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My father was an academic.  He did a PhD and then became a lecturer and ultimately spent most of his life in a Laboratory of Molecular Biology amongst a clutch of Nobel Laureates.  As I was growing up in Cambridge, the academic life was everywhere.  But as soon as I arrived at University, I knew that I was never going to be clever enough to pursue an academic career.  Interestingly, although my father became a successful scientist and was recognised as a Fellow of the Royal Society, he never became a Professor either.

My path to becoming a Professor

As I stepped into my own Portfolio Executive Workstyle, I started doing a variety of different things and I realised that I could benefit from having a relationship with a top tier University.  A former colleague of mine at Andersen had found a University niche and he approached me to see if I’d be prepared to be a non-executive director for the consulting arm of University College London.  For four to six meetings a year, I’d join the executive board of UCL Consultants Ltd to help them to understand how to develop better consultants and how academics could best take their expertise into consultancy work with commercial organisations.  They didn’t have the funds to pay me very much for that role and I’d been building up a practice in software disputes as an expert witness.  Becoming a Professor at an internationally recognised University would strengthen my credentials as an expert witness in IT litigation.  I spoke to the Professor who was sponsoring the consultancy business at UCL and said, ‘Could I become a Visiting Professor at UCL’.

[A Visiting Professor is an unpaid voluntary appointment which acknowledges your relationship with the University.  In return you, as a Visiting Professor, contribute to the University by teaching, supervising PhD students or participating in other University initiatives.  You become a senior member of the University and have access to the wider University community and facilities.]

We discussed a suitable title and I became Visiting Professor of Software Enterprise at University College London in the Department of Software Engineering.  I have never written an academic paper in my life and my MA Cantab was automatically granted after graduation.

Benefits of my appointment

The position made a significant difference to the Portfolio Workstyle I was building.  It gave me cachet as an IT expert witness in IT litigation.  It also built a very interesting relationship with the University, which meant I got involved with some of their other entrepreneurial initiatives.

I ended up working as an advisor for one of their spin-out companies.  This was a highly innovative company, bringing a powerful new technology to the investment banking community.  I was able to use my title of Professor to get involved with opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise been invited into.  In fact, and this is another story, I ended up having several television appearances as an IT expert using that Professor designation.

Professor Emeritus

There came a point when the Visiting Professor appointment was up for renewal.  I felt that I had not made the contribution to the University I had hoped and we agreed it was time for me to retire.  I was no longer a Visiting Professor but surprise, surprise I am now an Emeritus Professor, which sounds even better!  Charles Mclachlan, Emeritus Professor of Software Enterprise at University College London.

What it could mean for you?

So why am I recommending that this is useful for you as you build your Portfolio Executive Workstyle?  I believe becoming a Visiting Professor helps you access opportunities that would be harder to reach otherwise .  As a Portfolio Executive, you are positioning yourself as somebody with deep expertise.  You are seeking to engage as a senior member of your professional community.  One of the ways of being recognised is to partner with a university as a Visiting Professor.

Many of the Portfolio Executives I work with are looking to engage with scale-up businesses.  Some of the most interesting scale up businesses are University spin-outs and spin-outs are not restricted to science, engineer or technology.  Your relationship with the University can enable relationships with the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem that surrounds Universities.

You may also want to use your Visiting Professorship to engage more effectively with your own professional institution.  If you are a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, being recognised by a University as a Visiting Professor of Marketing, may accelerate your Fellowship status and enable you to help shape the future of the Institute.  This will extend your influence, build your profile, and ultimately enable you to work for the kinds of clients you most want to work for while achieving the rates that demonstrate the value you can bring.

Non-executive opportunities

The final thing is that a Visiting Professorship can strengthen your value in non-executive roles.  I recommend that as you graduate through your Portfolio Executive Workstyle some of your clients will want to become non-executives and as you get older, non-executive positions extend the sustainability of your workstyle.  For some organisations having a Professor of ‘x’ as a non-executive on their board can be of real value.  The connections and relationships you can make as Professor will make a difference.

Why should you become a Visiting Professor?

So, why would you want to become a Visiting Professor?  Firstly, you’d have a really interesting time, secondly because of the profile it gives you, thirdly the reputational benefits it gives you and finally how it can assist you to increase your professional standing both in whatever Chartered institution you are going to be working with, or as a non-executive for businesses you’ve been working with in the past.

Charles McLachlan of The Portfolio Executives and Future Perfect

Professor Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build sustainable and impactful second-half-careers. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.