Office Hours: Opportunity Knocking

Richard Bliss
Richard Bliss, professor of finance. Photo: Webb Chappell
Babson Magazine

Spring 2020

Babson’s first Posse mentor now leads the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

Richard Bliss had only recently heard of Babson when he first received a call from the dean with an unexpected offer to interview for a faculty spot. Bliss, then teaching and completing his PhD at Indiana University, was dubious about leaving the trappings of a huge public university.

“I’m going to go to a tiny private school? How can there be opportunities there?” Bliss recalls wondering. “It was just the opposite. Opportunities are everywhere.”

Now in his 23rd year at Babson, the professor of finance—who received the prestigious Walter H. Carpenter Prize in 2017 for his contributions across campus—always answers when opportunity knocks.

One of the most prominent examples is proudly represented by a well-worn basketball that sits on the bookshelf of his understated office. It’s signed by the 11 members of Babson’s first class of Posse Scholars, for whom Bliss served as mentor from 2004 to 2008.

That experience—including the academic achievements, the life lessons, and even the high-intensity basketball games the group shared—had almost as much of an impact on Bliss as it did on his students.

“It really forced me to be a little more empathetic,” Bliss says. “Not ever having kids of my own, I think it made me understand some of the frustrations and rewards that probably come with parenthood.”

The program—which welcomes its 17th class of Posse Scholars this fall—has produced a remarkable 97% graduation rate.

“It’s just really nice to see kids whose lives have changed dramatically,” Bliss says.

Today, Bliss splits his time teaching courses on campus while mentoring a completely different type of student. He serves as the national academic director for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

A decade ago, Bliss and his Babson colleagues, led by Professor Emeritus Patricia Greene, helped start the program—a $500 million initiative that aids small business owners with training, business support, and access to capital at 19 sites around the country. When Greene stepped aside as academic director four years ago, Bliss took the reins.

The impact has been undeniable with more than 9,000 businesses having graduated from the program.

“It’s like no other sort of teaching, because these are businesses, often in underserved communities,” Bliss says. “Our data shows they grow more quickly in terms of revenue, and they hire more people, so we know the program works.”

The program will achieve its objective of helping 10,000 businesses sometime this year. But with recent launches in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Ohio, Bliss and his team see no shortage of small businesses that would benefit.

Approaching a quarter-century at the College, Bliss says he is in no hurry to step away, not from the Goldman Sachs businesses and not from his Babson students.

“I love what I do here,” he says, “and I want to continue evolving my teaching here.”

Plus, who knows when opportunity may knock again.

Posted in Campus & Community

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