By Ray A. Smith
Burned out as an IBM sales manager in his native India, Gaurav
Sabnis, then in his early 20s, began thinking about a career in
academia, where the pace would be less grueling.
He planned on making the move after a few years. But that
changed suddenly in 2005 when a post on his personal blog angered
one of IBM's clients, leading Mr. Sabnis to quit. It wouldn't be
the last unexpected twist in his professional life.
Now 40, he is a tenured professor specializing in social-media
marketing at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, married
to an American.
"It's maybe a sign of my luck or privilege, or both, that it
just happened that I accidentally fell into this life," Mr. Sabnis
Mr. Sabnis landed the coveted position with IBM after getting
his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management-Lucknow in 2004.
His days at IBM started early, typically with a multicity
conference call. To meet sales targets, he would spend hours
phoning or visiting clients.
"If I was leaving at 6 p.m., people would be like, 'Oh you're
taking a half day today,' " he said. On top of that came pressure
to socialize after work with colleagues or clients. "So my day
ended at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. And then my boss would still call about
some other thing."
He felt he had to spend Saturdays working. The crazy hours took
a toll on his romance with his then-girlfriend. "It basically ended
that relationship," he said. It all made him think: "'I might end
up becoming this super-amazing sales celebrity, but it should not
come at the cost of my overall happiness."
He flashed back to a memory of his business-school marketing
professor. "He had worked in the industry for many years and then
switched [to teaching] in his 50s. Like clockwork, he and his wife
would be going out for walks around the campus, and I always found
that really sweet," he said.
He struck up a conversation with the professor, who gave him the
pros and cons of working in academia, including the lower salary.
He also told him it would be easier to get a prestigious teaching
position in any country if he got a doctorate in the U.S.
Teaching didn't come out of nowhere. Mr. Sabnis recalled
informally teaching and coaching since he was a kid, and three of
his grandparents were in the teaching field.
His career shift accelerated suddenly in 2005 when he linked an
article critical of an Indian business school to his blog. The
school threatened legal action and approached his bosses at IBM,
threatening to cancel its orders. Though IBM didn't bend, as Mr.
Sabnis hadn't violated its code of conduct or broken any laws, he
decided to leave to prevent further embarrassment to the
"If anything, that further underlined that I didn't want to do
this anymore," he said. "Suddenly I had job offers lined up, and
I'm like, 'No I'm going to do a Ph.D for five years at minimum
Mr. Sabnis reached out to his graduate school's MBA alumni
network, connecting with an alum who was pursuing her doctorate at
the University of Southern California. "She pretty much walked me
through the process," he said. He applied to several schools and
decided on Penn State University.
He planned to return to teach in India or Singapore after
earning his doctorate. But that changed when he fell in love with a
woman who eventually became his wife, and with his adopted
Finishing school in 2011, he landed a position as visiting
assistant professor of marketing at Fordham University's business
school, joining Stevens Institute of Technology as a marketing
professor the following year. He became a citizen in 2014
(acknowledging he "got the shortcut because my wife was already an
American") and made tenure two years ago.
The people skills he gained in the job at IBM have come in
handy. "Many times I'm teaching students with whom I have nothing
in common," he said. "The sales experience definitely helped in
that I'm able to establish some kind of a common thread."
He is happier now that his career gives him more time to enjoy
life: "I was like, OK, this is exactly my pace.'"
Making the Move
Name: Gaurav Sabnis
Location: New York, NY
Education: Bachelors in electronics engineering, the College of
Engineering Pune in India; MBA with majors in marketing and
information systems, Indian Institute of Management-Lucknow;
doctorate in marketing, Penn State University.
Former job: Sales manager in IBM's Mumbai office.
New job: Tenured associate professor of marketing at Stevens
Institute of Technology
Aha moment: Seeing one of his business school professors taking
long walks on campus with his wife sparked thoughts of a
Most important advice for an international career move: "Make
sure you're a cultural fit in that country. "You don't have to be a
football fan to make it but you should know enough about your new
country to at least know who is in the current Super Bowl."
Write to Ray A. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 21, 2021 08:14 ET (12:14 GMT)
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