As an associate professor in 2008, Heidi Neck was sitting in the Bottom Line Lounge at the Babson Executive Conference Center with colleagues who were toasting her newly earned tenure. At the small celebration, then-Provost Patricia Greene P’08 handed Neck a career-changing letter.
It informed her that she was being awarded the Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies.
“I was just blown away,” Neck said. “I’m very aware of the chair that I hold and the man behind that chair.”
For Neck, the endowed chair brought a lot of extra meaning, professionally and personally, strategically and symbolically. Timmons, who had unexpectedly passed away just months earlier, had served as Neck’s role model and mentor at Babson. And, the endowed chair in his name has helped fuel her academic career.
The appointment was the result of a decision Timmons had made in his estate planning to provide for the creation of the endowed chair. Its enduring impact has been so dramatic that Neck, now a full professor of entrepreneurship, has made a similar decision to continue the legacy.
When Neck arrived at Babson in 2001, Timmons was a shining star in the Entrepreneurship Division. “Jeff Timmons was one of the fathers of entrepreneurship,” Neck said. “He was the first person that ever used the word entrepreneurship in a dissertation. And, he just had this presence in the classroom.”
In Neck, he recognized a kindred spirit and a future leader in entrepreneurship education. Timmons invested himself in her career development. He would sit in on her classes, evaluate her teaching, and provide feedback. He eventually brought her into the Price-Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) program, which Timmons launched in 1984 and that Neck continues to lead today.
“As a new assistant professor, coming in and having someone with Jeff’s stature pay attention to your teaching, I just thought was fantastic,” Neck said. “It was intimidating. It was a lot of pressure, but I could tell he cared.”
Timmons was developing Neck as a potential successor to lead SEE when he retired. Unfortunately, in 2008, he died. “It was shocking,” said Neck, who naturally was selected to carry on Timmons’ beloved SEE. In that same year, she was awarded the Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies.
Endowed professorships and chairs typically provide a course release (meaning one fewer course to teach), as well as a discretionary budget, giving professors such as Neck the time and resources to invest in research, writing, travel, and other academic endeavors.
“When I look back, that endowed chair as an associate professor fueled a level of motivation that really changed the trajectory of my career.”
Heidi Neck, the Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies
In addition to continuing to lead SEE, Neck is the academic director of the Babson Academy for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurial Learning. And, earlier this year, Neck was honored as the Entrepreneurship Educator of the Year by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. She was just the third Babson professor honored with the award, following in the footsteps of William Bygrave (2008) and, of course, Timmons (2004).
“When I look back, that endowed chair as an associate professor fueled a level of motivation that really changed the trajectory of my career,” Neck said. “It helped me with my teaching load. It allowed me to build more leadership into the SEE program, and it just gave me the opportunity to accelerate entrepreneurship education in the spirit of his legacy.
“Today, I have a best-selling textbook in entrepreneurship, and most of my research and writing is connected to entrepreneurship pedagogy,” she added. “I would not have been able to create my path at Babson without the Timmons chair.”
Leaving a Legacy
Now, Neck is considering both Timmons’ legacy and hers. Because of the enormous impact of the endowed chair in Timmons’ name, Neck is planning to follow in his footsteps again.
In recent months, Neck has worked closely with Ben Chevrette, the vice president of development at Babson, to make the proper provisions in her estate planning for an endowed chair for a high-performing associate entrepreneurship professor.
“My desire is for the chair to be awarded to an associate professor who has a focus on entrepreneurship education, and improving how we teach and how students learn entrepreneurship,” Neck said. “I want the chair holder to continuously move the needle, innovate like crazy, and teach entrepreneurship in the most entrepreneurial ways possible. I want them to always reassess, and redefine when needed, what it means to be an entrepreneurship educator.”
“Jeff Timmons was one of my mentors, too, so it’s gratifying to see how Professor Neck has continued to build upon and extend his work and leadership,” said President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD. “And, it’s inspiring for the entire Babson community to see her dedication and decision to carve out a similar lasting legacy.”
Chevrette says that by collaborating with the development team, donors can ensure that their gifts are documented in a way to ensure that they have the impact and designation that they intend.
“Through her teaching and scholarship, Heidi has made an indelible mark on our community,” Chevrette said. “Now, leading by example and planning for the future, she is perpetuating her impact for future generations of educators and students. Her generosity and commitment to Babson are extraordinary.”
Investing in the Future
Neck said as she and her partner were considering estate planning, they were looking for impactful ways to provide for the future, especially because they don’t have children. “Babson has provided me with a wonderful career, and it’s a magical place for so many,” Neck said. “I simply want to continue the tradition, say thank you, and pay it forward a bit, but I want to do it in a way that I feel is going to fuel the future of entrepreneurship education.”
Neck says she wants her gift to invest in an educator the way Timmons’ gift invested in her. Associate professors are not traditionally awarded endowed chairs, which normally are given to senior, full professors. The ability for a younger associate professor to focus on scholarship related to teaching and learning entrepreneurship, to elevate their teaching and others, to write about pedagogy and learning, she says, “that’s this little piece of heaven that’s not often awarded.”
Under Timmons’ mentorship, Neck learned that entrepreneurship is not about new venture creation or capital formation. It’s really about the human spirit and the ingenuity behind the human spirit.
“That’s what I love most about his view around entrepreneurship,” Neck said. “He thought early on, before it was even popular, how important the entrepreneurial mindset is to entrepreneurship education. And, I think that’s the legacy I’m continuing in his honor.”
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