Hear From ELI Asia Participants

ELI Asia participants hold a Q & A session with Babson College President Emeritus and Harvard Business School Professor Len Schlesinger


During a recent ELI Asia program the participants had an opportunity to ask Babson College President Emeritus Len Schlesinger questions about the adoption of Babson's entrepreneurship methodology, ET&ATM, (See a full article on the history at the bottom of this page), the future of MBA programs and much more. 

Q: How was your personal buy-in with the creation (Act, Learn and Build)?

A: During my career as a manager, I came across the limitations of the causation model of what I used to practice and teach. I observed that the business environment was changing very rapidly and did not work with systematic planning. I saw my students who worked for many hours on business plans, which did not work out.

Q: How did you promote ET&A to Babson faculty?

A: I asked Danna Greenberg, an Organizational Behavior professor, and Kate McKone Sweet to be the co-authors of a book and arranged for its publication. They published the volume titled The New Entrepreneurial Leader: Developing Leaders Who Shape Social and Economic Opportunity and engaged the Babson faculty to write chapters for it. The faculty from accounting, operations and marketing figured out on how to teach using the ET&A methodology in their functional domains. For example, the Math people started looking at the natural limitations of mathematics when uncertainty occurs. The faculty then started talking about it.

Q: What are you engaged in nowadays?

A: I taught ethics and general management for two years at Harvard Business School (HBS) and for the last two years I am back to teaching entrepreneurship. I teach the entrepreneurial management course at HBS and it is based on the fact that entrepreneurship is a method which can be used by a manager in a broader context. In the course, we cover small, large, public sector, startups, and scale up organizations.

Q: How do you engage with students?

A: I love teaching and engaging with young MBA students. Many of my colleagues have less interest in teaching the required courses. I love teaching sections of 90 students and spend lots of time with them outside of class. These students are curious and are struggling with life issues, practical issues. I am much more of a life coach and advisor alongside my role as an instructor. As I have had so many different jobs in my career, people gravitate to me, thinking that I might know something!

Q: Mission of your remaining life?

A: I am working on evolving and generating the next generation of practitioner faculty at the school. I am going to be the Chair of the practitioner faculty at HBS.

Q: Future of MBA?

A: I am not an optimist. I think the hardest job in the world is to be the dean of an MBA program which is not among the top programs. We used to talk about the top 30 business schools in the U.S., it then became the top 20 and now it is the top seven.

If you are looking for a payoff for your time as an institution, get away from the limitations of the full time two-year model and find special interest MBAs (special interest degrees) that are getting people closer to market opportunities rather than wide open for general management careers.

A quarter of a million dollars and two years of your life is a pretty high cost to pay for a graduate business degree. If you calculate the opportunity cost in terms of time and money very few schools can help you to recover that.

Q: What is your message for young faculty members?

A: The tension is how to balance your academic career i.e. traditional journal writing with a commitment to practice. It will be great if you can do the best of both which is to continuously focus the academic career on important questions that have relationships with practice and translate it to pedagogy which is more experiential in nature.

Q: How do you develop as a great teacher?

A: I keep on teaching. I have two case writers who work for me. All of the material in my courses is continually refreshed. A month before the start of the program, I immerse myself in learning what is happening in the world. In order to initiate, lead, and facilitate a discussion, I have to know something. I keep on looking at opportunities to stay fresh. I contribute as a board member of various companies and engage in volunteer work all over the world. I work with retail enterprises, not for profit organizations and a collection of service firms.  


An overview of the history of the adoption of the Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® (ET&A™) framework at Babson College


Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Babson College President Emeritus and Harvard Business School Professor Len Schlesinger describes his coming to Babson as follows:

"As my wife was a faculty member at Babson I visited the school frequently and connected with members of the board of trustees. During many conversations with them, I came to learn that the school was in search of a more sustainable financial model and at the same time wanted to retain its position as the No. 1 entrepreneurial school. If Babson needed to increase its focus on entrepreneurship it had to do it in a more powerfully different way."

Schlesinger later joined Babson as its president. He had been reading and reflecting on the entrepreneurial literature and was meeting with the Babson faculty to find a unique and sustainable college model. Len, recalls that as the President he was looking for a "hook" to connect with the Babson faculty.  As he met with various groups of faculty members to get their input on the exercise of redesigning Babson, a chance narration by a member of the faculty led to the concept of making ET&A (Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®) a central organizing concept for teaching at Babson.  He asked Danna Greenberg, an Organizational Behavior professor, and Kate McKone Sweet, an Operations professor to join with other faculty members from various disciplines to write a book on entrepreneurship that covered the discipline from various perspectives and contexts and provided a unique Babson approach to pedagogy. This developed a sense of recognition of the special nature of the Babson faculty and they started incorporating ET&A in their courses and broadened its use throughout the institution.

Len recalls that, "The ongoing discussions and meetings led to the conclusion that Babson needed to have a different method of teaching entrepreneurship, to redefine the scope of entrepreneurship by including all kinds of startups, scale ups, family enterprises, social innovation and corporate entrepreneurship, and to expand the purpose from a purely financial set of outcomes to a powerful force for economic and social value creation."

Len further recalls that, "One group of faculty was needed to remain continuously focused on extending and revising the methodology of ET&A and another group of functional experts were needed to work around the new method and adopt it within their domains. This led to various research teams: a startup team, a scale up team, family enterprising team, corporate entrepreneurship team, and a social innovation team.

The school already had a solid reputation in startups. As an adjunct to its historically strong position the school started initiatives for studying scale ups and raised money for chairs in family entrepreneurship and social innovation. Each of the faculty members were tasked with a notion of building a profound intellectual agenda in their areas that allowed them to build pedagogy and research.

He further emphasized the status and competitiveness of the undergraduate program. He increased the number of applications and made it more competitive. The admittance rate decreased from 40 to 28 percent. The graduate school went into a hybrid learning program. The Fast Track MBA program was introduced which was around 66 percent online and 33 percent face to face.

The strategy was to spread the ET&A mindset and engage with national and international academic institutions and become a change agent to train their faculty and spread the entrepreneurial mindset. Babson trained a large number of national and international faculty. This led to the word-of-mouth marketing of the Babson ET&A methodology.  

As Goldman Sachs initiated its 10,000 Small Businesses entrepreneurship program, they reached out for help. During their research to design the program, they discovered Babson and the ET&A™ methodology. The Goldman Sachs team was impressed with the Babson methodology and requested Babson to serve as the program's curriculum leader.  The Babson faculty designed the curriculum and rolled it out in the U.S.  It has been training small business scholars throughout the U.S. ever since.