Political science grad aspires to pursue entrepreneurial interests
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.
While living in the New York City borough of Manhattan, Benjamin Leonard decided transfer to Arizona State University thanks to the advice of a friend.
“I was waking up every morning at 4 a.m. in the New York winter for Army training most days, so my friend didn’t have to say much to sell me on Arizona State,” Leonard said. “He told me about his experiences away from home and so it was a no-brainer for me.”
Leonard, who grew up in the New York City neighborhood of Riverdale, applied the day after their conversation and was accepted shortly thereafter.
ASU was a perfect fit with Leonard’s interests as well. Pursuing a Bachelor of Science in political science with a business minor allowed him the ability to connect with people across a wide political spectrum and gain insights into different points of views.
“I wasn’t forced to interpret certain situations through a specific lens which meant a lot to me.”
Leonard shared that the courses he took at ASU, specifically those within his major, taught by faculty within the School of Politics and Global Studies, provided him with knowledge that will assist his aspirations of future ventures.
“I’m sure my career goals don’t align with other students in this school, but I think that one of the big reasons I made those goals was due to the unique impact (the school) and ASU had on me!”
Currently working at a recruiting agency, Leonard’s role has nuances that make it challenging at times, but he finds the work rewarding.
“I like the work we do,” said Leonard. “If done right, we are making a real impact on their careers by showing them what is possible out there for them.”
Beyond his work at the agency and studying political science in the classroom, Leonard has also worked as a freelancer, assisting small businesses with developing their e-commerce sites. The experience inspired Leonard to devote time to consider opportunities that are available to him upon graduation this December.
After speaking with a fellow student, he realized that he wanted to create a more passive and high-growth model business versus one that is service oriented. That is when Leonard had the idea of creating his own third party seller on a site like Amazon or Walmart.
“So this past summer I got everything started, knowing that the process would take me about a year,” said Leonard who hopes to get his business going by mid-late 2022.
His e-commerce store isn’t the only entrepreneurial venture that Leonard has in mind. Over the past two years, he has also studied commercial real estate with the hopes of starting his own business in that field as well. To prepare for this, Leonard shares he is considering an MS in real estate from NYU.
Long term, his goal is to be in a position to provide venture capital to up-and-coming tech startups.
“This will allow me to eventually circle it all back and become involved in politics,” shared Leonard. “I’m not sure in which capacity as of now, but I would definitely like to use my business success to have a meaningful impact on the community whether that is through the government or private sector.”
We caught up with him to ask more about his time at Arizona State University.
Question: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
Answer: This was not an easy choice to make but I’ll have to go with Professor Margaret Hanson. I had a six-week class with her that was very intense, with a lot of information packed into it. She was able to get me to understand how major developments move at the macro level of developing countries, as well as variables to consider when entering these markets. I consider this the most valuable lesson that I learned because those lessons can be applied when making an analysis on just about any country regardless of the research goal. I thought this was important because, with social movements in the modern-day, this knowledge should be useful for classmates of mine who pursue change in some of these nations.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: While at ASU I learned that many professors are still in the process of achieving their own career goals. This made certain classes more interesting to me and certainly shifted my perspective on the material when learning from a professor who is very actively bettering themselves at the same time. It brought more credibility to the room as far as I perceived it because it gave us more of a real-life element to supplement the theoretical teachings.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: I would encourage those who are still in school to take a really deep look into what their lives will be like upon graduation. It’s important to really envision it as if that day will be tomorrow. If you aren’t happy with what you see; take the time to network with the right people, learn in-demand skills, and stay curious. Just because you major in one area doesn’t mean that you need to have a career in that field. Most importantly I want everyone to understand that generally speaking, the only thing that will hold you back from your aspirations is yourself.