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This year has been a cautious year for directors of Executive MBA (EMBA) programmes – MBA degrees for working managers. Many business schools report lower numbers of applications, though GMAC, administrators of the GMAT test, report that 59 percent of EMBA programmes have seen an increase in the number of applications received, with the number of applications up overall in the EMBA sector by 3 per cent.

What nobody is in doubt about, however, is that a growing number of participants are prepared to pay the fees themselves, no mean feat when the cost can be well over $100,000. This is a far cry from the days when all EMBA students had corporate sponsorship.

So, why are EMBA students taking responsibility for their studies into their own hands? And are these programmes worth the expense? Is this the right time to enrol on an EMBA programme?

These and other questions were answered by the Financial Times panel of experts on Wednesday October 27, 2010. They were:

Erin O’Brien, assistant dean, Trium Global Executive MBA programme and NYU Global Programmes;

Della Bradshaw, business education editor, Financial Times;

Glenn Rowe, director, Ivey Executive MBA programme, University of Western Ontario.


How can deans improve the EMBA 2010 curriculum focusing on new strategies towards innovation and new business creation in this challenging business environment?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

Della: I think this question is particularly timely as the balance between corporately-sponsored participants and self-sponsored participants shifts towards the latter. As individuals pay for themselves, there is going to be a need for more learning for people who want to set up their own businesses. That said, I am sure many corporations would love their executives to be able to instigate new ventures within the corporation. As to how you develop intrapreneurship skills - I will leave that up to the deans.

Erin: The TRIUM Global EMBA is an alliance programme of three leading institutions:

- New York University Stern School of Business (NYU Stern)

- London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

- HEC School of Management, Paris (HEC Paris

The TRIUM program is grounded in the philosophy that today’s global executives need to be prepared to question norms and integrate a complex range of factors into their decision making. Senior-level global executives must think and act like entrepreneurs in their approach and decision making to identify and assess business risks and opportunities.

As part of the core curriculum, TRIUM students create self-formed groups that identify a strategic global issue and deliver a fully worked-out business plan. The group project is presented to a board of directors consisting of TRIUM alumni, professors and industry practitioners during the final module.

Past projects have touched on a myriad of subjects, from alternative biofuel distribution networks to private equity ventures in emerging markets.

Glenn: The most important thing that we can do is to be open to new ideas ourselves and stay closely connected to the business community so that we can anticipate changing needs. We recently added a sustainability course and an entrepreneurship course to our EMBA programme because of the increase in demand from course participants. In addition, we encourage our faculty team to address these issues in their courses throughout the programme. We need to be flexible enough to meet the needs of a broad spectrum of students. EMBA programme content must help improve innovation and new business creation in start-ups, stand alone firms and multi-business enterprises. In a case-based classroom such as ours, these innovative, creative ideas can come from the cases discussed, the readings assigned and sharing real-world experiences.

I recently listened to a graduate of our EMBA programme who had been the CEO of a non-profit organisation. She described how she realised during her EMBA programme that she was an entrepreneur. With this knowledge and her non-profit experience, she joined forces with two other EMBA graduates from her class and they have formed an entrepreneurial venture that would be described as operating in the realm of social entrepreneurship. She stated that she probably would not have done this without the knowledge gained in the EMBA programme. Incidentally, she graduated before we added the sustainability and entrepreneur courses.


How can one justify paying the huge price for an EMBA, sometimes worth around $100,000, in this economic downturn?

Della: Well, a quick glance at the FT EMBA rankings shows that it really can be a sound investment even if you are paying for it yourself. Looking at salaries three years after graduation shows that, on average, participants who attended one of the top 10 programmes earned $110,000 more than they did when they began the programme (usually five years previously). Additionally, there is no opportunity cost - you are earning at the same time as studying.

So, three years after graduation participants at these top schools will already have paid off the fees in increased earnings. Clearly there is not such good news at the lower end of the table (although, of course, the fees will be lower too).

Erin: For any programme you are considering, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is what does success look like? An MBA represents a big investment in time, energy and money - your goals must match up to the programme’s strengths, approach and objectives.

