At Historic Fireside Chat, Reflection on Babson’s Past, Present, and Future

Babson Presidents at the Centennial Presidents' Fireside Chat

It’s been 100 years since the first Babson class was held at the home of Roger and Grace Babson in 1919.

Since that historic moment, 13 presidents have led the College through a transformative century of changing how the world does business.

On February 8, the Babson community celebrated the progress the College has made during the last 100 years, and the pioneering leaders who paved the way, at the Centennial Presidents’ Fireside Chat. Five presidents emeriti joined President Kerry Healey to share their experiences, stories, and learnings from their time at the helm of the College.

“The most important thing we can do is say thank you,” said Marla M. Capozzi MBA’96, chair of Babson’s Board of Trustees, as she opened the evening. “Tonight we say thank you to the many leaders who made Babson what it is today.”

“Each of these Presidents has helped shape our campus and community,” said President Healey, who moderated the evening’s conversation. “This evening we celebrate our past and envision our future.”

Sharing Goals and Accomplishments

A tremendous part of leading an institution is understanding the College’s needs, and where to focus as a leader. During the chat, Presidents spoke of the unique challenges they faced and the priorities they set for their presidency.

“I saw my role as Johnny Appleseed, planting strategic institutional seeds that were cultivated and improved upon,” said President Ralph “Bud” Sorenson H’85, who led from 1974 to 1981. “And the most important seed planted was that of entrepreneurship.”

Each President had a hand in contributing to Babson’s leadership in entrepreneurship, from earning an AACSB accreditation to the College’s first No. 1 ranking in U.S. News and World Report. When President Leonard Schlesinger H’14 took the helm in 2008, his charge was to unite the community around its position as the premier institution for entrepreneurship—we weren’t just the best, he said. We were the only. “The notion of aligning a community emotionally—so they can actually articulate the fact that there was no place like this anywhere in the world—really served as the foundation of the work I got to do.”

William Dill H’91, who led Babson from 1981 to 1989, made his mark on the College’s curriculum. “I was very interested in the excitement of putting liberal arts and business together in an environment where they could work as equals. It’s still rare today,” he shared. Rare elsewhere, but not at Babson—today, undergraduate students take 50 percent of their courses in liberal arts.

President Brian Barefoot ’66, H’09, P’01, who led from 2001 to 2008, spoke of bringing the Posse program—which President Healey later modeled the Global Scholars Program after—to the College. After lengthy conversations about the need to bring the program to Babson, he said, they made it happen. “[The Posse program] has brought a dimension to campus that has made a big difference over the years.”

Looking Ahead

Babson’s global population has always been a strength, shared President Dill. That won’t change as the College embarks on its second century. “Think of all the areas where we’re trying to find ways to put countries together to solve problems,” he said. “Babson has an exceptional role to play here. We have a base for being a force in international influence and education.”

As the world continues to change, said President Leo Higdon Jr. H’07, who led the College from 1997 to 2001, our alumni are uniquely prepared to lead. “The Babson curriculum is relevant and rigorous. Our graduates are team-oriented, they recognize and seize on opportunities—the essence of entrepreneurship,” he said. “They have entrepreneurial drive.”

The chat closed with each President sharing advice for current students as they embark on their lives and careers.

“My father used to have a saying; I expanded on it,” shared President Barefoot. “Two and two and one, and you’re set up for a good life. Two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. If you observe and listen before you speak, you’re one step on your way to success.”

“Whatever you choose to do, do it to the best of your ability,” advised President Sorenson. “Bring the entrepreneurial mindset to everything you do.”

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