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There can be few cities in the world that are home to as many university students as Boston, Massachusetts. So it is perhaps surprising, then, that when it comes to studying for an executive MBA programme, there is relatively little choice. With the big brand names such as Harvard and MIT spurning these executive degrees, Boston University is proving to be a popular choice.
“I wanted a peer group that was dynamic and entertaining,” says Denise Ulibarri, senior vice president with State Street Bank, and an alumnus of BU’s EMBA programme. Boston University, she says, was “top of the house in the Boston area”.
Though the trend globally is for EMBA programmes which pull together students from as far afield as possible, programmes that draw on local managers still have enormous strengths, says Kevin Martin, vice president for e-learning sales and business development at Tech OnLine, and a fellow classmate of Ms Ulibarri from the BU EMBA class of 2001. “Most of our classmates were from the local area. The connectivity is amazing. Numerous times I’ve phoned people up and bounced ideas off them.”
Boston University’s school of management, situated in a new building in the heart of the city - and just a stone’s throw from the Red Sox baseball ground - has built its reputation as the provider of part-time MBAs in the Boston area. These days, though, it has ambitions to be more - much more.
Dean Louis Lataif, who joined the school in 1991 - making him one of the longest-serving deans in the US market - emphasises two strengths of the school. The first is the use of teamwork in teaching, the second the development of the MS-MBA programme, which he believes is one way forward for the more traditional general MBA programme.
These days Prof Lataif says that between a half and two-thirds of the BU faculty are happy to work in teams, but says there are structural inhibitors to most business schools following this route. “Part of the problem is the tenure-reward structure,” he says. “We [business schools] pay big bucks for super-specialists. The problem in business is that we’ve all these damn human beings to manage.”
As someone who spent 27 years working for the Ford Motor company before becoming dean of the school, he knows, if anyone does, the value of teamwork. He set up a Center for Team Learning in 1996 with the help of the GE Fund and he introduced a policy in which faculty who promote networking are incentivised separately.
As to the MS-MBA, it is a joint degree, which, says Prof Lataif, “is not about technology but about doing business the way it needs to be done”.
Nonetheless, it takes just 21 months for participants to graduate with an MBA and an MS in Information Systems.
Included in that period are two separate internships.
Graduates are proving particularly popular in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, IT and financial service sectors and corporate sponsors include Sun Microsystems and Shell Oil. At the moment, with 70 students, the programme is half the size of the full-time MBA programme, but it will grow if it continues to prove popular, says Prof Lataif.
As well as the mainstream MBA programme, BU has introduced an international MBA that requires students to begin their programmes in Japan or China. The programme includes mandatory language training and three months of study in the chosen country.
In executive non-degree programmes, in which BU admits it is still a novice, the Chinese connection also plays a role. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce, for example, is a core client for which the school runs a nine-week programme, six weeks of which are in Boston and the remaining three in Beijing.
Within the MBA curriculum itself BU has not been slow to innovate in the face of the falling number of jobs for MBAs in the early 1990s and the concern about corporate ethics. All students are required to take two credits on ethics and a further two credits in career management.
Though most business schools would view career management as something that should take place outside the core curriculum, if at all, this is not so at BU, says Jennifer Lawrence, assistant dean for career services and herself a marketing professor.
“The academic faculty has recognised this has value.”
Innovation is paying off across the board.
Ranked 12 in the US and 27 in the world in this year’s Financial Times EMBA rankings, BU has risen in the table for the past two years.