Most people go to business networking events for the same reason: you never know what might happen.
All John Warren hoped to accomplish when he attended a Chicago area networking breakfast was to hand out a few business cards. But what happened to him there turned his life upside down, propelling him from entrepreneurship to academe.
A former executive at top pharmaceutical companies who went on to create, grow, and sell his own business at a tidy profit, Warren was leisurely contemplating his next career move when he strolled into the Chamber of Commerce event. He introduced himself by explaining that he wasn’t sure what to do next, and, in the generous manner of a man with time on his hands, offered to help anyone present who might need business planning or counsel.
The first person to approach him afterwards was a part time professor at the local college, who wanted to know if he was familiar with a popular spreadsheet program. The man then made an astounding request: he confided that he was unexpectedly unable to meet a commitment to teach a class in that program scheduled to start very soon. “He felt obligated tofind someone to fill in,” Dr. Warren recalls. “He asked if I would please consider going in to talk to the program head about it.”
The still happily unemployed entrepreneur visited the college the following day and heard the program head say, “I really need someone; will you do it?” It was a Thursday; the class would start on Monday. Dr. Warren said yes.
Five years later, “one thing building on another,” Dr. Warren, who had never seriously contemplated teaching before, had cobbled together a pleasant existence as an itinerant adjunct professor, freelance corporate trainer, and consultant. But the travel was wearying, and he asked one of the colleges where he taught, “What would it take to get a full time position here?”
That was when John Warren realized he needed to add the title, “Dr.” to his name. Ironically, one of his undergraduate students was first to tell him about The PhD Project, whose annual conference was about to take place a short drive from Dr. Warren’s home. He applied and attended. “It literally changed my life,” he says. “At the time I had three young children. My wife was not yet employed. Until then, I thought no one like me went into a doctoral program. But [there] I saw people who had families, people making sacrifices. I started thinking, maybe this is something I can do.”
Driven by a love of teaching and mentoring students, Dr. Warren spent a year “getting my financial house in order” — stepping up consulting work to create a nest egg, refinancing his mortgage, clearing up debt. Then, reluctant to uproot his young family, he applied to and was accepted by the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Now a professor at University of Texas, San Antonio, Dr. Warren has had a paper accepted for publication, and is mentoring many students. “I like not only helping others gain knowledge,” he says, “but being a presence in the class for those who might never have seen someone like themselves in front of a classroom.”
The dream continues…
Dr. Warren stays away from Chamber of Commerce events and potential career-changing opportunities these days: “I love being a professor.” He is developing a program for corporations, his college, and the local public schools to partner in attracting minority students to technology careers. Dr. Warren is faculty adviser to four student groups—ranging from the investment club to the gospel choir—as part of his ongoing search for minority undergraduates to recruit for business study. He has nine published articles, with more in the pipeline. His son has considered applying to a business Ph.D program.