Building Boards to Prepare for the Future

By Kerry Healey    //    Volume 26,  Number 4   //    September/October 2018

Serving as the president of a college is an experience filled with lessons in leadership, management, communication, and diplomacy. One of the most important takeaways from my six years at Babson College is the importance of our governance members, and how the varied backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences represented on our boards serve to strengthen the college and support our community.

As Babson approaches its centennial in 2019, we are committed to a second century of leadership in entrepreneurship education. Our governance members are critical to achieving that goal and preparing Babson for a changing future. Here are a few strategies we are using to build boards that will guide our next 100 years:

Cultivating the Next Generation: The vast majority of college trustees are over 50, and recruiting and cultivating the next generation of engaged leaders and board members is critical to any college’s success. At Babson, we work hard to incorporate recent graduates on our board of trustees. Their familiarity with the student and campus experience, along with their personal understanding of the goals and priorities of Babson’s young alumni, infuses discussions with highly relevant and fresh perspective.

Recruiting Creatively: While the alumni base at some colleges and universities, particularly large state schools, can top half a million, smaller schools often have a relatively limited alumni pool to draw from when recruiting board members. At Babson, we see incredible potential in engaging parents. Beyond our students and alumni, no one is more deeply invested in the success and reputation of the college. Parents bring wide-ranging experiences to the board, and looking to this group can double or triple the number of potential governance candidates.

Reflecting Student Trends and Demographics: A multitude of backgrounds and perspectives is invaluable in anticipating and thinking through the complex challenges that arise on modern college campuses. Babson is deliberately working to make its boards more intentionally diverse and reflective of our students, and to promote representation across many races, ethnicities, genders, geographies, and professions.

Babson is focused on preparing entrepreneurs of all kinds to lead and have an impact in all settings. The professional backgrounds of our trustees mirror the varied career aspirations and paths of our broader community— entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, social business founders, non-profit directors, academic leaders, and finance executives—and support Babson’s mission to educate entrepreneurial leaders who will create social and economic value everywhere.

We have also made a concerted effort to increase African-American representation and to welcome international trustees from Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and Asia. Nearly 40 percent of our undergraduates are international or U.S. dual citizens, a number that has grown 103 percent over the past 10 years. Simultaneously, international representation among trustees increased threefold to 23 percent, and a unique Global Advisory Board was created to better connect with alumni in 119 countries, serve as international ambassadors, and provide counsel and perspective on issues of global importance.

And, while Babson was founded in 1919 as an all-male institute, today our undergraduates are nearly 50 percent women. Last year, Babson appointed its first female chair of the board of trustees, Marla M. Capozzi. In doing so, we became the only Massachusetts business school to have its two most senior governance roles held simultaneously by women leaders.

Thinking Beyond Traditional Roles and Capitalizing on Expertise: Board members are an often underutilized asset. If you have board members with cutting edge understanding of marketing, information technology, real estate, and other key business functions, use them! Do not underestimate the value of trustees with experience and expertise in managing an endowment. Colleges often view trustees as either “working boards” or “giving boards,” but there are countless ways that trustees can be valuable contributors to the college that extend beyond traditional silos.

As I reflect on my time at Babson College, I am exceedingly proud of the historic results achieved in partnership with the Babson community, and, in particular, our governance members. Together, we have enrolled the most well-qualified undergraduates in Babson’s history, transformed our campus, achieved record-breaking fundraising, and brought Babson to even more people and places around the world. Babson’s boards are critical to the college’s continued success and are helping to lead Babson into a second century of innovation and leadership in entrepreneurship education.