Charged with helping shape the future of entrepreneurial leadership, Jeffrey P. Shay ’87, MBA’91 likes to pause to remember the past.
The new executive director for academic operations at Babson College’s The Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership, Shay brings a wealth of experience as an academic leader and entrepreneur to his new role. Plus, with two degrees, he offers a unique perspective on how far Babson—and entrepreneurship education—has come over the past three decades.
“As somebody who was there at least as a student at the beginning of all of this,” Shay says, “the big thing we’ve seen is this evolution of the field of entrepreneurship.”
In addition to gaining prominence as an academic field, entrepreneurship itself, he explains, has transformed from being focused primarily on starting a business to sustaining a culture of leadership. He ticks off famous examples of the new breed of entrepreneurs: Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos, Beyoncé, Sara Blakely, Jack Ma, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk. “You have all these people that have somehow figured out how to lead in a manner that fosters and facilitates this continual entrepreneurial spirit and action down in the organization,” Shay says.
Now, in his new position at The Blank School at Babson, Shay is on the front lines of the next transformation and the integration of entrepreneurial leadership.
From the Starting Gate
“I still remember it like this magical time,” Shay says.
A finance major, Shay recalls sitting in class his sophomore year when Professor William D. Bygrave—one of the pioneers of entrepreneurship at Babson—came in and pitched the College’s new entrepreneurship concentration.
Intrigued and inspired, Shay immediately called his father to inform him he was switching majors. “I’ve heard about entrepreneurship, and the answer is no,” replied his father, concerned about how potential employers might perceive an entrepreneurship degree.
Shay persisted, negotiating for a double major on the condition his grades didn’t slip and that finance remained his focus. Shay held up his end of the bargain, completing both majors in finance and entrepreneurship on top of being a four-time All-East alpine ski racer at Babson.
Shay has been barreling downhill at a breakneck pace—slaloming here and there—ever since. He ran his own consulting company before earning his MBA at Babson. He then was on the road again, traveling 250,000 miles a year, when he stopped at Babson, looking for career counsel from his professors and mentors, including Bygrave. They suggested a pivot to academics.
And, Shay was off in a new direction—first to Cornell for his PhD, then to the University of Montana to head its burgeoning entrepreneurship program, and then to Washington and Lee University in Virginia, where he spent nearly 12 years as the endowed chair for entrepreneurship and leadership.
“The Blank School at Babson allows us to have the incubator in which we can explore and make this huge leap forward with entrepreneurial leadership.”
Jeffrey P. Shay ’87, MBA’91
Back to the Future
Now, Shay is back at Babson, helping chart a new course for the future of entrepreneurial leadership. He has built and led entrepreneurship programs before, but this is different.
“The difference is coming back to Babson, where entrepreneurship is just pervasive,” he says. “It’s the thing, it’s what Babson is known for, so I’m getting into a boat with a bunch of like-minded people.”
Shay returned in December as a professor of entrepreneurship and as part of The Blank School’s leadership team, alongside CEO Donna Levin and Scott Taylor, the Arthur M. Blank Endowed Chair for Values-Based Leadership.
“The idea of entrepreneurial leadership is, how do we lead in a manner that’s different, that kind of fosters, facilitates, encourages entrepreneurial behavior throughout the organization,” Shay says. “The Blank School at Babson allows us to have the incubator in which we can explore and make this huge leap forward with entrepreneurial leadership.”
Reaching a ‘Higher Level’
As the executive director for academic operations, Shay leads The Blank School’s case development, as well as The Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership Scholars program. Each class of Blank School Scholars will include six exceptional students with enormous potential as entrepreneurial leaders.
“These students will be the ambassadors for what we’re doing in the area of entrepreneurial leadership,” he says. “The idea of developing these leaders and having these ambassadors throughout a program that was already rich with entrepreneurship is going to bring us to an even higher level.”
That continuing evolution puts entrepreneurial leadership at the center of everything, not just profitable businesses but also nonprofits, government agencies, and organizations. Babson will be developing the entrepreneurial leaders who will be tackling—and solving—the world’s biggest problems.
Shay envisions The Blank School at Babson becoming a magnet for the world’s biggest and most successful entrepreneurs. “If we do this right,” he says, “they’re going to want to come to the table to meet with us about how we’re doing and how they can get involved in helping us solve some of these problems.”
It’s an attraction that keeps pulling Shay himself back to Babson.
“I’ve been describing it as a long circuitous route to get back to Babson,” Shay said. “I owe so much to Babson for my early success.”