Back to School

A stint teaching college can ease the transition from corporate life.

In his first two weeks teaching an introduction to international business class at the University of San Diego, recently retired McDonald’s Corp. CFO Matthew Paull had little trouble explaining how global businesses adapt to local culture, or how the roses that Americans order for Valentine’s Day affect labor and environmental practices in Ecuador.

It was the administrative things that tripped him up. For instance, he’d never had to master the intricacies of PowerPoint or figure out how to set up his own E-mail account. “I had been a pampered executive,” says Paull, who retired last December and co-teaches the class of 33 college juniors and seniors. “For six years I would describe the basics of what I wanted and my staff would turn it into a PowerPoint. Now I have to do it all on my own.”

Nevertheless, Paull describes the decision to take up teaching as a lifesaver, easing the transition from CFO to the much slower pace of retirement.

He’s not alone. Many executives, including CFOs, have returned to the classroom after exiting Corporate America, whether teaching part-time, participating in MBA student-mentoring programs, or taking on a full slate of classes. Beyond keeping a foot in the working world, for many the chance to share their experiences and insights with students is a valuable reward.

What a CFO Brings to School

Unlike many traditional academics, whose teaching is often based on research and focused on theory, executives-turned-professors generally offer an experience-based approach to teaching finance, frequently integrating tales from their CFO days into lectures as a complement to textbook knowledge.

Former Denny’s Corp. CFO Andrew Green, a full-time professor of finance and accounting at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, mines his experiences from Denny’s in almost every lecture. He even takes students on field trips to the Denny’s test kitchen and has brought his successor, Mark Wolfinger, in to talk about the company’s latest earnings call.

“Students benefit from the opportunity to hear from people who are doing these things in real life,” says Green, who began teaching part-time in 2006 and now teaches three courses in finance as well as one — rare for a CFO — in marketing.

In the case of former Young & Rubicam executive vice president and CFO David Greene, real-life know-how from his 12-year stint at the advertising agency led him to his alma mater, Indiana University. He began lecturing there in 1991 and took a full-time position in 1997 when he retired. He has since developed an experiential program in the school’s graduate accounting program.

Among the six classes Greene teaches is a graduate-level “Career Success Skills” course in which he presents students with a wide range of trying situations they are likely to encounter on the job. (In fact, most have happened to Greene.) He walks into class on presentation day and, role-playing the CFO, requests that students (playing junior partners) give their 25-minute presentation in 10 minutes because he’s running late. Greene may announce that the profit-allocation recommendation should be X when he knows the students are prepared to recommend Y. Students are then forced to think on their feet and defend their conclusions under pressure.

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