
It has been six months since I first arrived on the Babson College campus as President-Designate. The time has been filled with a broad range of activities—one-on-one meetings with over 60 faculty, 50 staff, 100 students, over 80% of the Trustees, and countless alumni and friends of the College; participation in classroom activities across the undergraduate, graduate, and executive education schools; attendance at a number of regional Babson Rising events and, most important, the opportunity to engage with numerous small groups who shared with me their hopes and dreams for the institution. I am deeply appreciative of the warmth with which the community has welcomed me and welcomed back my wife Phyllis.
My conversations with you have enabled me to develop and shape a set of observations and thoughts; chief among them is that we now need to set about charting our future together. We find ourselves at a propitious moment for the College—full of both opportunities and challenges. Gaining community alignment around where we are today, in the context of where the world is heading and where we might go, is an essential precondition for Babson to get to the next level. So, in this brief paper I would like to present a personal view of Babson’s situation as the stimulus for a broad array of community-wide conversations which I plan to hold this fall.
As the 12th President of Babson College, I inherit a rich legacy. We remain the No. 1 educational institution in the world for entrepreneurship despite the well-funded attempts of others to catch up. We are widely recognized for our capabilities in educating both entrepreneurs for the business world and educators for the business school classroom. We have achieved a level of integration in our various curricula that has been virtually impossible for other institutions to emulate. We have a robust executive education arm that allows us to disseminate our viewpoint beyond traditional degree programs and audiences. Finally, as the number of business schools proliferates around the world, we have in place an array of global partners who are enthusiastic about working with us in a number of exciting ways.
Much of Babson College’s current success can be traced to President Ralph Sorenson’s decision to establish the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and explicitly focus the College’s attention on entrepreneurship in 1978. There is no doubt that this has served as one of the most important decisions ever made at the school ... and it is a great one to build on thirty years later.
In framing the agenda for discussion by the community, I believe it is appropriate to posit the following central strategic opportunity for Babson College:
Extend our competitive advantage by applying the power of entrepreneurial thinking to all of the problems of the 21st century, both business and beyond. The”Babson Way” is to see all of these problems as opportunities that can be addressed with the tools, talents, mindsets and expertise that our institution is uniquely positioned to provide.
This strategy would build on our work with new venture creation and other key areas of entrepreneurship education, and would further leverage all of our academic disciplines. Our expanded focus would apply entrepreneurial solutions to a broad range of business and other kinds of organizations that are addressing some of the world’s most difficult economic and social problems. In short, by helping build better businesses and organizations, both large and small, through them we make a better world!
Why Do I Believe this Extension of Our Leadership Position in Entrepreneurship Is the Central Strategic Opportunity for Us?
The world is hungering for entrepreneurial solutions and entrepreneurial thinking. Large organizations have had limited impact to date in addressing such issues as hunger, poverty, disease, literacy, sustainability, and terrorism. From Bill Gates to Bono, everyone is looking beyond traditional models of capitalism and government solutions for an answer. Babson College students with their training, tools, mindsets, and experiences are well-qualified to help, and an increasing number of them believe this to be a rewarding career choice.
We are uniquely positioned to address this need. Our comprehensive approach to entrepreneurship is broader, more in-depth, and connects more academic disciplines than that of any other college or university. We have been ranked No. 1 for entrepreneurship at the undergraduate level for each of the last twelve years and at the graduate level for the last fifteen years. Despite being outspent by competitive institutions, our leadership position remains unquestioned ... and I believe is likely to remain so.
Why? An entrepreneurial mindset is at the core of what we believe, teach and do. In my conversations with members of all segments of the Babson community, it became obvious that when people were most excited about the school, they could tell stories about the experience of “living” Babson in ways that I have never heard before on other campuses. These stories included classrooms, clubs, groups, incubators, out of the classroom faculty interactions, business startups and shutdowns, investment strategy discussions and beyond—and with a level of intensity I have never imagined possible. Several months ago when asked by a magazine reporter to explain the difference between a Babson education and one that a student might get at any other well-known business school, I replied that, “Lots of schools do a great job teaching entrepreneurship and business. Babson is the only place I have seen that lives it.”
This trait represents a unique attribute to build upon. For competitors, entrepreneurship is a peripheral activity—a discipline within a broader business school agenda. To legitimately threaten our competitive position, these institutions would have to make the significant commitment to shift their strategic platform and orientation to match ours. That would require a radical shift in the world view of their faculties, their administrators and their cultures ... one I simply do not believe is possible. Not only is it difficult for others to excel in this space; our culture, size, and legacy gives us an advantage. They define entrepreneurship purely as an academic discipline when, in fact, it is a way of thinking and being. And our ability to embody that state of mind is our unique and not easily replicable advantage.
