Babson College students may be driven, pursuing business ideas and preparing for careers, but Smaiyra Million P’21 also finds them to be introspective.
Million serves as executive director of The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship. Students come to the center for assistance building their ventures, and, often, their thoughts turn inward, pondering a fundamental question that the center helps them explore: What does it really take to be a leader?
“I think that’s a very important question,” Million said. “Because we understand the mindset of entrepreneurial leadership, not just the methodology, I think we are uniquely poised to answer that question.”
Million spoke of leadership last week as part of a lively and noteworthy panel discussion, one that brought together the executive directors of Babson’s six academic centers and institutes, all of which fall under the umbrella of the Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Dubbed the Entrepreneurial Leadership All-Star Panel, the event was moderated by Linda Henry ’00, H’19, the CEO and co-owner of Boston Globe Media, and was part of the College’s celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week, a global campaign to applaud and empower entrepreneurs.
The panel’s focus was entrepreneurial leadership, with the panelists speaking about their paths to Babson, about the importance of culture and diversity, and about what inspires today’s students. Such a public gathering of all the centers and institutes leaders is not a common occurrence on campus. To see the six of them together, speaking before an engaged audience in Olin Hall’s Marla Capozzi Conference Suite, was to see the breadth of knowledge they bring to their work at Babson.
“This is a really, really special place,” Henry told the panelists. “This level of depth of expertise that you have, your true expertise in family business and social entrepreneurship and franchising, is really extraordinary.”
Cheryl Kiser agreed and cited the closeness and collaboration between the six of them. “I feel like it’s a combination of being with my family, and of being at the most insightful TED Talk,” said Kiser, executive director of Babson’s Institute for Social Innovation. “I am learning so much. Everything is about collaboration and partnership.”
Babson’s centers and institutes support scholars and provide students with real-life entrepreneurial experience. Besides the Blank Center and the Institue for Social Innovation, Babson’s institutes and centers include the Bertarelli Institute for Family Entrepreneurship, the Tariq Farid Franchise Institute, the Frank & Eileen™ Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, and the Kerry Murphy Healey Center for Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
As the CEO of the Blank School, Donna Levin introduced the six executive directors at the event and outlined what entrepreneurial leadership is all about: “At their very core, entrepreneurial leaders have a strong sense of self. They know who they are. They understand their values. They have the ability to inspire others to take action and solve problems large and small. Every single person up here is an entrepreneurial leader.”
One by one, the executive directors talked of their life paths, of the steps that led them to become entrepreneurial leaders at Babson. Lauri Union, the Nulsen Family Executive Director of the Bertarelli Institute, spoke of her experiences turning around struggling organizations and how that led her to want to help others in similar situations. Shakenna Williams ’94, the executive director of the Frank & Eileen™ Center, spoke of being a Babson graduate and being recruited to return to campus to teach.
Kiser spoke of the inspiration of her activist father and entrepreneurial mother. “I have always been at the intersection of business and society,” she said. “All of my career, I have recognized that business, no matter what the issue, has the greatest lever of change.”
Ab Igram MBA’96, executive director of the Tariq Farid Franchise Institute, spoke of his days as a Babson student and learning about franchising while working as a graduate assistant for Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD, many years before the Jiffy Lube co-founder became Babson’s president.
Million spoke of being a partner in a private equity firm and the firm’s reluctance to invest in women founders. Million eventually left. “I didn’t want to stay and argue about whether there were women worthy of being invested in,” she said.
Wiljeana Glover, founding faculty director of the Kerry Murphy Healey Center, spoke of how she is an industrial systems engineer by training and was on her way to working in manufacturing. Then a beloved aunt passed away due to a medical error. That led Glover to change course and focus on health care. “It really shook me,” she says.
Today, Glover is the Stephen C. and Carmella R. Kletjian Foundation Distinguished Professor of Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship at Babson.
A critical responsibility of the executive directors is to work with students and help them with their entrepreneurial ideas. The executive directors come to know them and understand their dreams and ambitions. “I see students who have a tremendous sense of purpose and want to make a difference in the world, which is inspiring to me,” Union said.
“This is a really, really special place. This level of depth of expertise that you have, your true expertise in family business and social entrepreneurship and franchising, is really extraordinary.”
Linda Henry ’00, H’19, the CEO and co-owner of Boston Globe Media
At the panel discussion, Spinelli thanked the executive directors for their efforts, which allow students to put into practice the entrepreneurial thinking and acting they learn in the classroom, providing them invaluable experience.
“We often talk about the faculty and the administration, but you are the brains and brawn that brings all of that together,” he said. “Your leadership is unique in higher education.”
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership