Ask the Expert

Last updated: May 15, 2013 2:12 pm

Ask the Expert Q&A: Executive Education 2013

Ask the Expert

Executive short courses are back on the agenda for many corporations. What can business schools achieve through executive education? What sort of courses are appropriate? And how do you measure value and return on investment?

On Wednesday, 15 May 2013, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST, an FT panel of experts will answer your questions. Post your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day on this page.

More

Ask the Expert

On the panel are:

Robert Bruner
Robert Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business - ranked number 14 in the FT Executive Education 2013 ranking of open programmes

A faculty member at Darden since 1982, Prof Bruner became dean in 2005 and started blogging about his experiences. Before his appointment as dean, Prof Bruner was the founding executive director of Darden’s Batten Institute, which focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation. From 2009 to 2011, he also chaired the board of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, an alliance of 15 business schools and more than 100 companies in the US that aims to increase diversity in business education and leadership.

Jayne Jennings
Jayne Jennings, general manager of open programmes and learning at Melbourne Business School - number 33 in the FT Executive Education 2013 ranking of open programmes

At MBS, Ms Jennings has led customised and open enrollment programmes for a wide variety of organisations and industries. She in interested in organisational change, emotional intelligence and group dynamics, and has a masters in organisational dynamics.

Christin Merminod
Christine Merminod, global advisor in leadership development at Rio Tinto, a global mining and metals company

Ms Merminod joined Rio Tinto in 2009. She is responsible for the global leadership training. She has experience in talent management and workforce development across a number of different industries including government, telecommunications, manufacturing and mining.

Bertrand Moingeon
Bertrand Moingeon, director of executive education at HEC Paris - ranked number two in the FT Executive Education 2013 ranking of customised programmes

Professor of strategic management, Prof Moingeon is the deputy dean of HEC Paris as well as director of executive education. A former visiting professor at Harvard Business School, he has published several books, including Organizational Learning and Competitive Advantage (with Amy Edmondson, professor at Harvard).

Della Bradshaw

Della Bradshaw

Della Bradshaw, FT Business Education Editor

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As a small company that spends a fortune on management consultancy, would you recommend we get our advice from professors instead?

Jayne: Business schools provide breadth and depth underpinned by rigour and agility. Knowledge created within the school through faculty research can be directly imparted to organisations by academics leading in their field. In addition to this, we access a network of practitioners and work closely with clients to customise solutions relevant to the business need.

Business schools have the capability to select from a range of delivery methods, theories, models and frameworks and design interventions around intended organisational outcomes.

Della: Although business schools and consultancies increasingly overlap, there are still real differences in what they do. In a nutshell, consultants show you what to do, professors show you how to make your own decisions about what to do. It’s horses for courses.

Bertrand: Consultants and business schools bring different value propositions. Business schools make the best of all worlds. They call upon consultants and top executives to teach or share their expertise in their programmes. They act as reflective practitioners.

But they also leverage the expertise of professors who bring actionable knowledge from their research areas and academic knowledge. This ensures a variety of approaches to tackle challenges from multiple perspectives.

We provide participants with the keys to address their challenges by themselves rather than applying ready-made solutions.

Christine: There is not one specific answer to your question and I would suggest that the option is dependent on your business/development needs; the breath of your offering; your specific learning objectives as well as your internal capacity.

At Rio Tinto, for example, we have a broad range offering and we work directly with business schools for part of our portfolio, but we also have the capacity and capability to develop programmes internally and we source professors directly to contribute to the internally developed programmes.

There is a benefit to working directly with business schools in that they have access to a wide range of experts and professors and working in partnership with them can help to you streamline some of your internal resourcing needs. Working directly with professors will cut out some of your ‘consultancy/design’ fees but will require you to have the capability to design and link your programme/offering based on collecting a diverse and varied views from a number of professors.

Bob: The first rule should be to buy advice that is tailored to your needs. Really good management consultants will listen to your needs and propose engagements that fill those needs. But some consultants give rather “canned” advice.