Each executive should determine how he or she defines value and through this lens evaluate various MBA programmes. For the past three years, the Financial Times has ranked the TRIUM Global EMBA number 1 in the “Aims Achieved” category. Value in large part comes from having a strong fit between the programme objectives and the objectives of our students. The TRIUM programme is designed for someone who wants to expand new ways of thinking in order to develop viable strategies to compete and succeed on a global stage.

During a period of uncertainty, a programme like TRIUM which brings together an accomplished group of global executives from business, academia, NGO’s and government to address the challenges facing their organisations specifically and the global economy more generally is more valuable than ever.

The TRIUM Global EMBA stimulates new ways of thinking about the global economic, social and political forces that shape the world.

Glenn: The EMBA degree does not lose value during an economic downturn. In fact, in many ways it has even greater value when the economy is tough and the employment situation challenging. It is at this time that people need an edge to either move up, move on or create new opportunities and new businesses for themselves. As you can see from the Financial Times EMBA ranking results this week, EMBA salary percentage increases three years post graduation are still very strong despite the economic turmoil of the past three years. Our graduates recover their investment within three years on average. That’s a great return and probably one of the most dependable investments you can make.

Having said that, an EMBA is not just about the return in monetary terms. Our graduates talk about the confidence gained in our case-based discussions; the networks discovered among classmates; the opportunity to meet people from many different industries, countries and backgrounds; the increased capacity for work/life balance; and the ability to improve on both a personal and professional level. One of our recent graduates talked about a business unit he was responsible for that was one of the worse in his company. He was finding it difficult to motivate and encourage the managers of this business unit and to help them turn the business unit around.

He went on to describe how this unit was now a top performing unit because of what he learned on our EMBA programme and was able to apply this in motivating, encouraging and helping the leaders of that business unit.

Another recent graduate and his wife talked about what the husband had learned in the programme saved their business while all of their competitors went out of business during the recent financial turmoil. They ran a high end tourist-type retreat in a smaller town and they both indicated that what was being learnt in the classroom was being applied immediately to their business and kept them in business.


How much would an entrepreneur benefit from an EMBA? Are there many entrepreneurs applying for EMBAs today?
Fernando, Brazil

Della: All the evidence shows that a growing number of EMBA participants decide to start up their own businesses. That aside, the EMBA is a highly relevant degree for those who run their own businesses.

To begin with, owner-managers can take what they learn in the classroom and apply it directly to their own business the next day. Second, they can conduct a project in their own company, with the help and feedback of both peer participants and professors. Third, they can build up a network of local - or even global - contacts.

Erin: From a personal development perspective, completing an MBA is a great way for an entrepreneur to challenge his own assumptions and fine-tune “how to think” skills, and not only acquiring new subject matter expertise.

The TRIUM programme’s strong focus on global business incubation has attracted leading entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries and regions. Former and current students have included the founder and CEO of an organic coffee trading firm; leading solar energy company, leading French retailer, a Chinese water treatment company and a large Korean pharmaceutical firm.

TRIUM offers entrepreneurs the possibility to work on their own company throughout the length of the programme through the TRIUM Global Incubator. Last year, we opened this up to TRIUM alumni by inviting them to submit proposals to be considered by the current class or to serve as industry expert mentors. The TRIUM community functions like a think-tank, board room and global incubator where leading global experts gather to work on solutions for the most pressing challenges facing the 21st century global economy.

Glenn: Well, from my answers above, it is apparent we believe that many entrepreneurs have benefited already from our programme. Research suggests that many entrepreneurs go out of business because they cannot handle the managerial aspects of running their businesses.

Many entrepreneurs have a “great idea” but need to understand the fundamentals of marketing, accounting, analytics, operations, leading people, information systems, finance and strategy. An EMBA programme gives the entrepreneurs these basics and allows them to combine this functional area expertise with their “great idea.”

We see three types of entrepreneurs:

- those who have an idea but are not currently making any money;

- those whose resources are misaligned with their strategy and who need to retool for a more complex business situation (i.e., their old business is not working);

- those who have a good business model and they want to take that to a new level.

