Only minutes into her first conversation with Ernesto Bertarelli ’89 two years ago, Lauri Union could see how deeply committed the Swiss businessman and philanthropist was to Babson College’s family-focused entrepreneurial vision.
Union, the Nulsen Family Executive Director of Babson’s Institute for Family Entrepreneurship, was detailing a key initiative that encourages Babson students to reflect on their own motivations and values as they consider their role within their family’s business and potential new enterprises. Bertarelli, who represented the third generation of his family’s pharmaceutical business and currently runs B-FLEXION and the Bertarelli Foundation with his sister, suddenly lit up.
“That really resonated with him from his own life experiences and his current priorities. It turns out he had been thinking a lot about this very topic,” said Union, who has run the institute since its launch in 2018. “It was a conversation that was just full of diamonds. That made it even more clear to me that his insights are unbelievably valuable for Babson and for the institute as we carry this initiative forward.”
That shared vision and commitment, coupled with his passion and increased involvement, has led to the rebranding of the institute to the Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship, as well as the creation of the Babson Global Family Entrepreneurship Network.
The Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship will continue to be Babson’s hub for research, resources, and programming dedicated to family entrepreneurship. Its mission is to increase the capacity of enterprising families around the world to create economic value and social impact, and to build those efforts on a foundation of stronger family relationships.
“The new name is a perfect fit for the institute. Ernesto has long been a thought leader on family entrepreneurship, he has close ties to Babson, and he’s already helped shape much of the work we do here,” said Union, now the Executive Director of Babson’s Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship.
The Italian-born Bertarelli earned business degrees from Babson College and Harvard University before he took over his family’s pharmaceutical business Serono in 1996. He substantially boosted the biotechnology firm’s profits before selling it to Merck for $13.3 billion in 2006. Bertarelli has continued to work with family, serving as chairman of B-FLEXION, and co-chairing the Bertarelli Foundation with his sister, Dona.
Bertarelli, inducted into Babson’s Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs® in 2008, also received the inaugural Babson-Camus Global Family Entrepreneurship Award last year at Babson Connect Worldwide (BCW).
With Bertarelli’s expertise and support, the changes on tap for the Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship will help to expand opportunities for Babson’s students, alumni, and their families as they seek to improve and expand their entrepreneurship for generations to come. The key to Babson’s unique, research-driven approach is a focus on family dynamics, something that Bertarelli realized was important after many years in business school classrooms and boardrooms.
“I must also sincerely thank Babson and its leadership for the heartfelt honor it has bestowed upon my family with the naming of the Bertarelli Institute. The College has an enormous place in my heart and I feel privileged that we are able to continue to work together.”
Ernesto Bertarelli ’89
“Business is taught in schools all over the world, but very, very few programs pay attention to the importance of family dynamics, values, and culture, and how these are transmitted and how they evolve through generations,” Bertarelli said. “This is an area of thinking and teaching where Babson already leads the way, and so it gives me great pleasure to see the College amplify its work with the Global Family Entrepreneurship Network. I very much look forward to seeing the results of this important and imaginative initiative over the coming years.
“I must also sincerely thank Babson and its leadership for the heartfelt honor it has bestowed upon my family with the naming of the Bertarelli Institute,” he continued. “The College has an enormous place in my heart and I feel privileged that we are able to continue to work together.”
Union emphasized this point, noting that “with this gift, the Institute aims to engage faculty across Babson in research, thought leadership, and teaching innovations to fulfill Ernesto’s vision.”
Bertarelli already had helped to boost Babson’s focus on family entrepreneurship in 2017, when Babson named William B. Gartner the Bertarelli Foundation Distinguished Professor of Family Entrepreneurship. He also serves as the institute’s Faculty Director for Research.
“I’m honored to collaborate with colleagues who are pioneers in entrepreneurial research, and remain excited to continue to explore the various ways that families serve as the foundation for entrepreneurial activity all around the world,” Gartner said.
More than 50 percent of students at Babson come from a family business, Union said, and roughly half of those businesses are located outside the United States. Family entrepreneurs drive up to 90 percent of the global GDP through startups and current businesses.
To support those family entrepreneurs, the Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship is creating a unique program designed to tap into Babson’s strong roster of alumni, students, their families, and their businesses from around the world.
The Babson Global Family Entrepreneurship Network seeks to help Babson family entrepreneurs by creating a confidential space to exchange ideas and resources with others who have a shared life experience, while providing special access to events and programs at Babson. The network is still in the planning stages, Union said, but she believes it will become a vital part of Babson’s overall plan to curate learning, connectivity, and experiences.
“The new name is a perfect fit for the institute. Ernesto has long been a thought leader on family entrepreneurship, he has close ties to Babson, and he’s already helped shape much of the work we do here.”
Lauri Union, Executive Director of Babson's Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship
“We know we have this incredible global community, which so far hasn’t been connected as tightly as it could be,” Union said. “This will bring an opportunity to strengthen and grow our global community while providing shared learning from each other, as well as tapping into everything that Babson has to offer.”
Through the Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship, both Union and Bertarelli say they are committed to helping students with family business backgrounds realize their own strengths when it comes to family entrepreneurship.
“Students tend to think they have two choices: join the family business or do something on their own. But, working with the family business can sometimes feel like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” Union said. “The way to foster value creation is to give people the opportunity to explore their family’s entrepreneurial legacy and their own intrinsic motivation so they can use that legacy to chart their own path.”