In my experience, professors are very good and thoughtful listeners, who are more prone to tell you what you need to hear, rather than what it takes to sell the next consulting gig. In addition, some needs are pretty specialised and can justify hiring a thought-leader and researcher (i.e. a professor) instead.

I have never studied business at university before, at undergraduate or MBA level. Will this put me at a disadvantage if I apply to join a senior management course?

Della: Who knows, it might even be an advantage.

Jayne: Executive education programmes are designed to meet the needs of business leaders and managers with work and life experience. Programmes focus on individual development and cover a range of learning styles and modalities.

There is generally an assumed expectation of a level of management experience without a requirement for academic qualifications. It is more important the correct level of management programme is selected rather than relying on previous study experience.

Programmes enable participants to focus on real world issues and apply new skills back in the workplace and you will be working with peers facing similar challenges which will enhance the transfer of learning.

Bertrand: No. What matters is the relevance and quality of your professional experience and your ability to act as active participants. At HEC Paris, we see a classroom as representing 800 total years of cumulative experience! Some do have previous academic backgrounds, others do not. We see our job as being able to leverage this community of experience and variety of backgrounds.

Bob: A senior management executive education course could be an ideal development experience for someone who has never studied business at university.

Your use of the word, “disadvantage,” implies that you may be worried about your performance in the course. I would quell those worries: You are there not to get a grade, but to develop your capabilities. The chief criterion should be whether you have sufficient background to make you ready for a senior management course - it is possible to acquire that background through work experience, not only university studies.

I would recommend that you talk with a representative of the institution offering the senior management course to determine your readiness for the course. Darden’s very successful senior management programme, TEP, (short for The Executive Programme) explicitly counsels applicants regarding their readiness for the programme.

How would the panel compare the current demand areas (disciplines and demographics) for executive education with future (next five years) demand areas? How are the main factors that influence purchaser choice of programmes and providers changing?

Calum Webster

Jayne: Leaders and managers are working in complex and uncertain environments. There remains a strong interest in functional programmes to provide individual skill development or a ‘top up’ of knowledge.

Leadership and management programmes enable participants to experience deeper layers of development through self-analysis, consideration of systems dynamics and a focus on relational capability. In addition to developing skills, knowledge and behaviour, leaders also need to develop their capacity to face adaptive challenges and deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Current key development areas include agility, change, self-awareness, innovation, strategy, ability to work across boundaries and systems thinking. Working in highly networked environments is increasing the pressure on executives to rethink how they work in a globalised environment. This also translates to the need for learning to be mobile and flexible. With an ageing population we are also likely to see an increase in the age demographic of participants.

Purchaser decisions rest not only on content but also on duration of programme and price. It is becoming increasingly difficult for executives to be away from the office for long periods - enabling them to stay connected to continue their development post-programme will become more important. Due to the nature of the uncertain environment, purchasers are making more considered choices and enrolling later on programmes. Customised clients are being more discerning as to who has access to development and carefully selecting programme participants.

Della: I talk to business schools from around the world about this and there are a number of common themes. First, growth is in developing economies - South America, Asia, China.

Second, there is an increasing reluctance on the part of companies to send managers away to business school, they need professors to come to them.

And third, almost all programmes contain some elements of online learning or online interaction.

As to disciplines, these are becoming more focused and companies are selecting those business schools that have a deep research interest in specific topics - gone are the days when all schools could make money teaching basic finance programmes.

Bertrand: The trends we see forthcoming are: On-the-job learning, i.e. the capacity to learn as you go along in your professional lives, face challenges and develop solutions by yourselves, ‘managerial ambi-dexterity,’ i.e. being able to combine operational excellence and agility to innovate at the same time, and customised learning paths, i.e. applying the successful recipe of custom-designed programmes to individual learning journeys.

