Babson College President Len Schlesinger said today (Dec. 4) that he plans to step down from his position at the end of this academic year in June to spend more time with his family.
“It is now time to reorient much of my attention to those in my family who both deserve and require it,” Schlesinger said in a statement. “An orderly transition for the President’s role over the coming months will make that possible. I value, above all, the opportunity to attend more closely to my mother at a time when she requires closer support and more time as well with my children as they pursue their respective journeys locally, on the West Coast and in Australia.”
The decision by Schlesinger, 60, to leave Babson at the end of June, which would mark his fifth complete year as president. was unexpected. The school’s forthcoming 100th anniversary in 2019 many have played some role in his departure. “He feels the next person will really have to run with that so he wanted to be sure that person is running the show well ahead of the centennial,” said a spokesperson.
Son of a Brooklyn tailor, Schlesinger came to Babson on July 1 of 2008 with an unusual background as both an academic and a top executive at two leading companies: Limited Brands, where he served as vice chairman and chief operating officer and Au Bon Pain where he was executive vice president and COO. He had been an executive at Limited from 1999 to 2007 and an exec at food chain Au Bon Pain from 1985–1988. Before those corporate jobs, however, Schlesinger was a Harvard Business School professor for 20 years, culminating in his leadership of Harvard’s MBA program. He earned his PhD at Harvard, his MBA at Columbia Business School, and his undergraduate degree at Brown University.
The school said that a search committee has been established, led by Babson Trustee, Gov. Craig Benson.
During his tenure as president, Schlesinger brought new life to Babson at a time when the Great Recession placed major financial pressures on the institution. Despite the economic uncertainty, he helped raise a record $216 million during a multi-year fundraising campaign that ended earlier this year.
An innovative thinker with a great sense of humor (his office walls are covered with a huge cartoon collection), he launched an Executive MBA program in San Francisco, expanded the undergraduate student body, increased the academic quality of Babson’s entering classes and led a highly successful branding campaign for the school. He also initiated the development of a new MBA curriculum with a deeper focus on experiential learning and social innovation. But his most lasting contribution at Babson may well be an initiative to create a methodology of entrepreneurship called Entrepreneurial Thought in Action, which encourages leadership to take action in the face of uncertainty.
Less successfully, Schlesinger also tried to coax comedian Tina Fey to come to campus to deliver the commencement address after she won the Golden Globe award in 2009. Donning a Babson sweatshirt, Schlesinger invited Fey in a video titled “Babson Loves Tina” and put it up on YouTube. The ploy didn’t work, but it did get the president and his school a bit of publicity.
“We have seen dramatic increases in applications from all over the world and have created what I proudly labeled the most ‘intentionally diverse’ student population in the world,” he said in a statement. “Employers are more impressed than ever with our students, their education and their skill sets and our graduates and alumni have experienced significant economic success. The College continues to maintain its unquestioned global leadership in Entrepreneurship education and has extended it as a methodology across its undergraduate, graduate, executive education and Babson Global programs.”
Chair of the Board of Trustees, Joseph L. Winn, also heaped praise on Schlesinger. “Five years after his arrival, Babson has never been in a stronger position by almost every measure,” added Winn in a statement. “The College has joined the ranks of America’s elite schools and the opportunities that lie ahead for Babson have never been more exciting. The Board shares Len’s view that this is an opportune time to initiate a transition process. We now enthusiastically prepare to identify the right leader to serve as Babson’s 13th President to take us through the College’s 100th anniversary in 2019.”
It is unclear what Schlesinger will do next. His wife, Phyllis, is an adjunct lecturer of management at Babson, and they live in nearby Wellesley, Mass.
In an interview with The Atlantic last year, Schlesinger noted: “I’ve been a factory manager, a fast food executive, an academic in three different disciplines, a large-scale retailer, and now a college president. I considered the law and abandoned it after one day of law school. I’ve been fortunate enough to engage in the things I really wanted to do. I think Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, was right about the gig economy years before she actually discovered it. She said that people don’t have jobs anymore — they have projects or different kinds of work that they piece together. I’ve been able to go from industry to industry, and enterprise to enterprise, to scratch itches and address curiosities. I wouldn’t have traded that for the world. I’ve been incredibly lucky and had great opportunities.”