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This year has been a crunch year for EMBA programmes as recession-hit employers cut back on sponsorship. And with these programmes costing up to $150,000 in tuition alone, many managers balk at paying for the programme themselves.

Even those who can afford to pay the fees may decide it is impolitic to leave the office early to go to school if their peers are working harder than ever.

In this climate, business schools are working hard to persuade senior managers that these executive programmes are a sound investment. Is this the right time for you to invest in your own education and enrol on an EMBA? A panel of experts answered your questions on Wednesday October 21.

On the panel were:

William Kooser, Associate Dean of the EMBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Gareth Howells, Deputy Associate Dean, Degree Programmes, London Business School

Della Bradshaw, Business Education Editor, Financial Times

Does an MBA still carry as much value as it did 5 years ago?
Kevin, Utrecht, The Netherlands

William Kooser: I certainly think so. Over the past 30 years, the reputation of the MBA (and whether it remains valuable) has ebbed and flowed. There have been many times when the headlines suggested that ”the MBA is dead”. Yet we still see a growth in programs, a growth in the number of students and a growth in companies hiring our graduates. The skills, knowledge and relationships that you can build in an MBA program are incredibly valuable, more so today than ever before. Given today’s technological changes, global interdependence, chaotic financial markets and an uncertain future, the skills and insights of an MBA are critically important to a firm’s (and individual’s) success.

Della Bradshaw: If you look at the increasing number of managers applying for such programmes....then, yes!

Gareth Howells: It depends on how you define value. If it’s in terms of to what extent a business education can make you a better manager of people, products, resources and organisations, then the value of an MBA certainly holds, particularly if it’s from a school that helps you to understand how to make business decisions in an ethical and sustainable way. If you’re talking about return on investment, then that can still very much depend on the industries and organisations in which you are keen to work - for some it’s a must have to progress beyond a certain level, whilst others are still waking up to the value that properly educated managers can add to their performance.

After getting my bachelors degree in Economics about nine years ago, I joined an international electronics company and I was assigned to 3 different roles. Now I am Sales Admin and Supply Chain supervisor. Although, I decided to focus on supply chain management, in future I want to transfer to another industry. I want to apply for an MBA programme and my GMAT score is 710. I am preparing my application now. Please could you advise which one is better for me - MBA programme or EMBA programme?
Ping Zhou, China

William Kooser: Given your level of experience, you could conceivably go either direction. Most executive MBA programs look for students with 10 or more years or experience, so you might be slightly on the young side, but certainly you would be considered. Some of the issues you should explore as you try to determine the best type of program for you are:

1) What type of educational experience are you looking for? Executive programs will have students with more experience, full time MBA programs may give you more opportunity to engage in extra-curricular activities. You should spend time talking with students and alumni in each program you are considering to determine if you would “fit in”. You should also make sure that the faculty, curriculum and educational philosophy are in line with your own expectations. For example, do you want to specialize in an area or create a “custom” program with a lot of electives. Most executive programs have fewer elective options than full time programs.

2) Can you afford to give up an income to go full time? Most executive programs are part time.

3) What type of career change are you looking for? While many Executive programs now provide extensive career services support, you may find you have more time for a job search in a full time program. However, you should definitely discuss your career plans with the school before making a decision. While many students in both types of programs make significant career changes, it becomes harder the longer you’ve been in a single industry or function.

The bottom line is that either program could be a good fit for you. However, you should spend time fully exploring each program that you are considering, talking to as many people as possible to make sure it’s a good fit with your own background, career interest and educational needs.

Della Bradshaw: With a GMAT score of 710, the world is you oyster. But as you are probably in your early ’30s now, it is difficult to know which programme would suit you best.

If you opt for the full-time MBA route, you are likely to be older than most other participants, unless you go for a one-year programme. However, most one-year programmes do not include internships, which are a real opportunity for you to find out what kind of job you want in the future.

If you opt for an EMBA, you will also usually get the sort of career counselling that full-time students receive, but will not get a chance to work with other companies or sectors. The question you need to ask is whether you are prepared to give up your current job without any future guaranteed income.

Whichever route you choose, an MBA from a well-reputed school will give you the portable qualification you need when you look at your next job move.

Gareth Howells: As you are on the cusp of the number of years experience most Executive MBA programmes are looking for it will be important to look at the type of experience you have had since your first degree. Top business schools in particular will be looking for significant management experience accrued during that time rather than just ticking off a certain number of years. This is critical as the teaching will be pitched at a different level on an Executive MBA programme, which you have to remember is a different animal to a part-time MBA. As you want to change industries but not job function an EMBA programme at a School that offers career support could be just as effective as an MBA - although of course a two-year full-time programme always has the benefit of an internship to try out your options before committing to a new permanent job. Take some time to look in detail at the programmes offered by your preferred schools and make sure you fit their criteria as well as whether they fit yours.

