Business school graduates who are hot on theory but weak on practice are a common source of frustration for finance chiefs. One way around the problem is to get more CFOs teaching in business schools. “They tend to bring case studies and a practical application to the theory students have been taught by academics,” believes Diana Ellis, head of the education practice at recruiter Odgers Ray & Berndtson.
Practising CFOs claim that teaching at business schools benefits their own careers as much as it helps the students. As well as exposing CFOs to networking opportunities, it gives them access to the latest thinking in finance and management, often becoming a stepping stone to a full-time career in academia.
Mario Vinzia, CFO of Eni Servizi — part of Eni, an Italian oil company — says the communication practice he gets in the lecture halls of Italy’s SDA Bocconi University, where he’s been teaching corporate finance part-time for 20 years, helps him to manage his finance team and increase the retention rate of high-potential staff back at the office. “My colleagues appreciate having a boss who is able to explain, teach and help them improve their skills,” he says.
But making the transition from boardroom to classroom isn’t always easy. Professor Fernando Peñalva, head of the accounting and control faculty at IESE Business School in Spain, says there are some prerequisites for CFOs-turned-lecturers. It’s important to have an “excellent reputation” in the field, be good with people and, most important, be able to engage with students. “Sometimes you find somebody who is a real expert and seems to communicate very well but [that doesn't come across] in the classroom,” says Peñalva. “You can teach them the basics but after that, everyone must develop their own style.” And the basics mean working to a structured syllabus, says Peñalva. “The class must know where you’re going with every lecture. Wrap up each class with a summary of the main concepts you have taught and put them in context,” he adds. Another piece of advice is to keep explanations simple, even when explaining something as technical as derivatives to students with different backgrounds.
For CFOs who want to do their homework before taking the lectern, programmes such as one from AACSB International, a global accrediting agency for business schools, offer executives courses ranging from “understanding today’s student” to “what makes truly great teachers.”
CFOs who understand how to teach are well-placed to help students understand business.