Testing the mature student

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It has taken me three years of reading, researching, analysing and writing, but I finally submitted my PhD dissertation in December and am now waiting for my formal presentation or viva.

Not exceptional today perhaps, but I rarely meet other 50-year-old doctoral candidates in finance, who have also had substantial careers in the area. Of course, many PhDs pursue careers outside academia, but studying deals after doing deals is very different from the other end of the telescope.

I had a very diverse banking career on Wall Street and in the City of London, working in corporate finance, capital markets, credit, derivatives and structured finance. But, at the age of 47, with the last two years on Citigroup’s London operating committee, where as senior corporate finance officer for the UK I spent my time discussing staff reductions, Citigroup decided it no longer needed a senior corporate finance officer.

I considered other business opportunties inside and outside Citigroup, but after a few months I chose something that has always passionately interested me and decided to begin my PhD in the heart of London, at Cass Businerss School. I had expected that many bankers had made this transition and there would be a well-worn path to follow. I was wrong.

I recall a relatively recent MBA in my former business, who sent me off with the words: “Awesome, awesome! You’ll be great! I wish there were academics like you when I was studying.”

Looking back, “Awkward, awkward” might have been a more appropriate caution.

Selecting a business school for a PhD, two decades after taking an MBA at the Stern school at New York University, was an eye-opener. I found top business schools often have two classes of faculty: the ruling class is still determined by publication in academic journals, and the second class is made up of clinicians, practitioners and – seemingly the lowest of the low – teachers.

Hostile

Before I had worked out this class structure, one academic in London told me that my experience would make me a good clinician and teacher, and nearly all academics I met discouraged me from becoming an academic.

When I began explaining that I was interested in studying for a PhD at their school, the responses – of those who did reply – often became downright hostile.

Reactions ranged from “We don’t like PhD students over 30” to “We don’t like PhD students with business experience” and “Most of our PhD students come without prior business studies”. One of my favourites remains “Business people can’t write”. And the majority of academics I wrote to did not even reply.

However, early on I was lucky enough to meet one of London’s top finance academics, Mez Lasfer at Cass Business School. He thought that my experience might provide some very different interpretations of business data than that provided by traditional academics.

I have returned to the world of business schools and found a realm that is more dynamic than ever. The enthusiasm of the students and future business leaders quickly made up for any of my early frustrations, including trying to catch up with some 30 years of financial theory and blend it with my experience.

Based on my research and experience I was awarded an academic fellowship by the Foundation for Management Education last April. Now, as the FME fellow in the faculty of finance at Cass, and a former “industry person”, I would like to see more academics with business experience, as well as business schools further integrated into the business community. Both notions have the strong support of the FME.

My faculty colleagues have helped me to think in a more scientific, logical and reasoned manner.

Although I will probably never reach their level, I realise that I fill a gap in understanding the way in which business leaders apply human strengths and failures in their financial decisions, perhaps in ways that can only be experienced and cannot be accurately observed. Together, we make a great team and can hopefully offer the students more than they expected at Cass.

For those considering a similar career path, a PhD is a lonely, time-consuming, expensive and often boring undertaking. However, if you are interested in your subject, the downsides disappear quickly. I also cannot overstate the energy that I derive from being around positive-thinking fellow students, 20 years younger.

Many business people lose their ambition by the age of 50 and focus on hanging on. My ambitions grow each day and having reached this far, no hurdle seems too high.

Now, with my PhD almost finished, an article under consideration at an academic journal and more than 80 appearances on worldwide TV and radio discussing corporate finance and banking, as well as beginning a fellowship, I find my path has been demanding, exciting and fun, albeit never easy.

My journey has been filled with uncertainty throughout, and that remains. There just are not that many new 50-year-old PhD or “substantial experience” paths to follow in academia. There should be more, but we do not seem to be welcomed by the academic establishment for more than window dressing.

For someone with substantial business experience (and substantial income to sacrifice), the doctorate path is neither an easy personal or economic decision to make, but it is not one that I regret.

Building on a strong foundation

The Foundation for Management Education was founded in 1960 to help the development of management education institutions, skills and knowledge in the UK.

Among the initiatives the FME funds are research projects and fellowships for managers who wish to develop careers in academia. It hopes that these in turn will lead to improvements in the quality and relevance of management education.

Under the umbrella of an academic fellowship, an experienced manager joins a business school and follows an agreed programme of development and training. The manager is to all intents and purposes a faculty trainee and will become a full member and contribute to all aspects of faculty work.

The FME has strong links with business schools, academics and management institutions such as the Advanced Institute of Management Research and the Association of Business Schools.

Peter Hahn will continue to write about his transition from banker to business school faculty member in the coming months

Drive to fill faculty posts

By Linda Anderson

With business schools worldwide facing a shortage of faculty members, the US-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is endorsing a series of programmes to try to swell the numbers of business school faculty.

The AACSB Bridge Program aims to prepare senior business executives for professionally qualified faculty positions within business schools. The new course is due to begin in May.

A second programme, the post-doctoral Bridge to Business Program, targeting new and experienced doctoral academics from disciplines outside management education for positions within schools, is also due to begin. This programme will be offered at five AACSB-accredited schools. Successful participants will receive an AACSB-endorsed certificate.

However, one of the schools involved, Grenoble Ecole de Management in France, which is running the programme in a consortium with Newcastle University Business School in the UK and Chapman University in Cailifornia, has already run into problems.

The programme was due to start in June or July, but Jean-Jacques Chanaron, director of the doctoral school at Grenoble, says this has been postponed until the end of the year.

The consortium had anticipated 10 to 12 participants, but has so far only attracted two students. Prof Chanaron believes the stumbling block to participation is the $15,000 price tag.

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