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New Babson president vows to spread college's reputation

Email|Print| Text size + By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / November 17, 2007

Trustees of Babson College in Wellesley yesterday named Leonard A. Schlesinger, a longtime business educator and executive, as the 12th president of the business-oriented college.

Schlesinger, 55, who recently stepped down as vice chairman and chief operating officer of the retailer Limited Brands in Columbus, Ohio, will take over as Babson's president on July 1. He will succeed Brian M. Barefoot, who said last spring he will retire June 30, after six years at the Babson helm.

In an interview, Schlesinger said he will work to make sure Babson gets the recognition it deserves in the Boston area and beyond. Toward that end, he said he will build on the college's core concentration on entrepreneurship and expand its focus globally. The school now has about 1,700 undergraduates and 1,700 graduate students, with about a quarter of its student body coming from overseas.

"There's absolutely no reason at this point that Babson should not be recognized as one of the finest specialty business schools in the world," Schlesinger said yesterday. "And hopefully by the time I step down it will be the finest specialty business school in the world."

Several other Boston area business schools have installed new leaders this fall. Schlesinger will join Gloria C. Larson, who became president of Bentley College in Waltham, David C. Schmittlein, who became dean of the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Bruce R. Magid, who became dean of Brandeis International Business School in Waltham.

Schlesinger, who was a Harvard Business School professor of business administration throug much of the 1980s and 1990s, has gone back and forth between academia and the business world.

In addition to his tenure at Limited Brands, overseeing chains such as Victoria's Secret Beauty and Bath and Body Works, he has served as a senior executive at Au Bon Pain Co. in Boston and as a faculty member and administrator at Brown University in Providence.

"The marvelous thing I've had an opportunity to do as an academic is to develop ideas related to business and then put them to the test," Schlesinger said.

Schlesinger earned a bachelor's degree from Brown in 1972, a master's in business administration from Columbia University in 1973, and a doctorate in business administration from Harvard in 1979.

Schlesinger, who has worked in Columbus for the past seven years, said he will return to Boston early next year with his wife, Phyllis, a former management professor at Babson and Ohio State University's Fisher School of Business.

Schlesinger said he'll spend the spring semester working with Barefoot and meeting with members of the Babson community. It has yet to be determined whether his wife will return to the Babson faculty, he said.

As president of Babson, Schlesinger will reap the benefit of the college's $200 million capital campaign launched this month. The college already has raised about $65 million. Schlesinger said the money will be used to improve the institution, but he said it was premature to specify whether that would mean more students and faculty.

One thing Babson has no intention of changing, he said, was its reputation for educating future entrepreneurs.

"There's absolutely no question that the practice of teaching entrepreneurship as a discipline got started here at Babson," said Schlesinger. "And we're going to be doing everything we can to extend that capability."

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.

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