EDU: Tell us a bit about your company and how you are involved with the higher-ed sector?
Joe Haberman: Heidrick & Struggles is a global leadership advisory firm. We have been in the executive search business for more than 50 years, finding leadership talent for institutions, companies and organisations. Over the past 10 years, we have been adding to that capability with a broader advisory framework. Executive search for us means leadership transition. It is one thing to recognise that you have to help find a new leader and quite another to plan for that search as a future event and also assist in efforts to ensure that the transition from one leader to the next is successful.
As leadership advisors, we get involved in activities that effectively prepare an organisation for a search, and then advise on actions that will be needed after the conclusion of the search and that pave the way for long-term success. Thats what we do and have been doing for various sectors around the world. We are globally organised into six industry groups, with higher education included in the Education and Social Enterprisethe practise that I am responsible for.
The firm has a global office presence, yet clients are more interested in our specialisation than where we are located. However, we tend to work in major centres. As far as education is concerned, we are in the US, Europe, UK, in particular, in China (Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong), Australia (Melbourne and Sydney), Singapore, New Zealand and South Africa. These are the places that historically have created most of the major higher-ed centred leadership needs. We also see a lot of need and opportunity developing here in India.
EDU: You are just starting to work in India. What drew you here?
Joe Haberman: The capacity for higher education is important for the development of any society and if that capacity is not large or focussed enough then it gets the attention of the government and supporters of education. Our experiences in other markets have shown that as governments translate an economic or societal development vision into action, the need for effective leaders who have expanded capacity in higher education, outstrips the thin supply of that talent. So, when we think about investing by adding resources or focus, we look for those conditions because we know we can make a meaningful contribution to institutions, their boards and the broader societal needs.
EDU: What are some of the trends in terms of exchange of educational leadership?
Joe Haberman: Do you see a pattern in talent shifting from one part of the world to another? The source countries are, by and large, those where the higher education infrastructure and community development is long standing. Its mostly the UK, the US and Australia at this point, who are exporters of education leaders with the right experiences. But there are alternatives other than cross-border shifting for clients. An increasing number of leaders with demonstrated success in other sectors are finding attractive opportunities in the education sector.
EDU: What advice would you give to faculty in India looking to shift overseas?
Joe Haberman: I would probably say the same thing to them, as I would to professionals in a variety of places around the world. It is important to be in places that will showcase what you have to offer. And, if the faculty members have something to say, they should find ways of connecting with constituent peers interested in that area. They should seek opportunities to attend international conferences and congresses as networking venues. They should not rely on a firm like ours to reach out to them. Though, we are active in candidate development, firms like ours, still represent a relatively small percentage of the overall opportunities that are out there, and that is even truer for faculty. We, generally speaking, are searching for administrative leadership. Our clients are the universities, and the boards of these institutions, who are engaging us, not individuals.
EDU: What are the trends that you see in Indias higher education leadership?
Joe Haberman: Running an institution anywhere in the world has to be seen in a context that is more often global. Leaders need to address more diversified challenges than was the case 10 years ago. In the US, the predominant requirement for a university president is fundraising abilities. Yet, the traditional route to the presidency was often through the provosts office. Research has shown that the provosts are far less interested in making that progression now because of the external fundraising dimension being more paramount than academics. I dont think its the same case here. But I do see that the challenges with regard to building universities are similar. Most of the situations that I am hearing about have less to do with maintaining status quo and more to do with building capacity and quality to meet societal needs. Hence, when we are looking for leaders, we are going to be looking for the experience of growing something relevant. It is just not the same if you are leading a top-tier institution which has never faced challenges of growth. In established institutions, you would only understand how to sort out the problems of plenty and how to use the numerous resources you would be receiving. That is not going to prepare you for a building opportunity where you need to employ different skills. And I see a lot of those kinds of needs coming up.
Another thing that we find in India as well as other places around the world concerns the ability to reconcile the academic contribution from your faculty and resources with the enterprise management perspective. How can you run your institution more effectively? Resources are always very low and, in fact, they are getting slimmer. I dont see that changing anytime soon. So, I think, as we look for future leaders here in India or elsewhere, the best will be those who can reconcile these two areassomebody who understands good enterprise management. Fundraisingyes, thats also a part of it. But leadership has to make sure that the organisation is running effectively and that you have a good relationship with your board, in such a way that it can benefit research that is being pursued as well as the students and communities being served.
EDU: So you are saying that leaders of institutions have to have business skills?
Joe Haberman: Yes, there are lot of business like principles that are applied here and we shouldnt fool ourselves into thinking that they are not required. Growth requires understanding of finance, marketing and customers or student services. Why should the recipe be any different than that of a world-class business? Its not a mutually exclusive path.
EDU: When it comes to leadership and choosing leaders, is there any particular advice that you have for the higher-ed community in India?
Joe Haberman: I feel that one of the greatest governance failures in higher education has been its lack of attention to leadership succession planning. Just think about this: when were involved in a search to select a leader in every other industry, theres often at least one internal candidate to consider who has been conscientiously developed as a possible successor. Usually there is a quality candidate, but its not because the president or the board insisted on developing a succession point within the university. Succession planning in the education sector doesnt exist in the US, in the UK, nor here.
Whenever we do a search in virtually all industries, we are asked to evaluate internal candidates as well as external candidates, because we dont have any economic interest in pushing external candidates. But in education, those internal candidates usually arent presented at all. By contrast, all listed companies in the US private sector are regulated by something called Sarbanes-Oxley, a law that requires the board to put in place a succession plan for its chief executive. If the board is not fulfilling their responsibility, to assure the shareholders of leadership continuity, they could be held liable and the company could be fined. I am not saying we need the same prescription for higher education, but succession is an issue that does need attention. We see a lot of promise in this way of thinking. The next generation of leaders could be right under our nose, but most institutions think about them as faculty or chairs performing well in their departments.
They are not considered for longer-term aspirations and opportunities. Not recognising their interests frequently builds conditions that contribute to losing valuable people. I just ask your audience to sit back and think about this in a longer-term context. The notion of engaging your next generation of leadership is very important. When this happens, it sends a message to the entire university that its leader is interested not only in the institution and the future of the community, but also in those who aspire to lead. This is one of most positive aspects we should demand of our leaders.