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Executive MBA programmes, once the Cinderella of the MBA world, are proving to be a strategic tool for managers and their employers to develop global strategies. Over the past year EMBA programmes which are taught in more than one location - and often by more than one business school - have climbed the rankings. Are they set to oust the traditional MBA programme? And what are the advantages and disadvantages to managers of studying for an MBA degree later in life?

Our panel of experts answer your questions on Executive MBA programmes below.

Do executive MBAs equip you for a career in corporate finance or are they geared more towards a career in management consultancy? And can you comment on German schools that offer EMBA and how they compare to the more reputable US ones in terms of teaching quality?
Mirko Milojevic, London

Ethan Hanabury: While we can’t comment on other programs, our EMBA program does provide the skill set for careers in finance as well as other industries. We utilise our strong alumni base as well as our Career Management Centre in opening opportunities for our students in any number of fields. The other element, of course, is the peer group - many students come to our program from finance and provide insights that enhance the learning experience beyond the classroom.

Steven DeKrey: If you are interested in a specific career in finance you may find the MSc programs being offered by top schools as more appropriate than an EMBA. NYU is joining up with HKUST to offer a global finance Masters in Hong Kong soon and there are several schools offering this type of program. In fact, the Financial Times, did a major article on other Masters programs this year.

Della Bradshaw: If you look at the FT survey this year you will see that the most popular sectors for EMBA graduates are industry followed by finance and banking and IT and telecommunications. The programmes that rank 11 and 12 - the Purdue/Tias/CEU/Gisma programme and the Kellogg/WHU programme - are both taught in Germany.

What is the ideal work tenure to pursue an EMBA? What kind of career level is appropriate to maximise return on an EMBA? With such a large volume of entrants into the traditional MBA, do you really think EMBA will outshine an MBA?
Shoaib Mushtaq

Steven DeKrey: Many programs hold to the original definition of significant work experience and managerial position. In Hong Kong our minimum remains at 10 years and we are quite firm about it. Exceptions need considerable justification. At the upper end we have had over 30 years work experience represented.

The level within that range is really up to the individual. You need good reasons to sacrifice the time and money for such a degree so the admissions committee will want you to tell your story. In a way, it is your motivation and maturity which is being evaluated, not your years of work.

Is the EMBA more appropriate for the older, more seasoned executive whilst the MBA is for the younger, less experienced individual?
Michael Swan, Epsom, UK

Ethan Hanabury: In considering candidates for Columbia’s EMBA programs, we focus on career trajectory, level of responsibility, and what others in the classroom will be able to learn from the individual. In this rapidly changing world, we’re finding that careers are moving at an accelerated pace, and therefore, we’re seeing some exceptionally accomplished younger candidates.

I believe that although the established format of MBA education is very effective, being this one of the main reasons for its success and its current popularity among recruiters. However, I also believe that its popularity has a high component of fashion and exclusivity, something which the admissions departments of the top business schools nurture very well. What are the chances that, in a foreseeable future, this format of executive education will be replaced by another that may render it obsolete?

Ethan Hanabury: Recent questioning of the MBA’s value and relevance reveals an outdated perception of the degree; in fact, its mission (inspired global business leadership) its essence (new concentrations and focus on social intelligence and value-based leadership, entrepreneurship, social enterprise, global vision, etc), and its expectations (these leaders have the skills, priorities and desire to make the world a better place) have never been more relevant.

We believe that the MBA in fact fosters improved productivity, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility and is the most effective vehicle toward success in these areas critical to global economic prosperity.

Della Bradshaw: I think you have to distinguish here between an MBA and an EMBA. An EMBA, for experienced executives in their late 30s or early 40s, is the one business degree which I believe will retain its currency.

At the younger end of the business degree market - let’s say, where participants are between 20 and 30 years old, a real bun fight is beginning. In Europe there are now the pre-experience masters programmes for recent graduates and the MBA for managers with several years of experience. In the US, top schools such as Harvard and Stanford are trying to reduce the age at which MBA students enrol on their programmes. Alongside that some US schools - such as Thuderbird, Case Western and Rochester - are introducing pre-experience masters degrees along the European models. What will happen? It will certainly be fun to watch.......

Do EMBA programs enjoy a similar preference to class room based programs when it comes to recruitment by leading financial firms?
Vibhav, Sydney

Steven DeKrey: As answered earlier by my colleague from Columbia, EMBA programs vary in their level of career services. Recently many top programs have started to offer career services. In Hong Kong our career service is not formalised but often student networks assist those interested in making a career switch. Many EMBA students are fully sponsored by employers so are not formally in the market.

Back to your finance company question. The market is booming in Hong Kong so the demand for talent is huge. Getting an edge over others like earning a respected MBA degree is always a benefit. The EMBA we offer is generally for more senior positions than typically hired from full time MBA programs.

Ethan Hanabury: A point of clarification is that top-tier EMBA programs are classroom based presented on weekends or modules. Our EMBA program has its own Career Management centre tailored to the needs of mid-level executives, some of whom are looking to accelerate within their organisation and others looking for career advancement outside their present employment in finance as well as other industries.

Could you elaborate on the statement that an EMBA helps companies develop global strategies? How does (sending your managers to) an EMBA program specifically help to develop global strategies? What does it add to a company’s existing strategy setting capability?
Tony van den Berge, Amsterdam

Della Bradshaw: Yes indeed, Tony - this is a comment I made in one of my articles, I believe. While the traditional full-time MBA schools have often generally been slow to react to globalisation, executive levels degrees have not. When the Fuqua school at Duke University first introduced the Global EMBA format a decade ago, it became clear to most of the top business schools that this was the model to emulate: that particpants at this level of seniority in a company needed to study outside their home town and home country.

