October 25, 2010 12:07 am

New horizons: EMBA students take on the world

 

Ensley Eikenburg recalls a moment of dawning realisation she shared with fellow students on the Trium Global EMBA programme at HEC Paris. “We were sitting strategising about what should be done,” she says. “We agreed a plan. Then we all looked around to ask who we were going to assign this to.”

With an average age of almost 40 and in the mid-point of highly successful careers, many Trium participants are more accustomed to delegating the donkey work and moving to the next challenge than to rolling up their sleeves and ploughing through data.

“Trium is full of senior-level executives,” says Eikenburg. “It’s a large part of the draw of the programme.” Her fellow students come from the luxury and automotive industries, and from consulting – they even include a doctor of medicine. For Eikenburg, the different experiences of these participants, and their readiness to trade ideas, is exactly what she was looking for.

As associate publisher of Frommer’s travel guides (part of John Wiley & Sons, based in New Jersey), she is responsible for 300 titles and oversees the publication of about 125 every year. Co-ordinating an international publishing programme, she works daily with offices in Canada, Australia and the UK. She also looks after global marketing and branding; not bad for an English and arts history graduate who started out as an editorial assistant 20 years ago.

But Eikenburg says that an even bigger challenge lies ahead for her company, and indeed the entire publishing industry: “We are in the process of developing from ‘print first’ to ‘digital first’.”

What better moment to deepen her knowledge and gain new perspectives than through a global MBA programme? “I want to be part of the change the industry is going through,” she says.

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Programme participants come from all over the world; working with them, says Eikenburg, and visiting cities such as Shanghai and Chennai to study, gives a foundation from which to approach the challenge of serving new kinds of travellers, from very different cultural backgrounds.

Almost without exception, people who seek out international EMBA programmes tend both to have a global outlook and to be at the sharp end of world business.

Veronika Krehahn, a participant on the EMBA programme at London Business School, is another good example of this internationalism. Born in Russia, she went to school in Germany, holds a German passport, but lives in Nice. She works for Dow Chemical, a US company, as a global account manager for clients in the pharmaceutical industry, and she speaks five languages fluently.

“For me, there were two choices: either Insead or London Business School,” she says. What drew her to LBS was its strength in research, and the discovery of just how international its programme was.

This year Krehahn, 32, has worked in study groups on three continents. She took a class on capital markets in Dubai, where LBS also runs its EMBA programme.

Krehahn also worked in eastern Europe, and went to Columbia University, New York, to hear economist Joseph Stiglitz lecture. And she worked for a week in Cape Town on a communications consulting project for Woolworths, a leading South African retailer; on that assignment, her colleagues were from Russia, India, Dubai and Pakistan.

Another recent study group comprised participants from Nigeria, Japan, Italy and India – and of course, Krehahn herself. That kind of mix is typical, she says. And the cultural challenges that arise are very like those encountered in her job, selling chemicals to buyers around the world.

The diversity of participants provides a chance to build a truly global network of professional contacts who often also become close friends. Another participant, now her best friend, is Chinese and works in Brussels for Huawei, the telecoms equipment maker.

Managing a demanding job and an itinerant study programme based in another country while maintaining personal relationships is challenging, Krehahn says. Yet of roughly 80 participants, aged from their late 20s to their late 40s, fewer than 10 are single, she adds. Nonetheless, “couples form, people have babies” – the participants become a community that is also connected by online tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Some, such as Krehahn, commute across or between continents to take course units. In her current class of eight, one participant travels from Côte d’Ivoire, another from the US and a third from Abu Dhabi. Two others travel from Paris and Nice. Many are people from around the globe posted to Europe by their companies, who are seizing the chance to get an international business education.

The faculty, too, is remarkably cosmopolitan, she says, with professors from Russia and India. And the tutors readily share their international links with MBA participants, adding to the strength of the overall network, she says.

So where will it all lead? Krehahn, who originally trained as an artist, says the experience inevitably causes participants to reflect upon their professional ambitions and their life goals. It reaffirms, she says, the awareness of being part of an international community, but also of being part of a community in which differences are accepted and indeed can thrive. Globalisation goes hand in hand with localisation.

Furthermore, says Krehahn, it builds understanding between generations: “I am [part of] Generation X, but I find myself studying with baby boomers and members of Generation Y.” In other words, the kinds of people who take EMBAs are astonishingly diverse; what glues them together during the programme is learning to understand each other. And that, together with a new network, is a portable skill.

“I think for £50,000, that is incredibly good value,” she says.

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