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When Cindy Eisner began looking into EMBA programmes, she had certain objectives. First and foremost, this director of systems integration at Staples, the US-based office supply chain, wanted a programme with an international focus that would prepare her for a potential overseas posting. Second, as she made many business trips, she did not want too onerous a travel schedule. Finally, she wanted a course where she would be among seasoned managers from different backgrounds and cultures.
Her first choice was the Global EMBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. The 15-month programme, launched in 1996, combines residential sessions around the world – this year students rotated through Shanghai, London, Dubai, New Delhi and St Petersburg – with 10 weeks of internet-based distance learning, where students participate virtually in discussions and research.
“The residencies are phenomenal,” says Eisner. “They’re long, intense days. Three professors travel with us and lecture, but they also bring in guest speakers doing business in those countries: government officials, entrepreneurs, expats working for multinationals. We learn about the challenges they face.”
At any given time, Fuqua has 600 EMBA students (the full-time MBA programme has roughly 900) and the executive programmes represent roughly a third of the school’s total revenue, making them critical to its mission and financial success.
Over the past three years, officials at Fuqua (including John Gallagher, associate dean for the EMBA programme) have worked to redesign its curricula, creating multi-term classes on leadership and a stronger international component, with more coursework relating to global markets and institutions. The Global Executive is one of three MBA programmes Fuqua offers. While it is designed for a more seasoned manager – the average student age is 40 – Fuqua’s Weekend and Cross Continent EMBAs target very different profiles.
The Weekend EMBA, which is the oldest of the three, is the most traditional, with classes that meet on Fridays and Saturdays every other weekend. The course consists of 12 core and six elective modules over a five-term period, supplemented by online coursework. A typical student is 32 years old, with about a decade of career experience.
The Cross Continent programme, which began in 2000, lasts 16 months or six terms. The students’ average age is 28, and the student body profile is almost identical to Fuqua’s daytime MBA programme.
“The big difference is that these students don’t necessarily want to leave their current jobs or switch careers; they want to accelerate the career they already have,” says Prof Gallagher. “Because we don’t have an urban catch basin, we tend to have greater diversity in our classes. And the greater the geographic and industry diversity in the class, the better the educational experience.”
He says the fact that half the curriculum in the Global Executive and Cross Continent programmes is delivered via the internet does not diminish the learning experience. “What happens is counter-intuitive,” he says. “The bonding that takes place between students is at least equal and maybe greater than the traditional because they need each other so much to get their work done and stay on top of their jobs and other family commitments. They understand each other and that shared experience.”
Eisner, who will graduate from the Global EMBA programme in November, heartily agrees. This year’s class comprises 65 students from 25 countries, which can sometimes make co-ordinating group assignments tricky. “The thing is: this is real life. We constantly have to arrange meetings with people all over the world, and manage those time zones. That’s the reality.”