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From Boardrooms To Classrooms: Why Are Business Executives Becoming Academics?

We caught up with three executives-turned-professors to find out


Wed Apr 18 2018

With long-term employment guarantees for professors disintegrating at universities, comparatively lower salaries, and cuts to research funding, the education sector faces its own uncertainties.

Yet business professionals experienced in the corporate world are still pivoting towards academia for their career development.

Created by the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Bridge Program is an annual, week-long, immersive course that aims to equip business executives with knowledge and skills required to teach at prestigious schools.

The program forms the bridge for business practitioners to cross into academia, training participants in how to structure lessons, nurture a motivating learning environment, and adapt to new technologies and pedagogical methods.

Why make the career switch? BusinessBecause spoke to three executives-turned-professors to find out why they switched the boardroom for the classroom.

Keith Pond. Former banker at Midland Bank, now senior lecturer in banking at Loughborough University

Keith Pond is the facilitator of this year's Bridge Program. Launching his career as a banker with one of the big four banking groups in the UK at the time, he switched to academia 26 years ago after sensing changes in his industry.

On moving towards academia...In the 1980s, there was a big bang in the city, and my job became less that of a trusted professional and more of a sales role. This was not in line with my skills and passions, and so I looked for other avenues to explore.


It was also a lifestyle choice. Did I want to spend hours commuting into an impersonal, pressured environment? Or, did I want to cycle to work, with no one clocking me in as long as I got the job done?

Freedom of opinion is also an important factor. I don't like to be told what to think, and this made the academic world a comfortable place to be.

On the Bridge Program...The Bridge Program is an interactive, intensive course set up to bring together industry experts and experienced delegates, with the aim of teaching the latter how to be effective academics.

MBAs learn by doing, so the point of teaching should be to convey theoretical knowledge through problem based learning rather than a one-way, didactic lecture. The Bridge Program incorporates this principle into teaching methods.

In the Bridge Program, we say not to think back to what it was like when you were at university. It's important to think about the audience of today and what you want to achieve with them.

On business education trends...Business schools that have got it right today are balancing research focused traditional academia, with a practical orientation, making the product more credible and useful.

There are also different markets for business schools to consider nowadays. A large market for UK business schools is, of course, the domestic one. There are government postgraduate loans available now, which is likely to lead to a growth in conversion masters courses.

International students, on the other hand, are drawn to accredited schools. It's important to consider the different needs of both groups, and how they are catered for. 

Anne Groves. Independent communications adviser and adjunct assistant professor in public relations practice at Richmond University

Anne Groves has been in the public relations (PR) and communications industry for over 30 years. She realized her interest in teaching ten years ago, and decided to complement her active PR practice with communications training to further develop her career.

On moving towards academia...When I left my last in-house role, I worked for a long period as a freelancer. I had interim communication and advisory roles, primarily to do with the legal sector but also with an executive search firm. This gave me a new perspective on communications.


I was asked to run their charity which provides training for Black and Minority Ethnic students to get into the PR sector. I also started to teach on that course. Having always done guest speaking throughout my career, and delivering presentations at conferences, I particularly enjoyed this training. It made me think, what do I do when I feel like I've done my main job long enough. And, I realized I wanted to transition into PR teaching.

On the Bridge Program...I found out about it through my network, and thought the program would help me consolidate my teaching credentials. I knew my industry very well, but I wanted to translate that into effective training.

The program gave me the confidence to structure a three hour lesson, by exploring what students expect in academic content, how much they value participation in lessons, how to keep students energized, how to conduct yourself in a classroom and the conduct to expect of students.

On business education trends...Like many people of my generation, I fell into my industry quite by accident when I left university with a degree in English. Now, you can study this as a first degree and a masters.

People these days undertake academic study of industries that will help them get jobs in those industries. They are much better place to make a real contribution immediately when they start because they already know the basics.

Matt Lanfear. Business transformation consultant, startup adviser, and research fellow at EDHEC Business School

Matt Lanfear, a senior finance professional and independent consultant providing business transformation advice to financial institutions and corporates, explains that moving to academia for him was about building his portfolio career.

On moving towards academia...For me, it's about adding another string to my bow. I'm not a full-time academic and I don't intend to be, however I split my time between consulting, startups and academia.


On the Bridge Program...People who do this program are life-long learners, and are always looking to do something for their personal development. For some of us, teaching at university on a part-time basis is completely different to our day job but it can also be complementary.

The course trains us in using our skills within the business school setting. It's about bringing the skills you've learnt from your professional background to a teaching context.

When I talk to business schools, they are always seeking people coming from industry who have had operational and line management roles, because they actually know how things work in practice. This is particularly important for MBA students because these practitioners bring that real-world experience and many industry contacts to cohorts.

On business education trends...In the past, subjects were isolated from each other. Things nowadays are much more integrated and multi-disciplinary. The environment is more agile. Fast-paced teams are assembled to solve a particular issue, then disassembled once the problem is resolved.

It's important for business students to be immersed in that mindset. Teams are geographically dispersed, working remotely around the world in different time zones. This is now a standard way to work, and business education must train students in that kind of diversity.