We’re kicking off “Member Voices,” a series where our Provident Forum on Business LinkedIn group members can share their stories, with Patrick Bell, a professor of Business at Elon University. Incredibly capable and experienced, Bell is a man of many stories. In this one, he gets candid about his years in project management, catching “the bug” and knowing, despite the sacrifices, that making the move from corporate America to academia was right for him. Based on his experience, what does he encourage others to do?...
by Patrick Bell
“Management is an extremely portable skill,” I tell my students on the first day of every semester. Some take comfort in this, some look at me quizzically, and, yes, some simply continue to check sports scores on their smartphones.
“What do you mean by portable?” one student will invariably ask.
“Well, when you have the skills to plan, organize, lead, and control – and you can work and play well with others - it doesn’t matter a bit what product you’re manufacturing or service you’re providing, you will be in high demand wherever you choose to go. You can be taught the details of the particular industry you are in – typically within a year or so – but it is much, much more difficult to acquire true management skills,” I always respond.
I go on to describe my experiences as a manager – from managing Jai-Alai Frontons to NFL stadiums to horse/dog tracks to poker rooms to textile plants (yes – this last one was a stretch, and some said I was still in “gambling,” yet through hard work and a lot of hours spent at the plant, I mastered textiles, as well).
“The skills I’ve been honing for years – and trust me, I am a much better manager today than I was 30 years ago – never left me and are very valuable,” I continue. “Managing is a people business; it’s as much art as science, and you learn something new about yourself and managing every day.”
All true, and indeed, I was having fun as Director of Global Supply – Raw Materials, for a well-known, privately held 125-year-old textile company. I had held a variety of positions with increasing responsibility in my then 12 years with the company – from Sales Manager, to Director of Customer Service, to Director of Marketing Systems, to Director of Global Supply – Raw Materials. But, I wasn’t having as much fun as I used to, and I was about to turn 49 years old.
I need to back up a bit. I studied and earned my MBA at Elon University – at night and doing homework on airplanes – from 1998 to 2001. And I loved every minute of it! The classes, the professors, the material we were studying and, most significantly, the atmosphere of a university campus. For a lifelong learner like me, it was heaven on earth. I absolutely ate it all up and graduated in May 2001 at the top of my class. I had caught “the bug.”
You all know, I expect, what “the bug” is: it’s what you were meant to do in life. Some folks are lucky enough to discover what this is early-on – some, like me, take a very, very circuitous route. But in the end, hopefully, you discover what this is and make the leap and, to quote Nike, "Just Do It."
The leap for me, from executive to university professor, was not without sacrifice – business school professors are paid well, but not as well as private industry. And I had five wonderful children, 2 of whom were about to go to college. Gulp.
But at age 49, I said to myself, “Self, if you don’t do this now, you will never do it.” So, I took the leap! As good luck would have it, I had the full support of my company – they provided me with a very, very generous path for transition from the private sector to academia. I expect that they knew I was no longer having as much fun on the job as I used to.
Bottom line: here I am, a full lecturer at one of the finest institutions in the land, Elon University. I go to work every day with a smile, and I learn something new each and every day. I couldn’t be happier.
My advice? Take the Leap.
Thank you for reading the first installment of “Member Voices.” You can leave questions or comments for Patrick in the forum post. If you’d like to share your story in a “Member Voices” segment, please join our forum and contact one of our cash management experts!
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