Sid Mittra has a dream. It's essentially the same dream that animated him as a young business school student in Northern India, that motivated him to emigrate to the United States, and that compelled him, in a rare move, to launch a financial planning practice while still a professor.

Sid Mittra wants to teach. You'd think that this financial planning pioneer, founder of Mittra, Kirkman & Associates and professor emeritus of finance at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., would have had his fill of teaching. After all, he has shepherded countless students through the rigors of finance, authored 16 books, mentored two generations of financial planners, and published Practical Financial Planning for Professionals (PFP), arguably the most important textbook on financial planning (now in its seventh edition). But now at the ripe age of 71, he has embarked on the project that he believes will be his legacy and the capstone of his career: an institute that will unite the academic and practical worlds of financial planning to educate the future advisors of America.

"The Institute," as it is affectionately called around Mittra's office, has no home, no teachers, and so far only limited funding. In fact it exists for the most part in Mittra's head-but that hasn't stopped dozens of advisors from treating it as a fait accompli, offering their time and energy for free. "Sid Mittra is a man of his word and a visionary," explains Carol Ann Wilson, owner of Quantum Financial; president of the College for Divorce Specialists in Boulder, Colo.; and a PFP contributor. "He has created that niche of planner education and no one doubts that he will do what he says he will. He's the kind of person who makes change happen." That's why Wilson didn't hesitate for a second when asked to contribute a chapter to the book-nor did the dozen or so other advisors, pension fund managers, CPAs, insurance specialists and lawyers who offered their expertise for free.

That volunteerism is important because it shows Mittra can tap the best financial minds in the nation, something he'll have to do again once The Institute gets off the ground. By offering their unpaid expertise, the books' contributors also subsidized the project directly: Mittra will donate all of his share of the book's profits to fund The Institute. His associate Jeffrey Kirkman says that about $25,000 will be needed to get started, and that several universities and corporate sponsors have expressed interest. But the project is still very much in the planning stages, and Mittra is eager to hear ideas from advisors and other experts.

What he knows for sure is that the program will not be about memorizing concepts. His vision: Over the course of four- to 12-week seminars, elite planners and experts will recreate their experience in the real world for students who aspire to become (or who already are) financial planners. "The structure should be like the advisor's conference room, where he or she invites students to eavesdrop on real-world transactions," Mittra says.

Mittra may be one of the few people qualified to pull off the pedagogical coup. "He knows how to work both sides of the street," Kirkman says. "Academic people have a tough time crossing over to the business side, whereas business people are often intimidated by concepts."

Mittra seems equally comfortable developing forecasting models, such as the proprietary Dynamic One used to determine asset allocation, as coining handy acronyms to educate and motivate clients. (His old standby SECURITY has worked like a charm for the past 16 years in convincing clients of their need for of a comprehensive plan).

Mittra's effectiveness as a client educator stems in part from a kind of Everyman quality he seems able to pull off in spite of high-falutin' jobs in academia, and previously with the Agency for International Development in Caracas, Venezuela, and the United Nations in Bangkok. "He knows how to deal with people from all social classes and backgrounds," Kirkman says.

From Mittra's point of view, financial planning is the greatest discipline because it equally affects rich and poor, old and young. "Everyone will be poor at some point in their lives and everyone will be old," he says, quoting a former professor. With The Institute, Mittra seems to have come full circle, bringing the conference room back into the classroom-literally.

At heart, Mittra considers himself an academic whose foray into the "real world" was part of his duty as a scholar. "When I first began to publish, I had no practical experience at all, and my work received a lot of criticism," Mittra says. "It was very easy to give students the 'best' answer in the classroom, but the greatest challenge is in transforming concepts from the classroom to the conference room in working with actual clients."

Mittra was not content with simply throwing in some case studies as most professors do; instead he decided to descend from the ivory tower and experience the real-world firsthand-by starting an advisory practice of his own. "I had to convince the dean that my goal was not to start a business, but to become a better teacher," he explains. To this day, he remains aloof from the management aspects of the business. His title, consultant, reflects his role on the conceptual and client-service side.

In 1985, Mittra was chosen to serve on the first Board of Examiners of the then-IBCFP, now the CFP Board of Standards, charged with developing the CFP exam. Of the five academics on the board, he was the only one with any practical experience, and through subsequent revisions of the exam, his reputation grew. Since then, he has functioned both formally and informally as a mentor to other planners.

Mittra's main gift is his compassion for the struggles of others, says longtime friend and former student Jay Smith, a Raymond James branch manager in Oxford, Mich. "He always goes to the next level with his clients, who become like family for him. He's always trying to give back, whether it's writing a weekly column for the local newspaper or creating a foundation where younger planners can learn how to serve others." For the past 10 years, Smith and Mittra have met every Friday morning to talk shop. "The Institute seems like a natural evolution of his desire to help younger planners help their clients," he says.

The project is also a kind of coming home, the fruit of Mittra's experience as an American. His easygoing nature and humor mask a fierce determination that comes from his own long years of disappointment and poverty as he struggled to make it to America and make a life for himself here. "I came to this country with a master's degree and nothing else. What I am today I owe to this country and the people and how they have treated me. I will absolutely not feel comfortable unless I give something back."

By most accounts, he already has. Yet as he gets older, he talks more and more about his feelings for America and his sense of obligation. "No other country in the world offers the same opportunity to fulfill yourself as an individual," he says. At the same time, he says with a grin, "No other country in the world offers so much free information about financial planning, and at the same time has so much ignorance on the subject." The teacher has his work cut out for him.