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In these times of budget stress, many academic institutions are looking for complementary revenues. It can be endowed chairs, research funding, partnership on miscellaneous issues or executive education, as it is the case for many business schools in Europe and elsewhere.

Executive education can mean many different activities. Open courses, degree programmes - such as executive part-time MBA programmes - or customised programmes. Selling, managing and delivering programmes for individual participants is one thing, and most business schools do it well.

However, achieving this for tailor made programmes is another story.

Marketing, selling, managing, delivering and servicing corporate clients for these customised programmes requires a completely different set of skills and a dedicated organisation. This explains why many schools have failed to create successful tailor-made programmes as they rely on the same techniques that they use for traditional programmes.

Customised programmes are usually designed in collaboration with the client and based on expertise existing within the teaching faculty. Corporations are not in the main looking for academic qualifications from the business school; they usually have strategic objectives and want to improve performance through sales, revenues, share of market, profits and efficiency. The type of programme that they require tends more towards consulting, action learning and coaching, rather than pure training.

However, not all schools have teaching faculty with the relevant profiles and expertise. Business schools are usually organised into departments (marketing, finance and control, HR and management, information system, strategy…..) and persuading professors to work together and to become client-focused is often a dean’s dream. For example, leading a corporate session has nothing to do with lecturing inexperienced first degree students, and facilitating learning is not always the cup of tea of traditional professors. Such differences are far from marginal.

Moreover, business schools either underestimate, or do not know, where all the expertise lies within their faculty. Defining what strategic expertise is available, liaising with teaching staff and identifying interesting and relevant research can take time.

Another stumbling block for business schools is that they often underestimate what they can bring to corporate clients, simply because they are not client-centred and do not know the company.

Business schools face many challenges when developing executive education. The opportunity costs are high, as are the transaction costs, both internally and externally. This may not appear to be the case at first glance.

The road to success is made of many demanding milestones: targeting the right clients, defining the crucial expertises to sell, organising and staffing the activity, marketing properly and getting faculty on board, not to mention the recruitment of a dedicated experienced executive education dean.

The challenges are also institutional.

The question is of importance when the time of accreditations such as Equis comes, as the relevance of business education is more and more within business and the quality of the executive education provision is the “moment of truth” highly valued by corporations. Many rankings seriously take into account this activity, including those of this newspaper (Financial Times).

Business education is changing and in a busy world, executive short courses and tailored programmes are increasingly being seen as the training solution for many companies.

However, successful executive education calls for reactivity, adaptation, relevance, innovation, efficiency and effectiveness, traits that are not always present on every business school campus. As a result, not every institution can succeed.

The author is a former dean of EM Lyon and one of the founders of Equis and Clip accreditation services from EFMD

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