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The 2009 open and custom executive educations rankings have one thing in common: both are topped by last year’s defending champion.

For Duke Corporate Education, it is a seventh consecutive year as the top global provider of customised programmes. Harvard business school enjoys top spot for the second time in a row in the open rankings, and also ranks as the best school overall.

From closer inspection of feedback given to the Financial Times – from course participants in the case of the open ranking, and individuals responsible for commissioning programmes for custom – there is little doubt as to the unanimity of both schools’ victories. Duke scored highest on seven of the 11 corporate survey criteria used in the custom ranking, including the one considered most important by survey respondents, achievement of course aims.

One senior executive and client of the school was unreserved in his praise: “The programme from Duke was outstanding. They partnered well with us to understand our business and desired outcomes. Execution was flawless – great design, staff, logistics, and venue. [The school] exceeded our expectations.”

Harvard’s performance was no less impressive. The Massachusetts-based school ranked in the top 10 for all 10 of the measures based on participants’ survey data. Comments from one happy participant described the experience as “the best education I have received in my life! Outstanding faculty and staff, outstanding participants and outstanding course material …a truly life-changing experience.”

While the very top of the tables was static, there were changes elsewhere. Insead burst into the top 10 in the custom ranking, climbing 15 places from 20 in 2008 to number five this year. The school’s progress was down to improvements across the board according to client feedback, reflected in significant progress on all of the corporate survey ranks.

It is a similar story for Esade. The Spanish school makes an impressive jump of 17 places to reach eighth in the custom table, joint with Northwestern University: Kellogg. The survey for 2009 also saw new entries for six schools: the European School of Management and Technology, Incae, Queen’s School of Business, University of Notre Dame: Mendoza, NHH/AFF, and the Irish Management Institute.

There were new entries into the open rankings too. Fundaçao Instituto de Adminisração, Kaist Business School and Edhec made their debut in 2009, while London Business School broke into the top 10 for the first time, achieving a rank of six. MIT Sloan School of Management was hot on their heels, reaching 10th position, from 19 in 2008.

Seventy-two different schools feature in the rankings in total, with headquarters in 26 countries. Data for participants on open courses show that the students are similarly diverse, at least in the sense that it is hard to define a typical student on an open programme. Students come from a variety of company backgrounds. When asked about the size of the organisation they worked for, 10 per cent reported that they were one of 50 or fewer, while 18 per cent were part of a workforce of 50,000 or more. The remaining 72 per cent were split fairly evenly between companies with 50 to 499 employees (23 per cent), 500 to 4,999 (26 per cent), and 5,000 to 49,999 (23 per cent).

The seniority of candidates is by no means uniform either, although many were at management level. The largest group was made up of those who described themselves as senior managers (28 per cent), while 20 per cent were functional managers, and 13 per cent were general managers. There were some more senior participants: 13 per cent reported they were managing director or chief executive of their company, and 10 per cent were partners.

Viewed by gender, the data on seniority show a slightly different picture. Overall, female students were in the minority, accounting for less than a quarter of all those who responded to the FT survey (24 per cent). In terms of job holders in more senior positions women are further underrepresented – females accounted for 14 per cent of those who described themselves as chairperson, 15 per cent of chief executives or board members, and 18 percent of board members.

The average age was 42. This reflects the seniority of attendees, and the time taken to reach managerial positions. Fifty per cent of those that completed the survey were between 36 and 45. A not insignificant proportion of participants were below this – 20 per cent were 35 or lower, including 6 per cent under 30.

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