01 Sep 2007
Where Are They Now? Topics:
The first in a series of occasional articles in which the Bulletin catches up with former HBS faculty members.
Len Schlesinger (DBA ’79) certainly walks the talk, as he moves easily back and forth between business and academia. After joining the HBS faculty in 1980 and teaching organizational behavior, in 1985 he decamped to Au Bon Pain, the chain of bakery cafés, serving as COO for several years before returning to HBS. At the School again until 1998, he taught, wrote books, and with HBS colleagues, developed the ser-vice profit-chain concept, which holds that customer/employee satisfaction is mutually reinforcing and enhances profitability.
In 1999, after a year as jack-of-all-trades at Brown University, his alma mater, Schlesinger went to the firm now known as Limited Brands, in Columbus, Ohio. Vice chairman and COO since 2003, he works on strategy issues, is point person for global initiatives and acquisitions, and oversees day-to-day operations across all of the group’s functions and its multiple brands, which reap $9 billion in annual sales and include Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. (Re the latter, we asked, but he wouldn’t tell: “It’s as jealously guarded as the Coke formula.”)
A memorable case-method teacher, Schlesinger acknowledges, “The vast majority of the issues I confront are not organized into the neat 80-minute packages we discussed at HBS. Problem definition is a big part of the job.” In addition, he notes, “I’ve learned that day-to-day interpersonal dynamics are just as material when you’re responsible for 10,000 people as when you’re in charge of only 10.”
As for what drives his business-academia pas de deux, Schlesinger, who still visits HBS yearly to recruit, says: “I’ve always been driven to test my ideas in real-world settings.” And might he one day teach again? “I’ve never planned to do anything I’ve done, so the notion of planning to be doing something else does not register. Which means, who knows?”
Class of DBA 1979