Participants are in charge of their own careers and understand that managing a career is a life-long endeavour. For example, in the HEC Executive MBA, participants may choose from the offerings on the professional development track, which is structured around three pillars: Career fundamentals, coaching and entrepreneurship.

Christine: Just to add to what has already been stated, the challenge is to equip leaders to be able to face the continued complexity and uncertainty, and to learn through experience because we can’t teach what continues to change.

We need to equip leaders to ‘learn to unlearn,’ to change their frame of reference and to grapple with how to understand and make sense of what they don’t necessarily know. Building organisational agility means having a learning organisation that has equipped leaders to continuously learn.

What kind of executive education would you recommend for European leaders dealing with the current economic crisis?

Della: None, they can’t afford it.

Bertrand: We don’t believe in ready-made recipes. Look for programmes that will help you revisit your mindset and invent the business of tomorrow (programmes that develop lateral thinking and capacity to think out of the box and innovate).

We would strongly recommend programmes with a large variety of backgrounds and nationalities, which value diversity and global perspectives. We also think that any programme should combine business issues and social concerns. What we observe is that participants increasingly aspire to act as architects of a responsible world.

Bob: I would recommend executive education programmes that focus on growth and innovation, rather than cost-cutting. All firms are implementing best practices around “lean management” and cost cutting. Such practices afford no relative advantage versus the competition. But a focus on growing the top line of the income statement can create strategic advantages.

The middle of this current economic crisis is the right time to do it. Research finds that the Great Depression was a time of explosive innovation in products and services. Such innovation helped to lay the foundation for economic growth over the next several decades. Darden offers courses on entrepreneurship, innovation and new product development - we’ve been gaining strong interest in courses on design thinking and effectuation.

Christine: We’ve found the key leadership challenges associated with leading through the current crisis include: Leading through greater volatility and change, dealing with greater complexity, and engaging and inspiring people in challenging times.

If your company is not working with a school to develop custom courses, a number of schools offer open enrollment courses on these and related topics.

How do business schools assess the competitive threat from Moocs (massive open online courses)? Won’t Moocs put MBA programmes out of business?

Jayne: There is definitely a trend towards online learning, particularly for functional skill development. However, we believe there remains a need to follow this up with an opportunity for participants to make sense of their learning collectively – to discuss, debate and interpret new concepts and ideas.

Moocs make content more accessible to learners and should be considered as complimentary to a development intervention, not a substitute for face to face delivery.

Development methodologies need to be integrated, exposing learners to new experiences while also enabling them to learn from peers, build networks and learn in a focused space. The benefits of face to face learning should not be disregarded or underestimated.

Bertrand: On the contrary. If we adopt a productive reasoning, Moocs should be seen as an opportunity for business schools to reach out to wider audience. We see education at large as being part of our social mission. Just like the case study method in the early 20th century, Moocs are a break in technology which will undoubtedly bring about new ways of teaching and learning.

Bob: Moocs will put some programmes out of business and will strengthen others. It is not an either/or future. We consider that a great university education consists of three goods: knowledge, skills and wisdom.

Darden has historically delivered all three by means of high-engagement learning through the discussion of case studies. Now, with the advent of good digital technology, Darden can use Moocs to convey knowledge (names, dates, formulas, etc.) outside of the classroom so that when we do meet to discuss case studies, the discussions will be richer and have more impact.

I think that Moocs will help Darden to raise its game. I’m optimistic about the future. On the other hand, some schools may find that their knowledge-focused and lecture-based curricula will be displaced by Moocs - the future of those schools will not be pretty.

Are business schools the best place to train managers to be executive and non-executive directors?

Bertrand: If by director you mean being a member of a board of directors, several programmes in business schools provide specific training in corporate governance. Topics such as legal responsibilities, dealing with multiple stakeholders, relationships between the board and management teams, financial analysis and structure of the board.

If you mean gaining increased responsibilities (moving from manager-type to executive positions), attending executive programmes would certainly be a plus but will never replace your personal achievements.

