Executive MBA Q&A

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As the credit crunch continues, managers will be unwilling to give up a steady job to study for a full-time MBA degree. Is the part-time MBA degree or executive MBA the solution? And if so, what is on offer?

On Wednesday October 29 between 14.00 and 15.00 GMT, a panel of experts answered questions about studying for an Executive MBA on http://www.ft.com/businesseducation/asktheexpert/emba

On the panel were:

Della Bradshaw, Business Education Editor, Financial Times

Eric Weber, Associate Dean of IESE Business School

Julie Cisek Jones, Assistant Dean and Director of EMBA Programmes at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management


I attended an MBA part-time in SDA Bocconi between 2005 and 2007. It was mainly an online course, with a week of full time classes every two months. Do you consider this course an experience of international value?
Andrea Freddi, Milan?

Della Bradshaw: In order to compile the FT rankings we survey alumni who graduated from the programme three years previously - for the 2008 rankings we surveyed those alumni who graduated in 2005 (and usually began their programme in 2003). For this reason the SDA Bocconi programme is too “young” to be included. What I can tell you is that Bocconi is the most highly-regarded Italian business school internationally.

Eric Weber: I cannot answer for other schools or programs, but blended EMBA programs can be delivered to the highest available standards if designed appropriately and if the quality of participants is assured through a rigorous admission process. At IESE, for example, we designed the Global Executive EMBA, which is now delivered in two distinct formats –a bimonthly and a monthly format- in such a way that participants can maximize learning in a blended format combining face-to-face modules with intense distributed learning activities where collaborative learning takes place. These programs allow us to attract participants from all over the world, something that is more of a challenge in other program formats.

Julie Cisek Jones: The question of value can be an intensely personal one when it comes to education. Students should seek out and apply for programs that are most closely aligned with their individual needs and educational/professional goals. The value in an MBA program lies in whether or not it helps students achieve their personal goals. There is no “one size fits all” educational experience in the market.

At the Kellogg School, we believe there is a great benefit to a broad and intensive in-class educational experience which allows students to interact not only with the faculty, but with each other. It allows seasoned executives to bring their “real world” experience into the classroom and adds depth to the discussion. This is magnified by the multiple elective opportunities that students have at Kellogg programs around the globe, allowing them to mix and learn with able-minded executives from nearly every industry and functional expertise. Those students who seek a truly international experience should look specifically for programs that provide them with this type of opportunity.


My career objective is to move into one of the top five management consulting firms. I am 27 with 6 years of experience in consulting and telecom. Is it recommended to go for the EMBA (LBS) and how are young candidates with an EMBA perceived by the top consulting firms?
Ahmed, Dubai

Della Bradshaw: This is a difficult question to answer.........most top-notch EMBA programmes would require you to have a few more years of work experience before admitting you to their programme. However, I am sure most consulting firms would view an MBA or EMBA degree from any top schools as a valuable qualification.

Eric Weber: I cannot speak about the convenience of doing an EMBA at other institutions, something that you will have to determine for yourself, but I must caution that recruiting in EMBA programs is often very different than what happens in full-time MBA programs, where career changing and job hunting is common practice. Some EMBA programs do not offer formal Career Services, while other only allow participants that are not sponsored by their companies or with a waiver for their current employer to participate. I suggest you do your homework before applying to a school and see for yourself what degree of career services are offered. All good EMBA programs will offer some form of Career Development opportunities, either as part of the core program or as extracurricular activities.

Julie Cisek Jones: The answer again revolves around choosing the program that best meets your goals. Executive MBA programs are ideal for taking highly talented managers and broadening them into well rounded, exceptional leaders within their organizations. As such, the EMBA program tends to attract candidates who are a bit more seasoned than their full-time program counterparts. On average, they tend to already have their specialties well under their belts, and their motivation for going back to school is generally more related to building their strategic thinking and leadership abilities as opposed to concentrating on one or two functional areas.

Good Executive MBA programs will also give candidates solid elective opportunities so that they can concentrate on either stretching into untapped areas of interest, or filling individual gaps in their existing skill sets. Successful EMBA candidates who meet their career goals are able to combine the framework and insight honed in their studies and couple it with the expertise they developed before beginning their MBAs. As a result, they are able to bring more value to their organizations.


