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Len Schlesinger    

Entrepreneurship Expert, Services Industry Authority, Baker Foundation Professor of Business AdministrationFormer President, Babson College

For Leonard (Len) Schlesinger, entrepreneurship is a lifestyle – one that’s integral to the success of every 21st century leader. Formed from three decades of leadership expertise in industry and academia, this belief is a driving force of his work helping students and business professionals alike navigate change, accommodate ambiguity, surmount complexity, and motivate teams to achieve common goals. Following nearly 15 years at the helm of several influential organizations, including Babson College, Limited Brands and Au Bon Pain, Schlesinger recently returned to his teaching roots as a Harvard Business School (HBS) professor.

The former President Emeritus of Babson College – consistently the number one-ranked entrepreneurship institution, a reputation he championed and solidified during his tenure – Schlesinger helped develop and institute a new method for teaching entrepreneurship called Entrepreneurial Thought and Action®. He’s now part of another curriculum innovation at HBS. As Baker Foundation Professor of Business Administration, Schlesinger teaches in the new FIELD (Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development) program, designed to give students meaningful opportunities to act like leaders and translate their ideas into practice.

A foremost authority in the services industry, Schlesinger served in executive positions with Limited Brands (1997-2007) – ending as vice chairman and chief operating officer – and was executive vice president and chief operating officer of Au Bon Pain (1985-1988). He has also consulted and lectured on service quality, customer satisfaction and organizational change for more than 200 major corporations, non-profit organizations, governments and international leadership organizations around the world. Schlesinger was an active leader in the design and development of the renowned GE “Work-Out!” initiative, and the “Reinventing Government” process for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Well known for his pioneering research and publications on the “Service Profit Chain,” Schlesinger’s writings on organizational management have also been widely published. He is the author or co-author of a dozen books, including “What Great Service Leaders Know and Do” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, September 2015), “Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future” (Harvard Business School Press, March 2012), “Action Trumps Everything” (Black Ink Press, December 2010), “The Value Profit Chain” (Free Press, January 2003), “The Service Profit Chain” (Free Press, April 1997) and “The Real Heroes of Business … and Not a CEO Among Them” (Doubleday Currency, March 1994), and has written over 40 articles for academic audiences as well as for The New York Times, Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. He has served on the editorial boards of four major academic journals and published numerous case studies on management issues that have sold well over one million copies. He also has produced three video series on service management issues.

Schlesinger is vice chairman of the board of directors of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a member of the Corporation of the Winsor School and the President’s Council of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, and a director of Viewpost, LLC. He also serves as an advisory council member of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative and the Global Business Schools Network, and is a member of the Council on Competitiveness and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Schlesinger holds a doctorate from HBS, a master’s from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in American Civilization from Brown University.

Speech Topics


Be Big, Act Small

Companies are hungry – for innovation, talent and competitive advantage. To win the war for all three, smart organizations of every size, from global giants to small shops, are increasingly embracing a more entrepreneurial approach to business. However, most people believe entrepreneurship in large organizations is an oxymoron; that they are systematically incapable of exploiting current assets while also stimulating the risk-free exploration that help make start-ups successful. Len Schlesinger not only insists it’s possible, he says it’s vital. He discusses strategies for building, managing and sustaining the agility and adaptability required to thrive, as well as the leadership approach needed to nurture a more entrepreneurial culture. He also shares specific examples of companies doing it right. Those doing it wrong (or not at all) risk going out of business or becoming shadows of their former selves.

In a Service Economy, Leadership is Competitive Advantage

Globalization, advancing technology and constant, instantaneous communication are forcing organizations to seek competitive advantage by placing emphasis on a factor not as easily copied as price or product – the quality of service. Len Schlesinger – co-author of the landmark books The Service Profit Chain and The Value Profit Chain, one of the first to recognize and define the service economy evolution – draws from new data, new company stories and new CEO insights to discuss the foundation of a powerful strategic service vision, and offers best practices for building and managing a sustainable service profit chain in today’s world.

To Thrive through Uncertainty, Think and Act like an Entrepreneur

In today’s climate of social and economic uncertainty, traditional approaches to problem-solving no longer work. The future of business, according to Len Schlesinger, requires entrepreneurial thinking – and acting. Drawing from his experiences leading two industry leading public companies and most recently Babson College, renowned for its pioneering entrepreneurship programs, Schlesinger explores how entrepreneurial activity steeped in experiential learning can transform the way leaders – and their organizations – move forward in the face of unpredictability. And contrary to conventional wisdom, he also believes entrepreneurs are made, not born. He explains how entrepreneurial thinking can be taught to anyone.

A Global Strategy for Education

Much of business education is based on the assumption that the future will be very similar to the past. Clearly, however, the world is growing increasingly unpredictable. Is education doing the job it needs to for businesses? Former Babson College President Len Schlesinger doesn’t think so. In this presentation he dissects his perspective and offers recommendations for how the education system can catch up with the changed – and still changing – reality of how jobs are created, both domestically and globally. The fact is, he says, entrepreneurship will continue to be the most powerful force for social and economic value creation; this must be reflected across education, from how we teach young children through to the structure of universities and the courses business schools offer skilled managers. It is a practice that, like law and medicine, can be codified, developed and taught. Schlesinger explains how.

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