Della: My concern about this would be that a high proportion of the knowledge needed by executives is about legal compliance, and this can vary from country to country. So, although business schools can teach you the principles of governance, you may need a local network as well.

Christine: The step change between manager and executive is wide and to ensure the success of executives the development offering needs to encompass a wide number of elements over a period of time.

For us, the success has been in having an offering that is targeted to the span of control of various roles (for example, as one moves from individual contributor to manager to executive the span of control moves from individual to team to organisation to external stakeholder). The offering therefore takes into consideration the change in the span of control of the various roles and offers the appropriately targeted development.

Some of the development is through business school partnerships, where programmes are developed and customised to our needs and offered internally, but other parts of the development also encompasses access to coaching and mentoring, on-the-job learning, peer learning, stretch assignments, etc.

Bob: Business schools are excellent places to train managers to be executive and non-executive directors. First, a school provides growth that is faster and safer than the world of “hard knocks.” You can get up to cruising altitude faster with schooling. You can ask the dumb questions without threatening your career.

Second, unlike the other major provider of training for directors (professional services firms such as lawyers, accountants, and bankers), you get trained rather than pitched for business.

And third, you’ll hear the good, the bad, and the ugly straight forwardly. You need to hear the critics and the outrageous behavior of some directors. And you need to know about the landmines before you go forward as a director. Professors are professional critics - they’re the best source of insight and wisdom.

Do you think the Mooc model, in its current form, is the most suited form of online learning for executive education? If not, what is it about Moocs that you think are not well suited to executive education?

Della: By definition, it is hard to make money out of these massive open online programmes. At undergraduate level, universities are monetising programmes by charging for certification. Perhaps this is the way forward for executive education too?

Bob: A great education consists of growth in knowledge, skills and attributes of character. I think Moocs will be great for delivering knowledge (names, dates, formulas, mechanics, etc.) But I doubt that they can promote the kind of growth in skills and character that is expected in high-end MBA programmes and executive education courses.

Deep learning about skills that really matter (such as negotiating, selling, giving difficult feedback, etc.) is best gained in person-to-person engagement. So are attributes of character such as wisdom, integrity, emotional intelligence, social awareness and work ethic. For these reasons, I foresee that executive education will adapt to a hybrid model, combining distance learning and person-to-person engagement.

With regards to the online learning aspects of executive education: As a consumer of these offerings from business schools (Christine & Della), can you describe what you appreciated and what you really didn’t like – from a medium and/or message point of view? And as a producer of business school online offerings (Robert, Jayne & Bertrand), what are you most/least proud of?

Toby Thompson

Bertrand: What we are most proud of is probably all of the courses we have put together on our iTunesU platform. Altogether we have attracted over 1.5 million viewers, which is spectacular visibility for HEC professors!

Jayne: To support our clients in continuous learning, we developed a dynamic learning platform called Thread which engages leaders and managers through access to information, insights and advice.

Thread supports participants in embedding their learning in the workplace, thereby extending the development experience beyond the classroom and it enables continued interaction with a learning community and leading experts. It is iPad enabled and is used to supplement the face to face component of our programmes, which also helps us to reduce our carbon footprint while increasing learning mobility and accessibility.

It is important to us that Thread is fully integrated into our learning interventions as it provides a holding environment for our programme design and content. As you can tell, we are proud of Thread and excited about the ongoing possibilities it presents in terms of increasing our online capability.

Bob: As a producer of business school online offerings, I am proudest of bringing to the world free services that feature the very best instructors, transformational learning and high production quality. And I’m proud of the very great interest shown by registrants around the world.

Finally, I’m proud of the social communities that Darden’s online offerings have created - we know of discussion groups meeting in places like Pakistan, South Africa and Brazil. The phenomenon of Moocs has dispelled some long-held assumptions about the possible reach and impact of the Darden School.

Least proud? Other than some temporary technological glitches, we haven’t had any flops that would merit the status of “least proud.” If and when that happens, we’ll learn and move on.