Can you please tell me why the Stanford University EMBA program Sloan Program is not listed here? The Stanford business school full-time MBA program is one of the best in the world. However, their EMBA is not even considered. Why?
James, San Jose, California

Della Bradshaw: At the FT, we define an EMBA as a degree for working managers - that is, participants are studying and working at the same time. Therefore, the Sloan programmes run at Stanford, MIT Sloan and London Business School are not included in the rankings as they are largely full-time programmes.


As someone living near London, I would like to study for a part-time MBA. Is a part-time MBA that common? The list [of degrees] seems to stretch thin around London... London is the destination I want. With so many people studying for an MBA, is there a risk of having a degree with a diluted value. Would moving to a specialised domain like mathematics combined with real world experience make more sense? I would also like to know if anyone working, are able to access an Executive MBA? Do you need to be in a high level executive position (e.g., Vice President) to enrol?
Andy Kwok, Oxford

Eric Weber: EMBA programs used to be local by definition due to the part-time format most programs offered. Location was the main determinate to do a program at a certain school. The better programs were at best regional. Now with the advent of cheap air travel and innovative program designs, the offer of EMBA programs with a global reach is increasing. A lack of offer in a local market should no longer be an impediment to do a program. At IESE, for example, our Global Executive MBA systematically attracts participants from 20+ different countries. This type of diversity was unheard of in EMBA programs until recently except for programs in cities with great international diversity. As far as doing the program while working, yes, most EMBA programs are fully compatible with participants holding a full time job. My recommendation is that you try to match your personal objectives with different program options and possibilities.

Your concern about the number of people that do an MBA and the risk of dilution of value is unfounded. One of the most scarce resource these days, even in times of crisis, is talent. Investing in developing your talent, be it in an MBA or any other specialization, will in general be a good investment for your future. You must of course know where you can maximize your potential; and yes, there are plenty of opportunities out there besides an MBA.

Julie Cisek Jones: There are certainly a number of MBA opportunities in the marketplace. Some are exceptional, others good, some less so. It makes the matter of choosing the program which is right for you all the more important. The admissions requirements of Executive MBA programs vary as much as the programs themselves. Almost all enrolled students complete EMBA programs while working. Top programs tend to have students who have progressed significantly in their careers, but quality of experience, as opposed to senior titles, are taken most into account during the application process.


I would like to know how to apply [for an EMBA]?
Narasimha Rao, Hyderabad, India

Della Bradshaw: You should contact the schools you are considering directly. They will have different application processes and requirements. In particular, some will require the GMAT test, others will not.

Julie Cisek Jones: At the Kellogg School, we strongly believe that those looking into educational opportunities should first determine their goals, and then embark on research. If candidates are to get the most from their MBA experience, it is of critical importance that they find the program that is the best fit for their personal needs. Visiting a program’s Web site is a start, but attending information sessions, visiting campuses, and talking with alumni and admissions representatives before applying can be key.

Once candidates decide to apply to the Kellogg School, they’re required to complete an online application. When making admission decisions, we look for a completed application, a minimum of two letters of recommendation, undergraduate and/or graduate transcripts, a letter of organizational support and a personal interview. These can be completed in any order.


How are GMAT scores, class hours relative to the full time programs, and percentage of courses taught by full time professors weighed in the rankings? Are these metrics indicators of dilution relative to the full time programs?
D. Wolin

Della Bradshaw: On the first part of your question......all the FT rankings are based on three things: the career progress of alumni; the international elements of the programme; and the ideas generation of faculty. Entry qualifications, such as GMAT scores, are not included. Most business schools who offer both MBA and EMBA programmes consider that the experience participants bring to the EMBA programme means that entry qualifications and teaching requirements will be different from the full-time programme. Wharton is arguably the only top-notch school that disagrees with this.

On the second part of your question......the FT uses PPP (purchasing power parity) rates to calculate salaries, not exchange rates. These are supplied by the World Bank.

US-centric programmes do not do as well as the cross-border programmes on the global metrics that we measure. When the FT rankings were set up more than a decade ago, the reason for doing so was to ascertain which business schools were educating the world’s top global managers.


