The first time Stig Leschly (MBA 1997 / JD 1998) really sat down to think about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he decided to pursue his love of music. He was 23 years old, new to Harvard Business School, and trying to figure out a way to connect fellow collectors of rare records and books with sellers. His solution, the early e-commerce site Exchange.com, was sold to Amazon.com for a reported $200 million in 1999.
The second time Leschly sat down to assess his future, he again returned to something he loved: education. It's an interest he says he owes to his immigrant background—he moved to the States from Denmark at age 9—as well as a yearlong experience he had as a teacher and assistant principal at an inner-city school in New York City just before coming to Harvard. "It had an enormously transformative effect on me," says Leschly.
So when Leschly returned to HBS to teach entrepreneurship, he also successfully pitched the School's administration on a new elective course that would apply the principles of enterprise to education. "It was an extraordinary opportunity: They agreed to let a 30-year-old Internet entrepreneur develop a course on education reform at the best business school in the world. That doesn't even make sense," Leschly says with a laugh.
Embraced by the faculty and the students, the course, Entrepreneurship in Education Reform, has become part of the fabric of the School. "Other business schools may say 'That's not our jurisdiction'—but that's not true. There are a lot of management issues in education reform, and we should be studying them."
After four years at HBS and a few years running a charter school fund he had founded in Newark, Leschly wanted to get back to managing—holding staff meetings, building a team, and doing applied work. So he returned to Match Education, an education reform group for which he had previously served as a board member for 10 years, taking over as CEO in 2011.
Match has a three-pronged approach: it runs a system of six public charter schools, manages its own master's degree-granting graduate school of education, and operates a publishing arm that distributes the results of its work. Ultimately, says Leschly, the organization functions as an "an engine of innovation," working to define the nature of good teaching, determine the role of technology in education, and influence change in the country's graduate schools of education.
Once Match begins answering those questions, the long view comes into focus. "Over the next 15 years, the goal in our schools is to really break through to a situation where we can truly prepare kids for high-level college education and, eventually, livelihoods," says Leschly. "Because then you can break the cycle of poverty."