October 25, 2010 12:07 am

Global thinking: the executive MBA goes international

When Steve Dekrey moved to Asia in 1996 to set up the Kellogg-Hong Kong University of Science and Technology EMBA syllabus, he says, “We were looking at the four ‘tiger’ economies. China was not a factor.”

Today, with China the world’s second-largest economy, executives from around the globe are flocking to his programme because they want deeper insights into emerging Asia, and how to work or do business there.

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In a world economy changing at breakneck pace, executives in international commerce increasingly feel that studying part-time in far-flung places will give them greater knowledge, keep them abreast of trends and confer an edge in developing global careers.

Business schools are catering to this demand, and some are launching ever-more roaming EMBA programmes that offer participants a rapid immersion in as many as eight countries. The Global Executive MBA launched by Grenoble Graduate School of Business in August this year, for example, will send students to Geneva, Moscow, London, New York, Singapore, New Delhi and Beijing, as well the home campus by the French Alps.

There is no doubt this is driven as much by students as by faculties. Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of HEC Paris, says the two week-long visits to emerging markets that form part of his school’s Trium EMBA were introduced in response to feedback. “Consumers in China are not behaving like consumers in Brazil or London, so we make an effort to put participants in different contexts,” he says. “This year they are going to China and India.”

The Fuqua School at Duke University claims honours for launching the world’s first global EMBA 14 years ago. Its dean, Blair Sheppard, is fascinated by the search to understand globalisation: “It would be a mistake to think the Anglo-Saxon economic model is taking over the world.

“While the economy has become more convergent, it is also getting more divergent. How do you run a business in a different institutional environment and a radically different civilisation?”

In choosing a part-time MBA programme offering insights into diverse economic cultures, participants need to examine business school philosophies as well as check a course’s geography, for there is diversity here too.

At the “simpler” end, there are programmes such as the EMBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, which has its own campuses in Chicago, London and Singapore, each with roughly 90 students.

Richard Johnson, managing director of its European EMBA programmes, says regardless of the campus where they are based, each group will spend at least a week on the two other campuses.

Students work with an international group, both at home and when travelling, gaining experience of working across cultures, as well as a network of international contacts. Johnson adds: “They are seeking fundamental knowledge, not knowledge of any particular regions or markets. It’s not, ‘Let’s go to Singapore and learn about Singapore.’”

Prof DeKrey’s programme has a different balance of fundamental learning and regional expertise. There is a global section to the 18-month EMBA programme, which includes a two-week residency at the Kellogg School of Management in Illinois, studying subjects including negotiation, crisis management and marketing research. But courses at the HKUST campus include Asia-focused units that pay “particular attention to China”, he says. Speakers at these units include William Fung, group managing director of trading at Li & Fung, the distribution and retailing group, and Anson Chan, former chief secretary of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.

Two courses on international entrepreneurship are increasingly popular with all participants. One, in Tel Aviv, draws on Israeli successes in technology entrepreneurship. The other, in Miami, is taught by Steven Rogers, professor of entrepreneurship at Kellogg.

Participants on the Trium course, whose average age is 40, also travel a good deal. Six on-site modules include two weeks at the London School of Economics and Political Science, two weeks at HEC Paris and four weeks at Stern School of Business in New York.

In addition, they spend a week in Shanghai studying operational management, entrepreneurship and corporate governance, “and especially understanding governance norms that are different from those in the US and Europe”, says Prof Ramanantsoa of HEC Paris. In India, he adds, students explore “the challenges and rewards of operating in emerging markets, with a focus on companies that have grown very rapidly”.

Duke University’s Fuqua School sets out to take participants in search of global understanding, and its Global EMBA has residencies in seven countries. Prof Sheppard says the in-country programmes explicitly explore “what is unique around the political economy” of each location, and the history that gave rise to each of these economies.

The aim is to uncover “what is unique about their institutions, the opportunities, and ... the sustainable advantages [and] the implications for business”, he says. The school’s Cross Continent EMBA, aimed at a larger cohort of students, is structured in a similar way.

You can take an executive MBA course almost anywhere, it seems. But what you do when you get there varies: thinking global does not always mean acting local.

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