Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship Faculty Profile: William B. Gartner

William B. Gartner

Professor William B. Gartner is a prominent researcher of entrepreneurship and has won several prestigious awards for his work. We are thrilled that he has joined Babson’s entrepreneurship division this year! I recently called Professor Gartner to learn what excites him about his new role and how he hopes to engage the Babson community.

What is your role at Babson? How long have you been at Babson?
I am the Bertarelli Foundation Distinguished Professor of Family Entrepreneurship.  I started on June 1, 2017.

What excites you about your role as the Bertarelli Chair for Family Entrepreneurship?
I am thrilled to be at the number one university for entrepreneurship in the world and to be around colleagues who are leaders and pioneers in research and teaching in the field of entrepreneurship. I am also looking forward to spending time with students at Babson as they have a great reputation for being innovators.

Family entrepreneurship is an exciting area because it looks at the role of families as the instigators of entrepreneurial activities. Family entrepreneurship is actually very common.   For example, around 50% of startup teams are spousal pairs. Entrepreneurship is inherently relational, and, therefore, one might start with those significant others in entrepreneurial relationships – one’s relatives.  As Babson’s mission and vision is global, I am excited to explore the various ways that family entrepreneurship occurs in other cultures, as families often have a larger role in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Finally, I hope to expand collaborations between entrepreneurship and the arts and humanities. That interchange has many intriguing possibilities as we expand the conversation about entrepreneurship beyond the boundaries of economics and the social sciences.  I believe that Babson will play a major leadership role in this area, just as it does in all other areas of entrepreneurship.

What do you think makes Babson unique?
At Babson, the entire institution is devoted to exploring how individuals create the future. Babson has had a consistent emphasis on entrepreneurship since the 1980s.  While most universities have waxed and waned on entrepreneurship’s role in higher education, it is Babson’s primary focus.

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is about organizing the future.  In Schumpeterian terms, entrepreneurs are “combiners,” that is, they organize (individuals, markets, factors of production, relationships, ideas, etc.) in new ways.  Organizing is a form of creativity that is essentially relational.  Entrepreneurship always involves others, so, all entrepreneurship is social.

What does the world need from entrepreneurs today?
Successful organizing involves creating value for others.  From an economic perspective, entrepreneurial activity is transactional where both entrepreneurs and others benefit from exchanges created through organizing.  What needs to be taken into account, to a larger extent, is how entrepreneurial activity can provide value beyond specific exchange relationships.  When we talk about social entrepreneurship, for example, we recognize that entrepreneurial action can provide community, environmental, cultural and societal value, beyond economic value.

While entrepreneurship is not the answer to every problem and issue, the fact that entrepreneurship is about people taking action to create the future, is, from my optimistic view, likely to lead to positive changes in the world.

Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs?
It takes time to figure things out. It is rare for baseball players to hit a home run their first time at bat. And, even then, they don’t hit home runs every time they step to the plate.  There is a high likelihood of failing along the way. Entrepreneurs often underestimate the amount of time, money and energy their venture will require. There is a principle in sociology called the liability of newness- doing something new is a challenge and mistakes are a part of the path.   So, maybe a simpler way to summarize this is to say that: Failures are opportunities to learn.

What do you do for fun?
I travel to see any exhibitions of work by Chuck Close, David Hockney, Richard Diebenkorn and Christo.  I will go out of my way to look for John Singer Sargent portrait paintings in various museum collections.  I think I’m the only business academic I know to receive a National Endowment for the Arts grant (for research on Charles and Ray Eames and the development of their furniture).  I am particularly interested in the design and manufacture of chairs.  I follow architecture, food, graphic design…

Describe yourself in two words.
Enthusiastically curious.

Anything else people should know?
I write haiku.  So, maybe we should end this interview with one:

Complicate yourself.

Different parts make greater

Than their sum.  Trust me.