I suppose that many of the financial experts who are working in the investments banks and insurance companies, have an MBA, but they could not have foreseen and avoided the current global crisis (started in the USA). What have American MBA schools learned about the crisis, in terms of transmitting a new concept of ethics in the financial markets to their students so to avoid such a crisis in future?
Oswaldo Prats Filho, Sao Paulo - Brazil

Eric Weber: MBA programs in general, including EMBA programs do not equip you with a crystal ball with fortune telling abilities, so anticipating events is not something that an EMBA program will necessarily teach you. What a rigorous EMBA program will do is provide you with a COMPLETE framework for decision making, including the ethical dimension for all types of situations and decisions, often ignored when making key decisions. Furthermore, many business schools, such as IESE Business School, are specifically committed to providing a transformational experience one dimension of which is precisely providing participants with the opportunity to delve as deep as possible into the whole ethical dimension of decision making and the responsibilities that come with taking on positions of leadership. There are many determinants to a crisis as the one we are living through now, but there is no doubt that one dimension of the crisis has been a lack of values, a certain amount of greed and a sense that once can get away with almost anything. The challenge all business schools now face, not just the American business schools, is to ensure we understand the core of the problem so we can develop relevant teaching material (cases, position papers, technical notes, etc.) and include the learning into our courses in an integrated way so that future generations of graduates are better prepared to stumble on the same obstacles again.

Della Bradshaw: It’s obviously too early for business schools to articulate what they have learned from this crisis but I am sure most of them - the best ones at least - have tailored their courses to deal with what is happening. What we know from previous ethical crises - such as Enron - is that business schools do adapt their core teaching to reflect these issues.

Julie Cisek Jones: Clearly, the unfolding economic conditions will change how business is done globally and there is already much to be learned from recent events. The Kellogg School has always placed high emphasis on the concepts of social corporate responsibility and ethical decision making inside and outside of the classroom.


I currently work for a leading investment bank and have been planning to apply for an Executive MBA at LBS for more than two years. Now, I feel I’m at the best age (28) and have the relevant work experience to obtain a new global position within my department. Asking for over $100k is not going to be best received considering the current financial markets. What advice and support in seeking funds from a business school would you advise me and other similar young executives in making a case now - despite the current global financial crisis?
David Carr, London

Eric Weber: Different business schools have different average ages in their EMBA programs so you will want to do your homework when applying to a business school in the attempt to find the school that best fits your needs and your profile.

As far as seeking financial support, two ideas come to mind: first of all there is an industry trend which suggests that fewer companies are fully sponsoring employees in EMBA programs, even before the crisis when the economy was buoyant. Employees are increasingly co participating in the cost, be it through paying some of the tuition, applying their bonus towards payment, sacrificing vacation time, etc. I suggest you approach your employer with a creative proposal that makes it attractive for both parties. Second, business schools will typically work with participants in seeking ways to make the EMBA proposition attractive to employers. At IESE Business School, for example, our Admission Mentors in the EMBA and Global Executive MBA program will provide participants with guidance in preparing their sponsorship proposal, a solid business case which details the benefits to both parties. We also provide networking opportunities so that prospective candidates can speak with alumni that have been through a similar situation and offer the candidate’s company the opportunity to speak with other companies that typically sponsor or cosponsor participants in our programs so they can share best practices for employee sponsorship.

Della Bradshaw: I can think of two arguments you can make. First, you can point out that investment in your skills is essential as ethics come under scrutiny. Second, you can plan out a project to do as part of your programme that will bring real (financial) benefit to your firm. If your firm had planned to expand globally, for example, it might be prepared to pay for you to study on one of the global programmes that rank so well. This would help develop contacts as well as local data and put the firm at the head of the pack when they decide to expand in the next year or so.


Is it worth studying for an EMBA in Hospitality? Which schools provide this programme?
Danut Mehedintu, Geneva, Switzerland

Della Bradshaw: That depends on whether you want to remain in the hospitality industry. If you hope to change careers in future a more general programme might be appropriate.


