Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Faculty of biz brains

It's three years since Prithwis Mukerjee quit his cushy job in the corporate sector to take up academics full-time. Today, the former partner at PwC and director at IBM is a professor, teaching management information systems at IIT Kharagpur's Vinod Gupta School of Management (VGSOM). After 18 years of what he calls being a footnote in the Great Indian Software Story, he couldnt be happier. "The greatest satisfaction is the freedom to choose what I want to do", he says. "In the software industry, the greatest tragedy is that once you become a manager, or partner, or director, you are effectively a man manager. For a technically oriented person like me, this is claustrophobic. Then also, you have to follow the clients dictates. That is where academics scores hands down. You have the luxury to focus on and work with things you really like".

For some like Mukerjee, its the lure of the freedom. For some others, it's a calling, a way of giving back to society. Then there are those for whom its a recipe for a more balanced life. The reasons vary. Notwithstanding that, educational institutes, mostly B-schools, are seeing an increasing number of people who have spent years in the corporate world, quitting their jobs and joining academics full time.

Take IIM Ahmedabad, for instance. The institute has over 22 full-time faculty with 2-5 years of industry experience and 21 with more than five years experience. At IIM Calcutta, 55% faculty have prior industry experience with an average stint of 8.5 years. They represent a spectrum of areas including economics, marketing, finance, human resource, general management, management information system, operations, law and strategy. MDI Gurgaon has 18-odd faculty members with over 10 years industry experience. Other leading institutes, from the IIMs to Narsee Monjee to XLRI Jamshedpur, all have a significant number of faculty members with corporate backgrounds.

HR experts say this trend has started gaining momentum as academic salaries have been on the uptrend. It's still a far cry from the U.K. or the U.S. where a star professor can earn over a half-a-million dollars a year, but the differentials with the corporate sector have narrowed. Leading HR firm, Ma Foi Randstad Director and President E. Balaji says, "Earlier an academic job would probably pay just about 20-30 % of a corporate one, given the same qualifications. That was a huge entry barrier. Today, that has become 65-70 %. So a lot of people are making the shift".

The move is happening primarily at two levels. Those who have spent the bulk of their careers in the corporate world, and now want to give back to society and work with young people. Then there are also those who are in their 30s-40s, at the peak of their career, but still want to make a change. For the latter, with relatively lesser savings, the transition is more difficult, feels Balaji.

According to several such people who have bid the corporate world goodbye, an academic environment is intellectually more stimulating. Also, there's the fact that most leading institutes now offer plenty of scope for consultancy, more so to those with a strong corporate background. Like B.B. Chakraborty, professor of finance at IIM Calcutta, who spent 24 years in the manufacturing and financial services sectors, out of which five years were spent as president. After teaching in IIMC as visiting faculty for three years, he joined the institute as a permanent faculty, a job hes continued for the past nine years. "The freedom here to pursue ones interests is enormous. What's more, you are in a community of great students and colleagues. As opposed to the corporate world where you are more delivery-oriented, here you have to be a thinker and also work for the community. My only regret is I didn't join earlier".

The transition for corporate professionals to academic life has also been helped by the fact that institutes are actively looking out for teachers with industry experience. Management education is not just about lectures, but pedagogy that requires you to be in direct contact with the industry. "Those with a corporate background are in demand", says a professor with a leading Mumbai-based B-school.

Some have benefited in other ways. For Samiksha Ojha, finance faculty at MDI Gurgaon, the decision to make a shift to academics after spending 14 years in the corporate world across India, Dubai and Abu Dhabi and even running her own management consultancy, was prompted by a desire to give more time to family. "Corporate life was very demanding and I thought it would be the right option", she says. Overall,she says, it's been a wonderful experience. "You get to interact with like-minded people, be in constant touch with your subject and being with the students, you keep going back to your own student life".

Source: The Economic Times, September 1, 2010

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