What can Presidents of universities and Deans of business schools do to persuade EMBA candidates to get an EMBA degree and to realise their career dreams in the global recession?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

William Kooser: I don’t think that leaders of educational institutions ought to be promoting one type of program over another. I think most deans and presidents encourage continued education at all levels and in many different program types. Their role should be one of making sure that the values and approach of their institutions are consistent and that they are doing the best job possible in teaching, research and service. Leaders of any school or department should also outline the benefits of their programs. In the case of business schools, deans, admissions directors and other school leaders should provide prospective students with a clear sense of what the school stands for, how it approaches business education and what the potential return ought to be. This process should not be so much “persuading” as helping candidates assess their own directions, values and educational needs.

Della Bradshaw: It’s a tough one, isn’t it? But I think the answer is that a lot of people out there are worried about their future job security. And a portable qualification such as an MBA or EMBA will make you more employable if you need to find a new job, as well as helping you do better in the job you already have.

After graduating from an engineering college, I have spent the past 18 years in various technical roles and currently I work for a high street bank in its IT department in lower middle management. Do you think the effort and spending my own money for an EMBA are worth it to help me progress to a senior management role?
Ravi Bhatta, UK

William Kooser: There is no simple answer to your question. It really all depends on what your own career goals are, how your company views MBA education, and where else you might consider working. To my mind there is no question that further education will make you a better business person. You’ll have a new perspective on business issues, develop a set of skills and tools that you can apply to your organization and build a network with your fellow students that can serve you well in both your career and your personal life. The question remains, however, whether these benefits outweigh the costs of an MBA in both time and money.

The first thing you should consider is developing a career plan. What do you want to do and in what type of company? What organizations fit your goals? What skills and experiences have your managers indicated that you need? The next step is to determine whether an MBA is necessary to achieve those objectives. Do others in that organization have advanced degrees? Does upper management recognize the value of an MBA? Would they value your skills and experience more highly with the addition of an MBA?

If you find that the organizations you want to join (or, perhaps your existing organization) value the MBA and it’s clear that upper management would see you as more valuable with the degree, it’s probably a good idea to pursue.

Della Bradshaw: Reading between the lines it strikes me that you are particularly frustrated that your career has hit the buffers. This is a classic profile for EMBA applicants and many will attest to the fact that the knowledge and qualification have helped them move up in the world. If the cost is a big issue, you might consider a part-time or distance learning/online alternative, which are usually less expensive.

Although I will be working while completing my degree (no lost income), I am having trouble with quantifying the ROI (return on investment) of an EMBA. Please share your thoughts on this question.
Charles Ball, Radnor, PA, USA

William Kooser: There really is no guarantee of a particular ROI with any educational investment. However, most MBA graduates (full time, part time or executive) find that the investment is well worth their time and money. They look at business problems from a new perspective, understand issues that were unclear in the past, develop some significant friendships and develop the confidence to take on almost any role and function.

The specific return you can expect, however, depends on your own career goals, industry, personality and ambition. The best way to get a handle on the potential an MBA can provide is to talk to alumni, students and staff at schools in which you are interested. They can give you a general sense of what the degree might do for you.

Della Bradshaw: Yes, it’s a tough one, isn’t it? The problem is, there are very many different types of EMBAs with very different fees.

If you look at the data collected for the FT EMBA rankings, the top schools are the ones which attract the real high-earners, and after the programme they see substantial promotions and increases in salary. By our calculations, it would only take them two or three years to pay off their investment.

At the lower end of the table, alumni salaries are lower but so is the return from the EMBA. It would probably take four or five years to repay loans. However, after that, it is all pure profit!!

Our company is under severe cost pressure and hence is quite reluctant to invest in external education opportunities. Yet, I feel this may not be such a bad time to invest in myself and work towards a career ”jumpstart” when the crisis is over. Should I be willing to pay the fees myself and only ask my employer for study leave or would it be better tactics to fully concentrate on work and be a loyal soldier so to speak?
Roland, Germany

Della Bradshaw: A growing number of students are prepared to do this these days and all the evidence is that it is paying off. I think this is one of these very sensitive issues though. Will your boss see that as a positive move, or will s/he and your colleagues be resentful of the additional ”holiday” as study leave? Only you can decide.

William Kooser: This is clearly a question that only you can really answer. Investing in yourself is, in general, a good thing to do. However, you need to assess the timing of that investment by thinking through the likelihood of the company supporting your decision in the future, what your own future with the company is and how they will react to you devoting a significant amount of time and energy to an educational program.

Can EMBA students switch careers as the EMBA does not have an internship compared to the full-time MBA?

What’s the most significant advantage and disadvantage of the EMBA compared to the full-time MBA?

Does an EMBA student have full access and benefit of the school’s career service as a full-time MBA student? If an EMBA student is self-sponsored, will s/he have access to the service completely like a full-time MBA student.
Jeffrey, unknown

Della Bradshaw: Can EMBAs switch careers? Yes, one of the biggest advantages of any MBA programme is the networking. You will meet and talk to peers from other industries and types of job. Admittedly, not as effective as an internship, but useful nonetheless.

As to the advantage of the EMBA it is money - no need to give up the salary.

And yes, these days most students who are self-sponsored would be given access to career services like their full-time counterparts.

Gareth Howells: You need to check carefully at each school you are considering applying to what career support is available to Executive MBAs. Many now offer the same service as the full-time MBAs but as you want to change careers, you should check before you commit. An EMBA can certainly allow you to change careers, but as with all switchers, you will have to be prepared to take a side or even a downward step depending on the exact nature of the change you are looking to make. Yes an internship on a full-time programme can help in facilitating a change, although in company projects can have a similar impact and of course the usual high conversion rate of internships to permanent jobs is currently somewhat reduced. Whichever programme you go for, choose a school that will give you a network through which you can understand more about your potential new career and make the connections that will facilitate this and future career moves.

William Kooser: A) It’s certainly possible for an EMBA graduate to make a career switch. At Chicago Booth, we see students do it regularly. However, it is often more difficult for an EMBA student to do so. Not because they aren’t able to take an internship, but because after 10, 15 or more years in a particular industry or function, it’s harder for an employer to see what benefit they’ll provide in a new industry. What you need to do is work with the careers office to understand what skills and experiences are transferable to a new position and develop a solid explanation of why you want to make a switch and what you’ll bring to the new situation. Then you must work your network and take advantage of people that know your work and what you can accomplish.

B) At Chicago Booth, we don’t think of our programs as having advantages and disadvantages relative to other programs, simply different features. Our EMBA program targets older, more experienced students and its structure promotes a great deal of interaction in the classroom. Our full time MBA is very flexible and allows students to create their own ”custom” curriculum. Both are taught by the same faculty and lead to the same degree.

C) Every school approaches career support differently. At Chicago Booth, EMBA students have access to all the services of our careers office (coaching, workshops, job postings, seminars, company presentations, etc) except for the on-campus interviewing process. The on-campus interviewing process really isn’t appropriate for EMBA students. Companies that participate in on-campus interviewing are looking for entry level MBA hires - they are not the type of jobs that our EMBA students are interested in. EMBA students are more effective in their job search with a more targeted and individualized strategy.

I am an engineer and I would like to do an Executive MBA to move from a technical to a managerial role. I would like to know your recommendations regarding where to study for the masters.

I am originally from Madrid and know that several high rated schools offer programmes there (e.g., IE, Iese, Esade). Is it feasible to commute bi-weekly between Cologne and Madrid for the programme or would you suggest a German institution instead? In the case of the latter option, which German institution?

What are the companies valuing more: completing a masters or the institution itself?

Could you please share information about masters programmes focusing on the needs of industrial companies?
Zulema, Germany

Della Bradshaw: I’m not sure I can give answers on specific business schools, but here is some general advice......

You need to ask yourself what you want to do when you graduate and where you want to work. This will determine the location of the business school. If you want to work globally, for example, you might want to invest in one of the multi-campus programmes. If you know you will always want to work in Germany, that may determine that you choose a local programme.

As in all educational endeavours, the qualification you receive counts with employers, but so does the quality of the institution you attended.

Gareth Howells: Whilst I can make specific recommendations on which programme or school is right for you, I would say that commuting from one country to another to undertake an Executive MBA is perfectly feasible. Whilst it adds another layer of pressure on your resources, you should really try and pick the best school and programme for you based upon your current experience and individual career aspirations rather than just going local. This is a life long investment and you should consider the long term return against possible short term ‘pain’ of a commute – remember you will be associated with the brand of your chosen business school for the rest of your career.

Around a third of our EMBA class commute in from outside of the UK on a bi-weekly basis and whilst it obviously places some limitations on their ability to participate in activities outside of weekends and block weeks, it also provides an international perspective which can add considerable value to their overall experience. Think about what you want to get out of an Executive MBA in the short, medium and long term and don’t be afraid to go further afield if it gives you want you need.

William Kooser: Commuting is certainly possible, although you’ll want to look carefully at both the cost and the time off. Our program in London is designed in week long modules to reduce the number of trips and we attract students from all over Europe and the Middle East. Typically, it requires one trip every 5 or 6 weeks.

Deciding on the institution is really a decision you have to make yourself by looking at your own career goals, how schools are viewed in your industry and what your company thinks of MBA programs in general. There are many good programs throughout Europe that you ought to explore.

What is the Dean’s vision on the role of the EMBA educational program in human capital development for global businesses in a time of recession?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

William Kooser: In times of recession (or any other difficult time) those with more human capital will be better prepared to handle the ups and downs of the economy. They will have broader perspective, greater contacts, and the ability to create innovative solutions to whatever issues are facing their companies. Any program that enhances human capital can be a benefit in tough times.

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