Christine: Rio Tinto has provided access to online continuous learning opportunities for the entire organisation. It has been very well received and we augment the ‘executive/consultancy’ portion of the content with our own internal content.

We are now putting much more of an emphasis on leader-led development and through online mediums we have found that our leaders can reach across our diverse geographically dispersed population.

The opportunity to work globally is important but so too is the flexibility to be able to tailor and offer company specific content. The best success comes from having a solid partnership and the right mix of offering.

Della: I have to admit that I haven’t consumed very many executive education courses at all, although I do sit in on them every now and again. More generally, I have always found online programmes really interesting if they were skill-based, in short chunks and worked technically.

How do mining companies like Rio Tinto market themselves as employers of choice to MBA students?

Conrad Chua @CambridgeMBA

Christine: Rio Tinto has a strong brand and we offer employees attractive learning and growth opportunities. Rio Tinto has a very strong graduate programme which provides a two-year learning opportunity with the organisation. The programme has face to face, on-the-job, and peer group learning components. You can view more information on our graduate programme through our website.

The opportunity of working in a globally diverse, technologically advanced organisation are many, including opportunities to work in various geographies, contributing to the communities in which we work and being at the forefront of technology and learning.

So much has changed in our industry. It is an exciting time and provides exciting opportunities for individuals that wil help them not only succeed at Rio but be better professionals with more options.

Bob: MBA students generally want to work for great companies in promising industries that offer good opportunities for career advancement. Mining companies need to pitch all three attributes. Given the currently-difficult prospects in mining (today’s headline is that BHP is cutting capital spending) it will be important to present good longer-term prospects.

I would add two other considerations. 1) MBA students are more environmentally and socially sensitive than ever before. Mining companies need to discuss how they do well AND how they do good.

2) Even though the economic outlook for mining may be less than ideal, recruiting at top business schools must be an all-the-time effort. You cannot show up to recruit only when times are good and disappear otherwise. There is such a thing as a “franchise” that a recruiter builds on-campus. A franchise is very valuable and is acquired through constant engagement with a school and its students - in good times and bad.

I have an age-old question, but am still keen to hear your comments on it. We (the industry; b-schools; FT) still use the name ‘executive education’. What do you think distinguishes executive education from executive training/development?

Toby Thompson

Bertrand: This is a semantic issue but behind the words there are different visions. We consider our business as developing executives, not only from a technical perspective but also from a behavioural and ethical dimension.

Bob: Let’s parse terms here: I think of training as a one-way transmission of knowledge from teacher to student that is basically focused on qualifying to do a job. Much vocational education consists of training. It is “one size fits all” education: You must learn a prescribed body of knowledge. Training is something you do for a defined period of time. Then you may be given a test to prove your mastery of the knowledge. Then you’re done.

Management development is an ongoing process, in which executive education programmes can play a pivotal role. Practically speaking, one’s own development as a manager extends over one’s entire career. The learning should be a lifelong process of growth and development. It may well begin with some “training” after which one focuses on strengthening key skills and ultimately one’s wisdom as a leader and manager.

Thus, the best management development programmes will be more tailored to the individual and the needs of his or her career trajectory. And it will certainly be more interactive with the instructor, with peers and possibly with coaches.

I think of “education” as the umbrella that covers both training and management development.

Christine: May have been around for a while, but still good question. Training typically relates to learning something, a specific task or skill. Good executive education helps leaders (at different levels) to understand how to learn and adapt.

Preparing leaders to deal effectively with the key challenges facing them and perform better in context takes more than “topping up” a single skill. Given the complexity and volatility in the business environment today, learning how to deal with the unfamiliar and learning how to learn again is critical.

Della:I actually think executive education is an umbrella term that covers both of those, both skills training and personal development. When we compile the FT rankings, we insist that the two open enrolment programmes that the schools submit for assessment have to be management programmes, not functional skill-based ones.