Schools such as Columbia, Kellogg and Chicago took this one step further by mixing executives who had enrolled in different countries to work together in the classroom. A quick look at the FT EMBA rankings this year shows that all four of the top-ranked schools bring together participants from more than one campus.

In addition to that, EMBA participants almost always have to complete a project for their company. Any of the top business schools you talk to will agree that these are frequently related to that company moving into new markets.

Steven DeKrey: While most EMBA programs do have classes specifically related to strategy it really is part of the whole program. Consider the fact that you are sitting in a room with 55+ other leaders from across cultures and industries discussing multiple cases. What you learn from your classmates on what they actually do comes throughout the course and is an invaluable advantage to EMBA programs.

The globalness is of course related to the diversity and level of students represented in the classroom. This varies across programs so should be an important criteria for companies to assess.

Do you think that the spin given to some of the top current MBA programs (and as a consequence their hosting business schools) in the specialised press has spurred a generation of lesser qualifications which some prestigious business schools are exploiting economically rather than pedagogically? Doesn’t this make the selection for candidates all the more confusing?
Bernardo Fernandez, Madrid Spain

Steven DeKrey: I’m glad you asked this question. At Columbia Business School, our Executive MBA program offers the same degree, same faculty, and same curriculum as in the full-time program. The difference in the two programs is in format - day-time versus weekends or block periods but to the same end.

The unique advantage that EMBA students share is the opportunity to learn from their peers - all working executives who come to the program with their own experiences and work challenges.

Could you comment on the feedback you have received from your EMBA graduates? I am particularly interested in those who have had time to evaluate both the practical and intrinsic value of their EMBA investment. I am a 44 year old second year EMBA student in the University of Washington Seattle.
David O’Farrell

Steven DeKrey: We do solicit feedback regularly from our Kellogg-HKUST EMBA graduates. Primary among their comments is the insight derived from focused class discussion and relationships with classmates. Based on their career progress we can see the benefits to them as they progress. Graduates also hold pride in their accomplishment regularly admit they miss the classroom environment. We do hold regular seminars in Hong Kong exclusively for graduates to keep them up to date.

Della Bradshaw: David, that is a really interesting question and I think it is particularly important as a decreasing number of EMBA applicants are sponsored by their companies. What we have found every year we have surveyed EMBA alumni is that those who have remained with their company three years after graduation have actually seen a higher percentage increase in their salaries than those who have changed employers. And as you know, at the top schools alumni can generally double their salaries in the five years between the start of the programme and the survey date. The reason I say this, is that the comments often revolve around the value the employer places on the degree and the career path the EMBA participant can expect as a result of the degree.

Another typical comment, as you would expect, revolves around the enormous workload involved.

As a general perspective though, the comments are very much in line with those of younger full-time MBA students and are generally extremely positive.

I have my own software development company and would be interested in pursuing an EMBA. However, one of the deterrents I have is to go through the program and only find students that are interested in getting the degree because they want to further their careers within their companies or to further job opportunities in others. I am not sure if an EMBA is the best way to go for entrepreneurs. Am I right?
Patricio Mora, New York

Della Bradshaw: Patricio, I think of the most interesting statistics to come out of the Financial Times EMBA survey this year is the three years after graduation, only 51 per cent of alumni work in companies with more than 5,000 employees. Thirty per cent of respondents work in companies with fewer than 500 employees. So, even if these respondents work for large companies when they begin their EMBA programmes, many will start some entrepreneurial activity on graduation, or subsequently.

As a general rule, though, I think the character you describe in your question more closely resembles a full-time MBA students. When the FT surveyed alumni three years after graduation the most important reason they gave for doing an EMBA was management development.

Ethan Hanabury: The EMBA program at Columbia Business School draws a wide breadth of students - entrepreneurs as well as those in the corporate arena. The peer-to-peer exchange is extremely helpful to all students; generating ideas and sharing experiences beyond the classroom. Our program draws upon practitioners - experts in many fields to bring their knowledge to the classroom.

Master Classes furthers that hands-on learning with the opportunity to address real-world business challenges and devise workable solutions. Every week, what you learn is readily applicable to your business.

How do employers compare the EMBA to a traditional MBA when looking to hire a new employee? Which is viewed as having more clout? In the past I think the EMBA was viewed as the short way out to get an MBA. Is this still true?
Cal Lovin, Tennessee, US

Ethan Hanabury: I believe the first thing that employers will evaluate is the quality of the institution. Although the full-time route is followed by more individuals, we hear from employers that they are impressed that our EMBA students could manage challenging careers and, in many cases, families, while earning an MBA degree from one of the most rigorous MBA programs in the world.

We are also seeing growing interest among companies in speaking with our executive students about career opportunities. In fact, to maximise this opportunity, we have introduced an EMBA Career Management centre, which tailors it’s offerings to the needs of executive students.

Della Bradshaw: As a general rule I would say that at the level of seniority that EMBAs are recruited - we are talking about managers in their late 30s, not late 20s as with traditional MBA graduates - then the degree itself will only be one of a number of factors that are considered. But I think the same rule applies with an EMBA as an MBA: it depends on the business school you attended.

Steven DeKrey: The answer to your question is changing. In the early days (for me that goes back to the 80’s) the EMBA did not have the reputation it does not. the Full timers got all the attention and all the recruitment interest from companies.

This is changing. As the EMBA program fills the education void across the globe we are seeing much more credibility given to EMBA programs both by applicants and companies. These days many are holding off on applications until they are senior enough to qualify for an EMBA. This is especially true in Asia.

About the panel

Steven DeKrey, Associate Dean and Director of the MBA, EMBA and MSc programmes at the school of business and management at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Ethan Hanabury, Associate dean for Executive MBA programmes at Columbia Business School, New York

Della Bradshaw, Business Education Editor, Financial Times

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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