Since retiring from Accenture, Ellen Balaguer has created enormous impact in education, serving as a role model to countless Leeds students.
If you ask Ellen Balaguer what she’s most proud of in her philanthropic work, she’s quick to quip that—thanks to the efforts of the entire Leeds School of Business community to elevate its standing and impact—“a bum like me would never be accepted there today.”
Rather than tout her own accomplishments, Balaguer (Fin, Psych’82) points to “a dramatic increase in the quality of the research and education at Leeds in the past two decades, which has allowed us, as a community, to significantly enhance the impact on the lives of our students, faculty and staff.”
Balaguer’s compelling story—an impressive career with Accenture, her tireless work as a mentor and her emphasis on philanthropy that creates positive impact for others—led to her selection as part of AACSB International’s 2023 class of Influential Leaders. AACSB is the world’s largest business education alliance; this annual initiative honors notable alumni from AACSB-accredited business schools whose work inspires the next generation of business leaders.
This year, AACSB sought nominees who create positive impact through leadership that is compassionate, curious and resilient, with a focus on purpose, people and planet.
MORE: Meet the 2023 class of Influential Leaders
“I don’t do any of this for the recognition—for me, it’s about making impact and making the world a better place, and having fun doing it,” Balaguer said. “At the same time, it’s nice to know you’re making a difference. I was so honored to find out I’d been nominated, let alone that I’d been selected.”
“The most rewarding part of working with Leeds is getting to talk with students and alumni, helping them figure out their own journeys.”
Ellen Balaguer (Fin, Psych’82)
After retiring from Accenture as a global managing director in 2009, she became a highly active board member and philanthropist whose service includes the Leeds Advisory Board, the CU Boulder Enterprise Corporation board, the CU Denver Business School board, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Florence Crittenton School Denver, World Pulse, ActivateWork, the Colorado Ballet and many others. She was presented with the Leeds Alumni Service Award in 2012 for her extensive involvement with the school, including mentorship of students and supporting initiatives related to women in business, career development, global learning and scholarships.
Confidence in tomorrow's leaders
Her mentorship record is particularly impressive. Leeds is nationally recognized for its mentorship programs, but Balaguer has never been formally registered in the program. Get her in front of a class, though, and she’s liable to leave with a half-dozen—or more—new protégés.
“The most rewarding part of working with Leeds is getting to talk with students and alumni, helping them figure out their own journeys or sharing perspectives from my own career,” she said. “I joke sometimes that people my age say young people don’t want to work as hard as we did. But that’s never been my experience. I have so much confidence in today’s students to sustainably address our problems, and I look forward to the time when they are in charge.”
At Accenture, Balaguer led many strategic growth initiatives for the organization and facilitated countless complex global deals. She successfully turned around several distressed business units and helped drive significant growth in outsourcing and consulting.
Her experience at CU was important preparation for her Accenture career. Balaguer got into business “by accident,” as she said, after taking an economics class in her first year: “I have often said that in my career, I may have used my psychology degree more than my business degree—even though when I was a college freshman, I would have told you business was the last career path I had in mind. That said, I have come full circle and now wholeheartedly believe that business can be a primary source for good.”
The advantages her degree offered are a key reason she enthusiastically supports Leeds and other education-related causes.
“Education, to me, is a root solution for addressing our biggest problems,” she said. “I want to make education far more accessible for far more students—especially underrepresented students—to help them obtain the same advantages I had through my own great experience at CU.”
A long record of service
At Leeds, Balaguer has established scholarships to support economically and socially disadvantaged students, while also providing funding for programming and activities that support students who have been historically excluded from accessing educational opportunities. Her impact goes far beyond Colorado, though—for example, she sponsored a five-year pro bono project as part of a partnership between Accenture, the African Medical and Research Foundation and the Nursing Council of Kenya to educate 20,000 new registered nurses in Kenya, where the university system only had capacity to graduate 100 new RNs each year.
“I try to bring all the elements of the leadership and strategy skills I built in my career to bear in the nonprofit world,” Balaguer said. “And it’s not always as different as it seems. You’re still trying to make an impact, to help an organization meet its goals. The way investments work are somewhat different, but how you build, hone and execute a strategy is very similar.”
That enthusiasm was what made Balaguer an easy candidate for Leeds to nominate.
“A leader must be smart, strategic, energetic, trail-blazing, caring and thoughtful—all qualities that colleagues and contemporaries use to describe Ellen,” said Yonca Ertimur, Leeds’ acting dean. “Ellen has given back so much to her alma mater, and the community has benefited immensely from her leadership.”
“Ellen’s achievements demonstrate that success in business can also mean success for society,” said Caryn Beck-Dudley, president and CEO of AACSB. “Her efforts to prioritize purpose, people and planet should inspire all of us to reorient our ideas about impactful leadership.”