While the entire world is facing critical issues and the earth ecosystem as well, do you think a new economic business model based on values is fully required? How can business schools react and anticipate the future?

Nicolas Moulin

Bertrand: What is required today is not about doing more of the same. We strongly believe that there is no future for people who see business disconnected from wider social and environmental concerns.

At HEC Paris, we have gone so far as to develop a teaching and research chair on social business, which is leveraged in all our programmes (for instance in our Executive MBA with a course on reinventing business).

Della: Is it required? Probably. Can business schools deliver it? Probably not. Certainly, the top two-year MBA programmes in the US have so much invested in the current model it is hard to see how they can change. It is a bit like turning an oil tanker round. But I think there is a growing concern, even among the very top programmes, that online programmes and Moocs represent a real threat.

Bob: Business schools have a vital role to play in critiquing the existing model of business and framing possible alternatives. This is driven by both faculty and students who want to tackle the critical social and environmental issues we face today.

I can’t find faculty, students, executives or other stakeholders who think that we should return to business as usual in the wake of the global financial crisis and recession. Individual schools will respond to this in their own way.

At Darden, we have just established an Initiative for Business in Society that will do research, convene conferences and workshops, develop new courses and teaching materials, and inform the business profession about possible responses to the critical issues we face.

The frontier between learning and consultancy is blurring… How are schools going to adapt with their change-resistant core faculty?

Bruno Dufour

Bertrand: We insist on faculty teaching in executive programmes to be connected to real-life issues and provide actionable knowledge. Far from being resistant, they actually enjoy and value the opportunity to exchange and learn from the experience of the participants.

Della: Well, business schools have solved the same problem of intransigent faculty when it comes to executive education by drafting in teachers from outside the university. Perhaps they will take a similar approach with consultants. Indeed, I am sure we will begin to see a lot more partnerships between business schools and consultancies.

Bob: If business schools are going to serve the management profession and make a positive impact in the world, their faculty members should engage with the world. I encourage Darden’s faculty members to consult. And I require our faculty to observe a standard limit on their consulting to a maximum of one day in seven. Virtually all of our faculty fall well short of the maximum.

Having a faculty that engages with the world means that our instructors are professionally and socially aware, that they bring realistic perspectives into the classroom and that they gain genuine empathy for the challenges that entrepreneurs and managers face every day. Accordingly, I find that adaptation of our school to changes in the world of business is not so hard.

Basics Management courses are becoming a commodity and Moocs may change the whole game. Business schools will have to find another way of selling expertise. Are schools ready to develop cross-functional courses on problem issues and not on discipline ones?

Bruno Dufour

Bertrand: We think there is no future for exclusively functional-oriented courses. It’s all about inter-disciplinary, cross-functional, integrated content... which is already the case of custom programmes.

Della: Well, they all say they are doing this, but to be honest I am not convinced. I think the default position of most professors is the silo. There is a general will to change, though, and I think eventually it will happen. When? I don’t know.

Bob: Yes, I see the increased focus on problem issues already. See, for instance, the Mooc offered by my colleague Ed Hess, entitled Grow to Greatness, this draws on insights from various disciplines.

In the current economic climate is doing a PHD really a viable option?

Thomas Frear, MBA student

Della: Are economics the only criteria for making the decision? Just think what fun it will be!

Bob: It depends on the chosen field of study and on what you plan to do with the PhD. There is a global shortage of PhD instructors in accounting, for instance. A new PhD in accounting from a strong doctoral programme can almost dictate terms of employment. PhDs in other fields of expertise are not so lucky. You should carefully study the employment and compensation data for the various fields before embarking on a doctoral programme of study.

What do you plan to do with the PhD? A doctoral degree is basically a research credential, vital if you want to become a tenured professor. It could also help you if you plan to consult in a particular specialty or assume a research-intensive position in business (e.g. chief economist with a bank). It could be that you simply love the field of study and want to delve deeply into it for your own satisfaction - but that’s a consumption choice, not a career choice. Barring those career paths, you might better spend your time and money advancing your career in other ways.

