Amy Blitz is a professor at Babson College, where she teaches courses in economics and strategy. She has led research initiatives for organizations including Harvard Business School, where she developed a series of studies on entrepreneurial strategy based on interviews with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists; Ernst & Young, where she co-authored a study on IPOs in the late 1990s that resulted in extensive new, ongoing consulting services; and a UN-affiliated NGO in the Philippines, where she helped launch a successful credit cooperative in a poor rural community. At Babson, she teaches courses in strategy, economics, and political risk management.
When did you first suspect that you wanted to work in this field? That is, when did you first fall in like—or love?
I’ve always loved school, from the time I was old enough to start reading. Then I fell in love with writing and, later, with research. After college, I got to do some field research in the Philippines; after that, I went on for grad school. But I was terrified of public speaking, so I never thought I’d teach. Instead, I went into consulting and — guess what — I had to do public speaking all the time. I still didn’t think about teaching but, when a friend had a seizure and was dying, I realized I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life. I still didn’t seek out teaching, but through a chance meeting on a subway one cold wintry night, I met a lovely man in a fedora who turned out to be the dean of a nearby community college. After talking for just a few minutes, he told me I needed to teach. It was a lightbulb moment. He helped get me an adjunct position teaching management at 8a.m. at the community college. I figured, if I bombed, no one would ever need to know. But I wanted to try. My students turned out to be diverse and inspiring. Some were from the inner city and had to get up very early, then take a few buses to get to class. Others were from the military and were dealing with various injuries. Others were recent immigrants, just getting launched. Working with these students was when I really fell in love with teaching. I grew to understand that teaching wasn’t about public speaking, or my ego. It was about my students, and us as a group, learning and growing together. Magic.
Describe the training you’ve undergone, academically and/or professionally, to reach this point in your career.
I have an undergraduate degree from Colby College in economics, a PhD from MIT in political science, and years of experience in management consulting and corporate research. Between college and grad school, I did field research in the Philippines, and my dissertation/first book (The Contested State), which focuses on inequality, political economy and democracy, grew out of my experiences there. After grad school, I worked for several years in consulting, focusing on strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship. The thread connecting all of this is that I’ve always cared about issues of inequality, poverty alleviation, and economic development, and I’ve been able to work on this from macro-level policies to micro-level strategies for corporations, NGOs, and others. I’ve now had ten years of teaching experience, and being able to combine research, writing, teaching and consulting plus various creative hobbies at this stage feels like the ideal balance.
Why did you choose the college you attended and the college you’re currently teaching at?
I chose Colby because I wanted a small college in a pretty area with a strong economics department. Colby checked all of those boxes, and then my Junior year I got to study at LSE in London, so that was an amazing mix of experiences. For teaching, I chose Babson because of their leadership in entrepreneurship, which draws really innovative students, faculty and others from all over the world, and from a range of disciplines. Babson’s also big enough to have a strong and diverse community (students, colleagues, events, alums, etc.) but small enough to be intimate. And it’s close to where I live and has a beautiful campus.
What qualities (aptitudes, preferences, personality traits) do you think make students most likely to enjoy and succeed in your classes, and to pursue studies in your field?
I teach a few very different courses. In macroeconomics, I stress critical thinking, fact-based analysis, and respect for diverse views — but also for the real-world evidence that either supports or challenges these views. I’m less about math and models and more about the social, political, and historical contexts of economics, for the big debates. The students who do well generally have some kind of real-world experience to draw on (even if just from talking with older relatives) that helps them understand the content on a deeper level than just from the textbook. They’re also open-minded, able to explore different points of view with curiosity and with rigor about evidence. The students who engage with big issues like inequality and climate change, and have a bent toward original research, have gone on for graduate studies. Most students at Babson, a business school, are headed toward industry rather than academia, but many go on for MBAs, and the course prepares them well for that.
I also teach strategic management. The students who do well here are able to combine analytical and creative skills, drawing a link, say, from in-depth financial analyses to opportunities for innovation in operations, business models, and more. I stress that a firm’s performance can be about more than just profitability or share price: it can be about ethical leadership and serving stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and the environment. Many of my students have gone on to some kind of strategy career, whether in consulting or finance or entrepreneurship. I also teach an advanced seminar in political risk analysis, and the students who do well in that are strong in research, and generally bring more advanced knowledge of international political issues to the course, often from their own experiences. Overall, I think the students who like and do well in my classes are open-minded, interested in exploring diverse points of view on big issues, and able to combine strong analytical skills with creative thinking.
Could you describe what a typical week looks like for you?
I generally teach Tuesday/Thursday mornings, and have meetings with students, alums, and/or colleagues in the afternoons. Monday/Wednesday mornings are for research, then teaching prep and grading in the afternoons. Fridays are often for meetings, though I try to use the mornings for research and writing too. I also have a lot of hobbies that keep me humble and happy, plus family and friends, so I really try to keep my evenings and weekends free for these, though I often spend part of Saturday and/or Sunday grading, writing, responding to emails, and writing recommendations, depending on the time of year.
Looking back at your career to date, what are you most proud of?
I’m probably most proud of a farmers’ credit cooperative I helped design and launch when I was working in the Philippines. From my field research, I’d learned that farmers in my area wanted to switch from subsistence rice farming to coffee farming. But they generally needed about $200 to make the switch, a lot of money to them at the time. This was before micro-finance was big, but I heard about a credit cooperative in a nearby town and I went to speak with them. They taught me about their business model, which I helped replicate in our community. This was my first real job out of college, and I still feel like the cooperative served a real need for real people and in some small way made a difference in their lives. Beyond that, I wouldn’t use the word proud, but I will say that teaching has been the most gratifying experience of my career. It’s rewarding to see so many of my students go on to thrive, overcoming challenges along the way, and to have played even just a small role in their journey is a very special experience. I’m also glad that I’ve followed my heart in life and in my career. There were times when it was scary, but I tried not to let that, or money, or what other people might think, stop me. I’m very lucky to have been able to do that.
Thank you to Amy Blitz for participating in our Q&A series! Getting to know professors at your school is an important part of the college experience and can help you decide on your best college fit in the college admissions process. Explore the upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!