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By Brian Burnsed
These leaders are using their corporate experience to mold a new generation of top executives
Most CEOs spend the latter years of their professional lives giving presentations in high-pressure board rooms for select groups of middle-aged power brokers, not in lecture halls filled with green but eager M.B.A. students. However, a few opt to trade in their corner office for office hours and venture into the world of higher education. CEOs who once sat at the helm of firms ranging from startup tech companies to corporate entertainment juggernauts now lend their expertise and impart wisdom gained through experience to a new generation of prospective business leaders.
Esteemed business programs, such as Columbia Business School , ranked ninth in U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools, are home to instructors hailing from the executive suite. Amy Rosen, CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, for instance, has been teaching an education leadership consulting lab as an adjunct faculty member at Columbia since 2008. Rosen isn't alone -- there are nine executives in residence who are former CEOs and several other full-time and adjunct faculty who have been top executives.
Columbia is only one of many schools that have asked CEOs to teach their students. Below are three more examples of CEOs who, inspired by what they learned through diverse -- and, at times, trying -- careers, have opted to teach at the M.B.A. level:
Michael Crooke, distinguished visiting professor of business practice at the Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and former CEO of Patagonia: While at the helm of the environmentally friendly apparel maker, Crooke's primary focus was to adhere to Patagonia's sustainability-centric values while still being mindful of the company's bottom line. He's taken that philosophy to Pepperdine, where he leads a certificate program that launched in 2010 -- dubbed Social, Environmental, and Ethical Responsibility -- in which M.B.A. students learn how to create value within a brand by differentiating from competitors via a sustainable model.
Crooke's decision to turn to academia was spurred by his own experiences with corporate leaders, including Patagonia's founder Yvon Chouinard and real estate executive Dan Emmett, both of whom took the time to teach him. "All these different mentors I had turned me on to teaching. I was able to [learn] fast, but you're only able to do that if you have great mentors," he says. "[Now] it's extremely rewarding to see these future CEOs going out and being so completely turned on to running a business with social and environmental responsibility."
Crooke's students indicate they value his advice, given his level of experience atop the corporate food chain, much like Crooke himself valued lessons imparted by his mentors. "Dr. Crooke is an amazing, dedicated professor with tons of real world experience and invaluable insight and advice," says Tracy Liu, who will receive her M.B.A. from Pepperdine this year.
Neil Braun, dean of Pace University's Lubin School of Business and former CEO of Viacom Entertainment: Having worked as the top executive at numerous firms -- including entertainment giant Viacom -- during his 33-year career, and no longer satisfied with the rewards of his day job, Braun yearned to impart the knowledge he'd gleaned to a younger generation. After searching for vacant administrative positions at business schools in the New York metropolitan area, he landed at Pace in 2010, where, in addition to serving as dean, he routinely meets with student leaders and gave guest lectures in eight classes during the past year on topics ranging from leadership to competitive strategy.
Beyond the detailed advice he offers in those lectures, he advises all business students to learn to write well, to hone one very difficult analytical skill, and to familiarize themselves with areas of business outside of their specialty. Data analysts, for instance, should be able to freely converse with marketers about their duties, and vice versa, he says.
"I wish somebody had clued me in to some of this stuff when I was young, and contextualized all the trauma I had to go through -- like we all do -- in trying to figure this out," he says. "I'm being naïve in thinking that just by telling them I'm going to save them from anything, but I do get E-mails and feedback from people that they took one or two really important things that have made a difference in their lives."
Peter Russo, executive in residence and senior lecturer at the Boston University School of Management and former CEO of Data Instruments: Russo joined BU's faculty in 1999 after a 15-year stint at the helm of technology firm Data Instruments. When international conglomerate Honeywell International purchased Data Instruments in 1998, Russo opted to transition into a career in academia. He was certain he wanted to be a teacher, given that one of his Harvard Business School professors had long suggested it suited him.
Currently, Russo teaches "Starting New Ventures," an M.B.A. class for budding entrepreneurs that draws upon Russo's experience growing Data Instruments from a startup to a 500-employee firm worthy of interest from a corporate giant like Honeywell. Though he says he learned many lessons in his decade and a half at the helm of the firm, he's hesitant to impart too many war stories to his students. Instead, he focuses strongly on aspects of entrepreneurial process -- such as creating value in a new brand and navigating capital markets to raise money -- that his experience at Data Instruments taught him. "It's hard to describe if you haven't been through it," he says.
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