Who could have avoided the current crisis? What could an EMBA student have predicted and done? Would an EMBA student have the courage to raise a flag to show something was out of control?
Alexandre Cantelli Bergamo

Eric Weber: At some point in the future it will be easier to answer your question on what could have been done, when with 20/20 hindsight we have a better understanding of what went wrong and what could have been done to avoid a similar situation.

As far as what an EMBA student or graduate could have predicted and done, it is dangerous to generalize or deal with this issue in a generic way. Decisions are most often personal, made by a specific person, with or without an MBA or EMBA. Issues such as integrity, courage, determination, a sense of justice, etc., are personal attitudes and values that you either have or don’t. Yes, EMBA programs will help you understand how these attitudes and values have to play in your decision making framework, they can help you develop in the ethical dimension of decision making, but programs cannot instil them in you against your will. At IESE Business School we try to get our participants to understand the consequences of their decisions, at all levels, and as such would expect that the PROBABILITY any given alumni would raise a flag, as you suggest in your question, be higher after they have been through the program than before, but I insist that this is a personal decision and choice and not an automatic behavior driven by having done a program.


Given that EMBA cohorts typically have longer career histories, are they seen as more difficult candidates when companies come to hiring MBA's?
Mark Wilson, UK

Eric Weber: I would like to clarify that companies do not typically come to hire EMBA students because recruiting in EMBA programs is often very different than what happens in full-time MBA programs, where career changing and job hunting is common practice. Some EMBA programs do not offer formal Career Services, while other only allow participants that are not sponsored by their companies or with a waiver for their current employer to participate. All good EMBA programs will offer some form of Career Development opportunities or at the least Career Planning Guidance, either as part of the core program or as extracurricular activities.

Della Bradshaw: I think one of the really big issues in relation to EMBA students relates to their motivation in choosing the degree. Many will be like their full-time counterparts - they want to change their job, either by moving to another company or into another sector. Others will be looking for promotion in their existing company. One of the big changes in recent years has been that business schools are now providing career services to executive students as well as full-time participants.


What is the benefit of an EMBA over a distance learning course? Given that cost is often closer to a full time MBA but you are missing out on the key element of building up a deep link with classmates.
Richard, London

Eric Weber: I cannot speak for the quality of pure distance learning MBA or EMBA courses. There is a tremendous variance in the quality of those 100% DL programs. What I can speak for is blended programs, programs that combine face-to-face sessions with technology based distance instruction. There are a host of first class blended programs; one example is IESE’s Global Executive MBA. The advantage of these programs is the flexibility that the program format allows for. Distributed Learning is not limited to content distribution but designed around collaborative learning where faculty and participants engage in lively case discussions, simulations, team projects, etc. One thing to evaluate when looking at blended programs is whether full-time core faculty, the same ones you see in the face-to-face classes lead the on-line component of the program, as is the case at IESE Business School, or if it is lead by teaching assistants, adjunct faculty or doctoral students.

Della Bradshaw: I really think you are wrong on that one. Not only do EMBA students spend time on a regular basis in the classroom with their peers but most EMBA programmes are designed to require participants to conduct projects together electronically between sessions.

Julie Cisek Jones: You have really hit the nail on the head. A very tangible benefit of an Executive MBA program is the opportunity for peer learning and networking. The mix of experienced professionals in a dynamic classroom environment would be difficult to replicate in an online format.


Are the EMBAs seen as diluting the significance of the MBA degree, or is where either degree is earned (on-line, small college, big university) is the true factor in determining the value of the degree?
John Paone, Philadelphia, PA (USA)

Eric Weber: Not all MBA programs are created equally. The same applies to EMBA programs… There are MBAs and then MBAs, just as there are EMBAs and then EMBAs. An MBA degree from a good EMBA program can be as “valuable” as a MBA degree from a full-time MBA program. That is why doing a thorough job in the school selection process and application process is so important for candidates. Not every candidate is a perfect fit for every school, and likewise, no business school or program is a perfect fit for every possible candidate. I encourage you to work your way through the rankings, through the different business school web pages, through the program brochures, to talk to alumni of different programs, to engage in an open debate with the admission mentors at different schools… and if possible visit the short-list of schools you end up with. If you do your job right, you will find the school and program that is “perfect” for you, and that fit will add incredible value to “your” EMBA experience.

