Clarks CEO Jon Ram MBA’08 and Inspiring Future Leaders

Group of students pose for a photo at Clarks headquarters in Needham, Massachusetts.

Jon Ram MBA’08, chief executive officer of Clarks, recently invited a group of Babson graduate students to tour Clarks’ Needham, Massachusetts, headquarters, bought them lunch, and spent nearly three hours discussing his career in retail and current role with the footwear company.

The experience had as big an impact on the CEO as on the graduate students.

“They sent me these nice notes saying it was an amazing opportunity for them, but it was just as much of an amazing opportunity for me,” Ram said. “I get so much out of it, just listening and getting the perspective that they have and, in some cases, seeing the world through their eyes. It’s unbelievably energizing.”

The tour was part of Babson Professor Lauren Beitelspacher’s graduate class on retail strategy. She had originally invited Ram to speak to students at the Wellesley campus, but he went the extra mile, offering a tour that gave students a bit of experience and insight into the retail business.

“Jon is such a nice human. He’s the kind of leader that I’d want my students to emulate, and I knew it would be inspirational for them to see what he’s done with his MBA,” Beitelspacher said. “He’s this amazingly accomplished CEO, but there’s no pretense. He’s totally approachable.”

Beitelspacher, also the Ken and Nancy Major Romanzi Senior Term Chair in Marketing, said the experience already has made a big impact on her students.

“As an educator, I want to develop future leaders that will pay it forward, and Jon is a great example of paying it forward because he’s so generous with his time,” she said.

“A Magic Moment”

Ram was working at New Balance, steadily building his career, before he decided to apply to Babson for his MBA.

“Over the years, I found every excuse not to do an MBA, and it was always centered around time,” Ram said. As the head of New Balance’s Latin American operations, Ram regularly traveled to places such as Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil.

Clarks CEO Jon Ram MBA'08.
Clarks CEO Jon Ram MBA’08 welcomes interactions with Babson students, saying they energize and inspire him.

The flexibility of Babson’s MBA program and the inclusion of online classes was key, Ram said.

“I was the poster child for internet connections because I was traveling all over and would be dialing into some of the classes,” Ram said. He was asked to oversee New Balance Europe midway through his degree, which meant another move and new scheduling challenges.

“My group and the classes were anywhere from 2 o’clock in the morning until 6 in the morning,” Ram said, adding that the experience was well worth it. “Those were some of the best years of my adult life. It was so stimulating and so exciting, and I learned so much. I made lifelong friends through the program.”

That’s why Ram has been eager to help Babson students.

“Babson came at an amazing crossroads period for me,” he said. “It really was just a magic moment, and it kind of lifted me to the next stage of both my personal life and my career.”

Creating Leaders

The visit to Clarks was important to Beitelspacher’s class, as well.

The class was made up of 10 MBA students eager to learn more about retail in the real world. Instead of lecturing to the small group of students for the 2½-hour class, Beitelspacher worked with The Tariq Farid Franchise Institute at Babson College to bring in other leaders such as Panera Breads CEO Niren Chaudhary and Orangetheory Fitness franchise owner Jamie Weeks. She also took students to locations like BJ’s Wholesalers.

“It was really fun, because the students got to see this warehouse experience,” Beitelspacher said about the trip to BJ’s. “That’s something they might have experienced before, but they had the added bonus of an executive telling them why certain decisions were made, why these products were placed in a certain spot, and why the store was laid out the way it was.”

“Babson came at an amazing crossroads period for me. It really was just a magic moment, and it kind of lifted me to the next stage of both my personal life and my career.”
Clarks CEO Jon Ram MBA'08

Meanwhile, Beitelspacher’s class visit came at a time when Ram had been thinking about reconnecting with Babson.

“That’s the kind of thing I’ll continue to do, because I enjoy it so much,” Ram said. He had been commuting between North Carolina and Massachusetts for a while, but he’ll be spending more time in the commonwealth.

“Clarks and Babson will definitely be involved going forward, from a business standpoint and personal standpoint,” Ram said. “I owe a debt of gratitude to Babson.”

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