What entrepreneurs seem to appreciate about our EMBA programme is that they are in a collegial atmosphere where they can run ideas by a network of people from different industries and backgrounds. Life can be lonely as an entrepreneur - an EMBA programme can alleviate some of that loneliness.

We have not seen an increase in the number of entrepreneurs - it seems to run at around 10 per cent per class. The biggest question for entrepreneurs in the application process is whether the time they will devote to their studies and the classroom experience is a valuable use of their time - is the opportunity cost worth it? So far, our sense is that it is!


Despite my best efforts to find employment, it is proving increasingly difficult. I am now considering a return to education. Being in my 50s, am I too old for an EMBA?

Della: No, never!

Erin: I agree with Della - and may we never be too old to head back to the classroom!

Most EMBA programs have students well into their 50’s and older.

It is important to have realistic expectations when considering an investment in an EMBA programme. An EMBA will not rewrite your professional experience or track record. An EMBA will help broaden your lens, increase your network and develop new ways to approach business challenges and opportunities. An EMBA will challenge you to think differently.

Most schools are working to develop services that cater to the needs of their specific student population. In your situation, I would evaluate the fit between your job search goals and the career services approach of the programmes you are considering.

In addition to the traditional offerings of the career services at NYU Stern, LSE and HEC, (job search strategy, résumé review, job postings, interview preparation, networking events etc), TRIUM works with career coaches to help our executives develop a personalised roadmap based on each student’s career objectives (e.g., advancement, transition, starting up a new business etc).

This approach is designed for the unique characteristics of the TRIUM EMBA population (e.g., senior level global executives from a wide range of industries, with an average age of 40+ hailing from more than 30 different countries). To meet the needs of this population, we developed a customised Professional Leadership and Development Capstone to complement our more traditional career services offerings. The goal is to link real-world 21st century issues to a personalised roadmap for more effective career management and leadership.

Good luck on your search.

Glenn: We believe that learning is a life-long process. Typically, 10 to 15 percent of our students are in their 50s. They are leaders in our classes and their experience and maturity adds immeasurably to the learning of our younger students.

On the other hand, our more experienced and mature EMBA students benefit from being exposed to the ideas and energy of our less experienced students. Whenever I am asked this question, I think of my wife’s aunt who started her undergraduate degree in English at the age of 51. She continued and finished her PhD at 67. She then taught until she was about 82.

I am a firm believer that age is not a big issue. Having said this, I am aware that a more mature student in an EMBA programme making a $100,000 or so investment will have less time to recoup that investment. This means that it is a very individual decision based on your personal goals and career aspirations. On a more personal note, I started my PhD at the age of 43 after a 20 year military career – I have never regretted that decision.


With more and more EMBA students paying for the course themselves, there is a shift happening - from the course getting paid from a fully tax deductable education budget within a company to a complete net (post tax) savings account belonging to the students. Government and companies profit from this shift whereas the students put in the work and take the risk. This seems unfair and if you agree, who do you think should take the initiative to change this and how?
Arjan Groen, London

Glenn: This shift is happening! However, it is being driven by those of our applicants who want the flexibility to change employers/industries. In addition, many managers are considering starting their own businesses after the EMBA and therefore do not want to be constrained by having to continue to work for the organisation that would have sponsored them.

On the other hand, we are also seeing a shift to customised EMBAs where organisations are willing to sponsor a whole cohort which demonstrates that some organisations are willing to sponsor their managers but want to take a more active role in what they are learning.

Della: This question opens up a complete minefield, doesn’t it - about who finances higher education, particularly in times of economic austerity. At a European level the Bologna Accord was in part devised to shift the costs of masters level studies from the government to the individual. In the UK the idea of a graduate tax has been mooted.

The question with EMBAs, though, is whether this funding shift is a blip or a trend. Although, there will always be students who want to pay for their EMBA in order to maintain their corporate independence, there is no doubt that employers do benefit from funding these degrees, both from a retention and loyalty perspective but by bringing innovation back into the workplace.


In this tough job market, what are the most useful subjects to study in an EMBA?