We have concrete evidence of our advantage. On many occasions in the past we have proven to be substantially more nimble than other schools. We have an embedded arts and sciences faculty who can play a critical role in helping to shape this expanded domain of entrepreneurship to encompass social entrepreneurship and sustainability. We have the possibilities of a broader relationship with the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering and other academic neighbors who can complement our faculty to provide additional depth. And we have strong foundations in basic business disciplines with significant thought leadership that can be aligned to create this new view of an opportunity-driven world.
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!
Is this Strategic Direction Exciting?
I believe so. Rather than focus on defending our historic leadership position, we will go on the offense to change the game on our terms. It enables us to leverage our arts and sciences faculty as core members of the institution. It also allows our basic business disciplines to align their courses and pedagogy to a fresh, socially appealing, and strategically different positioning. This would build on disciplinary knowledge but reframe it in a more encompassing way. Finally, it allows us to address some of our legacy issues of resources and faculty workload by giving us a rigorous way to address one of the core questions of strategy—once we decide what we are to do, what should we stop doing?
Do We Have the Resources to Undertake this Ambitious Agenda?
We do—and we will. Babson has successfully stabilized its base financial operating model and begun the process of rebuilding and expanding its endowed resource base. The first year of the public phase of the Babson Rising campaign has reached $85 million of its $200 million goal and our advancement operations are poised for aggressive expansion of both solicitations and gifts. Our ability to consider our strategic choices on the basis of a stable financial model represents a significant step forward for the school.
I also believe that we will be able to acquire the necessary resources to move forward with this agenda if we align around it as a community. Alumni and other donors increasingly focus on the impact of their giving, not the obligation to do so. We have the capacity to demonstrate, without question, the impact of our work in making a better world—where leaders in all sectors see the opportunities in complex challenges, mobilize teams to address them, and leverage limited resources to implement innovative solutions.
What Do We Need to Do to Realize the Possibilities of this Competitive Position?
Simply put, we must collectively think through a number of issues. To begin the community-wide conversation, I present for your consideration a set of five broad challenges with some initial questions:
- Articulate and communicate to the global community our thought leadership and curriculum innovation capabilities around the broader definition of entrepreneurship.
- What are the central features of entrepreneurial thinking and problem-solving and how do we define management education for this new conceptual framework?
- How do we build on the multiple global relationships (exchanges of students and faculty, study abroad activities, teaching and research programs in over 40 countries, significant increases in non-U.S. student populations) to extend our reach?
- How can we extend the boundaries of our Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) to a fully-articulated Babson approach to management education that serves as the foundation of our outreach?
- What must we do to package our thought leadership in a manner so others can use it easily and we can be known as the developers and diffusers of a unique “Babson Way” of education?
- Develop our capacity to “live” entrepreneurship and business rather than just “teach” it.
- How do we shift the dynamics of day-to-day life on the campus to embed the principles of living entrepreneurship into the student experience, as well as into the governance and administrative processes of the institution?
- What would have to change to make every activity a constant reinforcement of our living in an entrepreneurial way?
- Should we expand experience-based content and activities in our curricula for students and corporate participants?
- How do we develop an entrepreneurial planning approach to guide the institution?
- Recruit and develop the next generation of faculty and staff across all disciplines who are capable of delivering on this expanded role and meaning of entrepreneurship.
- What are the unique skill sets the Babson faculty and staff members will need?
- What mechanisms do we need to ensure the continuing development of those skill sets?
- What portfolio of faculty across all categories of rank and skill sets do we need to execute this broader agenda on a global scale?
- Leverage the diversity of the Babson community in the service of developing global leadership capabilities among all of us.
- How do we take full advantage of the economic and culturally diverse community at the College?
- How should diversity considerations enhance our pedagogy so we train globally responsible and culturally competent entrepreneurial leaders?
- Commit to being a great college to work for, teach at, learn at, live at, connect to, and recruit from.
- How do we connect alumni who may not view themselves as “entrepreneurs” to this new strategy?
- How will we attract the next generation of undergraduate and graduate students to our institution with this strategy?
- What do we need to do to make Babson a great place to work?
- What routine measurements, feedback mechanisms, and action planning capabilities do we need to ensure we are making progress toward this goal?
- How do we insure first-rate management throughout our institution?
What’s Next in This Conversation?
I said at the beginning of the paper that gaining community-wide alignment around this picture is an essential precondition for developing an approach to get Babson to the next level. I know of no better way to gain such alignment than by extensive conversation. Let us begin!
Our unique collection of colleagues presents us with both a great opportunity and a challenge for the process. Every constituency will be part of a discussion, bringing different vantage points and experiences to the table. As staff who are connected to many different segments of our community, your views will be very important to include. Together we will take part in difficult discussions and reach new insights, agreement, and alignment.
Throughout the fall, we will keep you and other community members engaged and well-informed of our progress toward a set of action steps. By December of this year, we will build a foundation of understanding on which we can construct the details of our great institution’s future and, through it, make our unique contribution to the societies in which we live.
Please join me in this effort.