Corporations are less and less buying training or qualifications, but performance and implementation. How does that fit with business schools’ executive education strategy, when the issues have no academic recognition?

Bruno Dufour

Della: When we first developed the FT executive education rankings more than 15 years ago, we included criteria such as preparation, follow-up and ease of implementation in the workplace. These are areas that business schools have found it hard to implement, and the scores in the areas for course participants has generally been lower for other areas. But things are getting better. But I still don’t think any business school has come up with a scaleable way of measuring performance and implementation.

Christine: It is clear in our business that there will continue to be a strong demand for key leadership and technical talent for the foreseeable future. In fact, key leadership and technical talent has risen to be a top strategic issue and operations risk for many companies.

In a constantly changing world where context matters as much as competencies, we see more programmes being developed to prepare future leaders to be effective in a very different, globally interconnected, fast changing world. This means providing more immersive, meaningful experiences. Being more global, more adaptive, more engaging and inspirational, more compelling to a broader set of stakeholders are the kind of things people learn through experience, not just from taking notes from an expert in a classroom.

Companies also need to ensure they are getting value for money these days.

Jayne: As a business school, we are tasked with helping leaders and managers increase their skills, knowledge and capability to help increase their on the job performance through implementation of the learning.

To evaluate how we are doing, we focus on real organisational impact. The impact of any intervention is considered as part of the discovery phase (an intervention in itself) and is built into the design process. This way the programme is designed in line with the intended organisational outcomes in mind.

Programme deliverers are carefully matched according to determined content and methodology and may be selected from our academic staff or network of learning practitioners. Our impact process is designed in collaboration with our clients and we use a range of methodologies ranging from survey through to action research and narrative capture. The data captured is a critical component of our review process and feeds back into future design work.

Bob: You are right about the trend. And as a famous operations professor once said, “managers don’t solve problems, they manage messes.”

But it’s a stretch to say that “the issues have no academic recognition.” It may well be true that the issues don’t fit easily into one of the standard academic disciplines. Some professors may find it impossible to think beyond the boundaries of their discipline. But at Darden we are all professors of business administration, not professors of a functional specialty. And my colleagues routinely collaborate on multi-discipline research projects and deliver team-taught programmes on messy multi-disciplinary problems. As our executive education programmes show, it is possible to deliver sound, performance-enhancing executive education.

At the same time, it is important for consumers of executive education programmes to recognise how valuable it is that business schools are in the world, and not of the world. Business schools perform a very important function in professional life, not only of education, but also of criticism and research. The best schools are not beholden to a particular dogma, consulting framework, or schtick. Thus if you face a messy problem that requires original and critical thinking, a business school may be just the place to go for help and executive education.

My name is Md.Atiqul Islam, I’m from Bangladesh. I have completed a degree in textile engineering from the Bangladesh University of Textiles. Now I would like to complete MBA. Could you please advise me on the requirements needed?

Bob: Various business schools will express their requirements for admissions in different ways. You should contact the admission offices and/or study the online information about schools’ admission standards.

In the abstract, you should be prepared to demonstrate a) academic readiness (through the completion of a bachelor’s degree or higher, through an acceptable undergraduate grade-point average and through an acceptable GMAT test score); b) career readiness (some schools, such as Darden, require a few years of work experience); and c) personal readiness (strong ambition, leadership attributes, clear desire to gain an MBA and so on.)

The AACSB reports that there are over 13,000 institutions in the world that grant degrees in business. You have an enormous range of choice. I recommend that you focus on those schools that are accredited (by AACSB, AMBA and/or EQUIS) and are selective (in that they admit a fraction of those who apply). To gain admission to such schools, you must prepare carefully for the GMAT, solicit strong letters of reference and write very good admissions essays. This takes time and perhaps a little coaching.

Above all, it takes careful research about the schools to which you would like to apply. Good luck to you!

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

SHARE THIS QUOTE