Della Bradshaw: I think you hit the nail on the head there - where you earned your degree is what counts.

Julie Cisek Jones: The value of a degree is firmly locked in two things. The first is its ability to meet your individual educational and professional goals. The second is the reputation that the school earns based on the intellectual capital of its faculty and the success of its alumni. Some students’ educational/professional goals can easily be attained at small universities or online programs which help them address functional weaknesses or earn baseline accreditations. Other students are looking for a deeper, more intense experience that can help catapult their careers to a higher level.


What can Deans do to avoid the global crisis of confidence, and even restore the confidence, in the EMBA educational programmes among the managers at leading business schools worldwide?
Viktor O. Ledenyov, Ukraine

Della Bradshaw: I don’t think this is a question that relates directly to EMBA programmes, but to business education more generally. I think the Enron saga a few years ago created some real issues in the way business was perceived and I think this current crisis will undoubtedly do the same for banking. I think the problem will be particularly acute in the US, where many young people who are completing their undergraduate degrees will be choosing what they want to study at graduate school. There has always been a rivalry between business schools and law schools, for example. To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer is.

Julie Cisek Jones: Executive MBA programs are particularly well suited to help arm the next generation of senior leaders within organizations large and small with the broad-based decision making skills they need to compete in today’s global environment. The issues of business are multi-dimensional, and decisions cannot be made simply on a single area, or a perceived bottom line. A well rounded curriculum, such as the one offered at the Kellogg School, is vital in helping students effectively address challenges and opportunities in an ever-changing environment.


I graduated 8 years ago with a degree in Industrial Chemistry and it’s been incredibly difficult to get ahead career-wise, but against all odds I've been able to train myself in IT & Business. Currently, I am contracting mostly for Telecoms & Financial services firms. I started on this path mainly because I wanted to learn how to provide services to blue chip companies and also be able to make enough money to do an Executive MBA which I believe will help me as I plan to go back to Africa to build a business. Now, it seems the combination of my academic and work experience does not fit with the typical MBA applicant and I'm really struggling to get admitted to a very good school. I've turned down admission for lower ranking schools because I'll like to do my MBA at a top 15 B-School. This is very important to me because I plan to go back to Nigeria/Africa to run a business and contribute to socio-economic development. It’s only the top schools that have got the programme depth and incredibly valuable networks that will help me achieve this. How do I present my story to convince admission boards that I deserve a place on their MBA (I've decided to take the GMAT) as I believe I have so much to offer and my career goals are very clear to me.
Ope, London

Della Bradshaw: Well, I think you made a pretty good case there! I have two pieces of advice really. The first is to work hard on your GMAT score. The second is to consider whether studying in Nigeria might be the answer. There are some great business schools there these days and his would help you develop local contacts.

Eric Weber: Taking the GMAT and getting a good test score is definitely a good first step to take, but not the only one. If you truly would truly like to return to Africa / Nigeria, you should seek a school that has ties with your country or that at least has an alumni base there. An alternative is of course to do your MBA or EMBA locally. IESE Business School, for example, has been collaborating with the Lagos Business School since its founding in the early 90s, and many faculty members from our school travel there. Recently we have also started to collaborate with Strathmore Business School in Kenya, also in their EMBA program. We also host an exchange week with Lagos Business School at our Barcelona campus. Furthermore, we have a small, but relevant alumni network in your country and also other African countries.


Being in IT as a Senior Consultant (Contractor) - I have found it really hard to find an EMBA that suits working time. Even the well known LBS also have classes on Fridays which directly affects our earnings and employer. Why can't the EMBA have classes in the evenings and weekends? And being a contractor, how can the EMBA compensate on taking a full time job after completion? The rate of return seems to be negative most of the time. Also, the fees seems to be very high which varies in between 40k to 45K. Any possibility in reducing this in the recession period?
Srini, London

Julie Cisek Jones: Part of the success of the Kellogg School’s Executive MBA Programs stems from a unique partnership between our school, the student and their organization.

