Not only is the business of running a large university now a business of growing complexity, but retiring baby boomers are leaving many empty chairs in the mahogany offices of academe.
There is also a great competition for available talent. Universities all over the world are looking for business-minded and commercially-savvy executives, presidents and vice-chancellors.
But the biggest issue is not the numbers of available leaders, but their suitability in terms of cultural fit and the ability of educational institutions to accept "aliens in their midst."
Now for the good news. Bringing the right people into academe not only works commercially in terms of results, but the right people are available if the competencies and culture can be matched.
Executives who make the move need to understand that colleges are, well, collegiate.
The cult of the individual still rules and consensus management is the only way to go. Professors are used to having their independence under the banner of academic freedom.
It is also increasingly respectable, and profitable, for a high-profile business leader to take time out from corporate life to go into education either temporarily or as a next career step – more common, however, in the US than the UK or Australia.
But do universities get a good bang for the buck? Across the world, the answer is "yes." To cite just a couple of cases we know of:
Former Wells Fargo and Westpac Bank CEO Bob Joss left the world of banking to head the Stanford Graduate School of Business, designing a new MBA curriculum and a new, cutting-edge campus to serve students into the 21st Century. He also grew the school’s endowment from $387 million in 1999 to more than $1 billion by 2008.
At Sydney University in Australia, Bob Kotic, a former CFO and COO from the world of business, has cut costs, freed up cashflow and streamlined accounting systems.
While we can’t see into the future, one thing is certain: as the world of academe meets the world of business and the digital age, profound and exciting change is under way - and a new generation of leaders is coming forward to drive that change.