David Abdow grew up in a family business. His father and uncle owned a Big Boy franchise with stores in western Massachusetts, where they lived, as well as in central Massachusetts and greater Hartford, Connecticut. “I certainly did my time washing dishes and working in the warehouse through my high school and college years,” says Abdow.
He studied political science at Brown University. During his undergrad years, Abdow also took a year off and went to Colorado, where he focused on work with a social impact. “The goal was to develop people’s sense of efficacy and their ability to impact the kind of change that they wanted in their communities,” he says. “I was issue agnostic. I saw my role as an enabler. And that sparked my interest in adult learning.”
Abdow taught high school social studies. After earning a master’s in education, he tried his hand in the classroom for a year but then joined his family’s business. “There was an opportunity to get into the business in a way that was appealing to me, which was in the training and development space. It was one of those now-or-never times to see if it was going to be right for me,” he says. Abdow stayed for close to five years before deciding to pursue work with more of a social impact.
He has more than 21 years of experience in higher education. Before coming to Babson, Abdow worked at the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College and in roles related to executive education and corporate relations at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. So Abdow knows how to facilitate and manage partnerships between colleges and corporations, but he likes how BEEE goes beyond corporate learning. “We also have a startup and scale-up space that has a significant social and economic impact,” he says, citing such programs as Launch and Grow for Kenyan women entrepreneurs and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. “In addition, we work in the academic sector, where our mission is to export our model for entrepreneurship education to other parts of the world.”
Abdow loves sports. As a youth, he was a wrestler and played football and lacrosse. He met his wife skiing, and now his family (they have two children) enjoys the sport. “We also like tennis and golf,” he adds.
He was an Outward Bound instructor in Maine. Abdow took youths and corporate groups on backpacking and canoeing trips. “When you are coming off a day that was incredibly physically challenging, and you were learning new skills like using a map and compass, and then you have to set up camp and cook dinner and do things in the dark, and you’re interdependent on each other to get through these activities—that’s when people tend to show their true colors,” he says. “You learn from that. You learn about yourself, and about others. And perhaps that has an impact on how you think and do things after the experience.”
Abdow is inspired by his father and Nelson Mandela. “I was very impacted when I read Mandela’s autobiography. Some people have a calling in life,” he says. “My father is a role model in the way that he manages his relationships across all of his worlds, which include family, business, and community. He has worn many, many hats over the years, and has worn them well.”—Donna Coco