For those students who are entrepreneurs, or self-employed, the decision to invest in their personal and professional development clearly has significant economic ramifications. If measured in the short-term, I can see how you would have trouble understanding an EMBA’s immediate financial value. However, education is an investment in both your current abilities and your long-term future. You should begin to see some immediate benefits in your ability to apply what you are learning over the weekend, right back into your projects or client sites on Monday. But more than this, students see how their thinking and ability to strategize matures over the course of a program and soon they find that they are making better, faster, stronger decisions on behalf of themselves and their organizations.


What are the reasons for not doing an EMBA? When time, energy and money are better spent in other direction?
M Sánchez

Eric Weber: As almost everything in life and business, we are faced with tough choices, sometimes between two wonderful alternatives. We are permanently making decisions on resource allocations, be it time, energy or money. I feel particularly proud of the 500+ participants that we have at IESE Business School every year enrolled in one of various EMBA and Global EMBA formats. They are all hard working professionals, many of them with a family of their own, mortgages to pay, limited resources and time, and they are putting in a lot of effort to complete their degree. The same is true for thousands of EMBA students throughout the world. If you truly feel that you can spend your time, energy and money in other directions and in doing so can fulfill your professional and personal goals, then by all means do so! Maybe an EMBA is not for you.


I'm a UK resident. What's the benefit of attending a school like Kellogg, which is so far away, over attending a strong program like LBS, which is essentially in my own backyard?
Margot, unknown

Julie Cisek Jones: The Kellogg School offers an unmatched Executive MBA program which truly brings together the best of the best. We have an extraordinarily talented, seasoned and diverse student body which is led by a truly world-class faculty. Our curriculum not only allows students to dig deep in their understanding of the major functional aspects of business, but allows them to learn to make better decisions in a truly global environment. In addition to those courses which are a part of our core EMBA curriculum, students take part in a series of international classroom experiences in which our global student body is brought together to address global topics. During these international experiences, students from around the Kellogg network (North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East) closely collaborate - both in the classroom as well as in study groups - which allows the curriculum to be further enhanced by the experiences of those in the room. It’s an amazing experience.

Additionally, many Kellogg students actively seek to take an educational opportunity outside of their “backyard” to further enhance their ability to broaden their perspective. Most students enjoy the opportunity to broaden their professional network outside of their traditional boundaries. Over the years, the Kellogg School has had a number of students commute from the UK and Europe to complete their MBA on either our Chicago or Miami campuses. Additionally, the Kellogg network allows students who may transfer from the UK to the US, or Asia, Latin America or other parts of Europe or the middle east to transfer between campuses should the need arise.

This level of flexibility, coupled with our global offerings, are what make the Kellogg School unparalleled.


Why should I come to the U.S. to get my MBA? How is the American b-school experience different from the European one?
Margot, unknown

Eric Weber: As stated in a previous answer, location used to be one of the main determinates for doing an EMBA program given the part-time format. Today, location is less relevant in terms of the program itself and to a certain extent the EMBA experience, mainly because many programs take place in various countries / continents. The Global EMBA at IESE, for example, has residential modules in Spain, the USA, China and India.

One aspect to consider is of course the network that you establish. While most top ranked programs have a very diverse student body, and thus, you develop a worldwide network, the continent on which the programs is hosted (Europe, America and Asia) will determine where the strength of that network lies. Therefore, more than just considering the EMBA experience alone, put all your professional and personal objectives into the equation and try to make the adequate decision.

Julie Cisek Jones: At the Kellogg School, our Executive MBA curriculum is a strong combination of intellectual rigor with business relevance which equips our students with the tools they need to address the every changing business environment. This seems appealing to students in both the US and abroad.

Our experience has been that students who travel across borders to do an MBA are generally looking for a more global experience and a strong peer network. In addition to their core curriculum, all students participate in at least one intensive global live-in opportunity, where students immerse themselves into courses of global concern in partnership with executives from our global partner programs. In each instance, the topic matter is designed to augment the diversity in the classroom. Students take courses with an internationally diverse student body, such as Cross-Cultural Negotiation Strategies or Crisis Management, which allow them to learn how business is done globally. This difference takes any business school experience from simply being a European or American experience, to one which provides students with a global mindset.


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