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A design for studying

The importance of design, playing to your core strengths and speed to market are all themes driven home in business schools. But how many schools actually practise what they preach? When the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, decided in August 2009 to redesign its executive MBA programme, it did just that. (The school is already known to architecture aficionados for its radical, Frank Gehry-designed premises, above, unveiled in 2002.)

It brought in a team of consultants in commercial product design to provide a different perspective. After that, says Michael Devlin, associate dean, “we set ourselves a 90-day window in which to complete the design”.

The consultants used rapid prototyping, a system employed by Apple, among others, to develop a range of potential degree concepts. Working with the faculty, those six or eight programmes were whittled down to three, and then to one.

By the time the next EMBA programme started in August this year, all the course materials were in place.

The new programme is substantially different from the old one. As well as reducing the number of on-site residencies from 24 to 12, the 21-month programme now centres on the school’s work on leadership, including emotional intelligence – Weatherhead is a pioneer in applying this concept to management. As a result, students have enrolled from across the US, and the number of women has rocketed to 41 per cent of the class.

Terror tactics for success

For executive MBA students, the thought of learning about terrorism might seem irrelevant – or even offensive. But, David James, executive professor of marketing and growth management at Henley Business School in the UK, says corporations can learn a lot from how terrorists behave. Indeed, terrorist cells often act like entrepreneurial small businesses, he says. “How can corporations defend themselves against entrepreneurs? Big companies struggle to react quickly.”

He cites the example of Somali pirates: for them, a single raid costs $30,000 to organise, and one out of every three is successful, but oil tankers are so large and slow to manoeuvre that they cannot avoid confrontation. It is the same for big business. “By the time you see a small business attacking you, it’s too late.”

The issue, says James, is what corporations can learn from how terrorist cells are structured. Using examples from traditional military training, he highlights how corporations can become “corporate terrorists”.

“Key to being a corporate terrorist is to get your message out,” he says. “Throw out caution.” As well as managing the brand, trust is essential, he says. “Allow people on the ground to have a strategy. It’s a different way of doing things.”

Executive MBA timeline

1943 The EMBA degree for working professionals debuts at the University of Chicago, inspired by the economic impact of the second world war.

1954 The Michigan State University Broad College of Business EMBA is launched in response to a request from the leaders of the “big three” in the booming automobile industry – GM, Ford and Chrysler.

1960s The ever-faster pace of the business world drives the development of the EMBA. Companies start looking for ways to improve leadership skills of executives; they also want graduates to enter the workforce, rather than spending another two years in a classroom.

1980s Schools begin to focus on the global nature of business. Professor Hanns M. Schoenfeld from the Illinois College of Business EMBA programme organises trips to Germany and Poland to expose executives to business culture and practice in other countries.

1981 The EMBA Council is formed in response to the increasing number of EMBA programmes offered by schools.

1994 The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business sets up an international campus in Barcelona, Spain, for its EMBA programme.

1996 Duke University’s Fuqua Business School launches one of the first global EMBA programmes for senior managers with global responsibilities and demanding schedules.

2001 The Financial Times ranking of EMBA programmes is launched. There are 72 programmes submitted for analysis, 50 of which feature in the final table.

2010 The EMBA is the fastest-growing segment of the executive education market. The EMBA Council has a members’ list of more than 300 programmes worldwide. The FT cele-brates the 10th anniversary of its ranking: 121 programmes participate in the survey, 100 of which feature in the final table.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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