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When Simon Learmount was approached in the midst of the financial crisis to launch an executive MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School, his initial reaction was to argue against it. “They asked me the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed!” he says.
However, as people started to direct blame at business schools, he began to see the value of a different model to the school’s existing one-year full-time MBA.
The result is a 20-month weekend programme for senior managers from a range of countries and industries. At the moment, for example, a Chinese entrepreneur is studying alongside a British doctor and a rugby player from New Zealand.
Students come to Cambridge to learn about the practical issues of business and its role in society. Classes are held once a month, Friday and Saturday, so lessons can be applied at work on Monday. Participants are also taught via a virtual learning environment, updated for mobile devices.
It is a flexible programme, catering for busy people who want to broaden their thinking, says Mohamed Lamin, an executive MBA student who managed to continue the course despite being trapped in Tripoli during the uprising last year.
There is also a collaborative approach, with participants seen as contributing to the EMBA as well as learning. Learmount adds: “It’s not a cookie-cutter production line programme. It’s a quiet revolution, using different media more creatively.”
The school buildings combine converted wards of the old Addenbrooke’s hospital with modern lecture theatres. Judge may lack the global appeal of the multiple campuses at other schools, but the 800-year Cambridge legacy is “quite powerful”, says Learmount. “Wherever you are in the world, you find contacts.”
Participants are invited to dine at a different college every month, where they can network with students and academics of the university as well as the school.
The executive MBA has yet to attract significant numbers of women. Annual intakes average 50 students, of whom 20 per cent are women. Learmount is disappointed as the weekend format should work for those juggling priorities. Baljeet Kaur Grewal, for example, travels from Malaysia to attend the programme, while raising children and working as a managing director at Kuwait Finance House.
The school is focused on promoting the course to women. “It’s something business schools have a responsibility to do as much as they can,” says Learmount.