Glenn: This is a great question. We believe that you should study those subjects that are useful for you in achieving your career goals.

If your goal is to be an in-depth finance expert or a marketing expert, I would suggest finding a programme where there is a higher concentration of these courses. If you want to become a senior leader of a business unit or a multi-business enterprise then you will need to find an EMBA programme with a cross enterprise leadership perspective.

Another shift we are seeing in Canada is towards a health care concentration. Our MBA programme offers all of the functional subject areas after which students may opt to do an intense concentration of courses in health care.

In this era of globalisation, I would also recommend finding an EMBA with a focus on internationalisation through coursework and an international trip. This is potentially the biggest investment you will make in your education. I would therefore suggest that you take a long-term perspective and really consider what your long-term career and personal goals are before commencing any EMBA/MBA programme.

Della: Very difficult. I think it all depends on the sector in which you work and what you want to do in future.

Erin: As Della notes, it is difficult to generalise. Companies need executives who can synthesise an overwhelming number of inputs into their decision-making.

Each EMBA student enters with subject matter expertise. A course that challenges students to move beyond the comfort zone of their subject matter expertise into more integrated, general management level synthesis is very valuable.

Take risk management for example, in TRIUM we teach Integrated Strategic Risk Management. At the boardroom level, what do you need to know about managing risk? How is your firm capturing and integrating risk across divisions? Are you considering not only enterprise risk but the implications of counter-party risk? How do you factor in volatility in the markets? Sovereign risks? Regulatory risks?


What is the value of the 2010 EMBA programmes in the USA and Canada with the view that EMBA graduates from the USA and Canada are up against strong global competition from the Chinese, Indian and East European business leaders? What has to be changed in the 2010 EMBA programmes from the deans’ perspective in the USA and Canada?

Erin: Today, most if not all EMBA programmes have a global element. This takes shape in any number of ways from international modules and global-based electives to global partnerships. TRIUM’s focus has always been global. With modules currently held in NY, London, Paris, Shanghai and Chennai.

NYU Stern, LSE and HEC Paris developed the TRIUM Global EMBA programme to prepare executives to address the global economic, social and political forces that shape the world.

Through the participation of LSE, TRIUM is the only MBA programme that integrates into its curriculum the economic, social and political context in which business decisions are taken today. These areas are recognised as critical to global business but are often neglected in “traditional” MBA programmes.

We begin the TRIUM programme in London with an intense series of courses that examine the many aspects of globalisation. The curriculum focuses on the broad international context to which senior executives need to be sensitive when making global business decisions. Special emphasis is given to in-depth critical analysis of the interaction between economics and socio-politics, setting the tone for the programme’s global reach and its strategic perspective.

The political economy represents the crux of the TRIUM programme by identifying the central aspects and causes of globalisation. The programme provides an understanding of the contemporary debate over the significance of globalisation and evaluates the key drivers of technological change and risk in the global economy.

Current problems in international economic cooperation are examined, while exploring developments in regional economic and political integration. TRIUM executive MBAs begin to understand and develop the implications of many conflicting pressures for global business strategies.

Glenn: We have been aware that there would be strong global competition for a couple of decades. Consequently, in 1998 we were the first North America business school to open a campus in Hong Kong. We are still the only North America business school with its own permanent campus in Hong Kong with the rest being multi-partnered campuses.

The international trip in our EMBA programme, for many years, has seen our students travel to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong for a 12 to 13 day trip and where they have to interact with business leaders in these cities to enhance the consulting report they are doing for their clients back in Canada.

With the rising importance of India, starting in January 2012 our international trips will alternate between the three cities in China and the cities of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore in India.

In addition to these initiatives in our EMBA programme, our school has several initiatives in case writing, student exchanges, etc in India (led by Dr. Ariff Kachra) and this is in addition to our longstanding partnerships in China through our Asian Management Institute (led by Dr. Paul Beamish).

Finally, we are the largest producer and seller of cases about Asian organisations - a result of our deep commitment to this market because we realised in the mid-80s the importance of China. We also have a strong group of international faculty some of whom have been studying in China for over 25 years.


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Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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