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Seventeen years after receiving his MBA from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, Todd Loudenslager was back at school last month. The senior risk officer at US Bancorp’s consumer bank, now 51, was taking part in Kellogg School of Management’s Post-MBA programme.

The Kellogg programme is claimed to be the only one of its kind in the world – a three-week course, just for MBAs, that enables participants to catch up on developments in the business world and management thinking in the decade or more since they received their qualification, and brush up their leadership skills.

“My boss [Rick Hartnack, vice-chair of consumer banking at the Minneapolis-based financial institution] had said there was a need to get me into some kind of advanced education, something at a higher and broader level than bankers’ school,” says Mr Loudenslager.

Having been in manufacturing at the time of his original MBA, Mr Loudenslager’s focus then was on issues such as total quality management. Now he wanted to get immersed and up-to-date in service-related and customer-focused topics that are relevant to strategies being developed at US Bancorp.

Selam Demeke is also back at school, seven years after receiving her MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, Arizona. After a few years of work – including, most recently, market research – Ms Demeke, a 36-year-old Canadian resident, is looking to shift her career more into areas such as consultancy. To help achieve this she is taking the Post-MBA Diploma in Advanced Management, offered by Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.

“The Schulich programme is one of the few post-MBA courses available at business schools, and is useful for those considering a career shift and those who want to top up their educational experience,” she says.

These courses are not the only ways MBAs can refresh their knowledge. At the shorter end, for example, Ashridge Business School normally runs an MBA Refresher weekend every other year, although the next one will be put back a year until 2009 to coincide with the UK school’s 50th anniversary. The three-day course is primarily aimed at those who graduated some time ago, but Ashridge says the sessions and speakers are equally relevant to newer graduates.

Harvard Business School, meanwhile, has its three-day Breakthrough Insights programme, normally held annually and open to the school’s MBA and executive education alumni. Five different faculty each make a half-day presentation on new research. The school also has a week-long programme aimed mainly at women MBAs returning to the workplace, called A New Path.

For a more in-depth approach similar to the Schulich programme, Thunderbird runs a Post-MBA Masters in Global Management. The global syllabus appeals particularly to “people who have done their MBA but find themselves in a domestic rut”, says Jay Bryant, Thunderbird’s senior director of global recruitment.

Other courses may not be aimed specifically at MBAs but appeal to them as well as to non-MBAs. For example, the International Masters in Practising Management attracts quite a large number of participants holding MBAs, according to Rick Crawley, director of external relations and corporate communications at Lancaster University Management School.

The IMPM consists of five 10-12 day modules held around the world over an18-month period, and delivered by a consortium of business schools including Lancaster, McGill University in Montreal, the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, Insead in France and the Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy & Management.

Then there are any number of executive education courses with content that appeals to middle-ranking or senior executives who may have long since given up trying to get into the suit – or dress – they bought for their MBA award ceremony.

The leadership programmes at Henley Management College, for example, are popular with MBAs, as is the intensive, three-week, Advanced Management Programme. At Cranfield School of Management, also in the UK, short courses that attract MBAs include the Business Leaders Programme (five plus seven days) and the five-day Director as Strategic Leader course.

At ESCP-EAP European School of Management, which has five campuses across the continent, the Milestone executive education programmes are particularly attractive to MBAs wishing to move up to the next level of leadership, says Davide Sola, the school’s UK director. An example is the school’s three-day Advanced Leadership Workshop, which will include a new module from this year requiring an extra two days.

The need to catch up on new academic research and business trends is one obvious reason for MBAs to feel the urge to get back into the classroom. “One of the things that happens with MBAs, given how quickly knowledge is developing, is that your knowledge base can become potentially redundant,” says Ashwin Joshi, director of Schulich’s MBA programme. “So it’s very important to engage with your alumni on an ongoing basis to refresh and refine what they have learnt over the course of their MBA.”

Sometimes participants on advanced management programmes may even get a head start on others when it comes to exposure to new thinking. The author and business adviser Ram Charan, for example, has long been a teacher in programmes at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Recently, says Kip Kelly, Fuqua’s director of executive education, Dr Charan has been teaching from his new book on innovation* even before it hit the bookshops.

Refreshing leadership skills that may not have seemed so important to MBAs aged 28 or 29 is another reason to come back to school. Everyone would have taken some kind of leadership class in their MBA, says Brenda Ellington Booth, Kellogg’s academic director for executive programmes, but for those who were younger this would have been “interesting but not that relevant. Now you have more experience, you may be in a different industry, you have more direct and indirect reports, so we have a leadership week [the final week of the Kellogg programme].”

Narayan Pant, Insead’s dean of executive education, says a lot of MBAs come back to the school’s leadership programmes, such as Leading for Results and the Challenge of Leadership, for this very reason. “If you catch them four or five years [after receiving their MBAs] they will tell you they wish they’d paid more attention to their organisational behaviour professors, because it turns out those are the skills they now need most in the job,” he says.

For some students on the Schulich post-MBA diploma programme, there may be another reason for enrolling, says Dr Joshi. “Students from various countries have found that their MBAs were not being recognised for one reason or another in the Canadian jobs market, so this degree enabled them to gain that Canadian certification and made entry to the country’s jobs market easier.”

Stephen Burnett, Kellogg’s associate dean and director of executive education programmes, says that MBAs looking to refresh their leadership skills and catch up on new trends can “do their own thing if they want to, but you would have to take the initiative to do it”.

Other courses, including Kellogg’s own four-week top management programme for people running businesses, attract MBAs but are not designed on the assumption that participants have the qualification, he says.

“This means that you always have to revisit a few basics to ensure that everybody is up to speed,” says Prof Burnett. “With our post-MBA programme, we don’t have to do that, because we know what you had and can build on that.”

The Kellogg programme was a response to broader demographic trends – the passing of the baby boom generation beyond the range of executive education – and the huge rise in the number of MBAs being granted in the US, from 50,000 in 1980 to 150,000 a year now.

Inevitably, executive MBA programmes are for non-MBAs but Kellogg found that only 10-15 per cent of participants on its three- or four-week executive courses had the qualification, and the courses were designed for those who did not have one. “So why not design a programme for people of a certain age who do have MBAs,” says Prof Burnett.

With a huge potential population of MBAs to target, Prof Burnett asked Prof Booth to find out from faculty how much their course material had changed over the past 10 years. She discovered that course content had changed significantly, even if the title of the course may have been unchanged.

“Across all disciplines, there were significant numbers of faculty who had something new from a research perspective, or a key trend in terms of business basics, that they could talk about,” she says.

Prof Booth then designed a course around the core question: what does an effective leader who has an MBA need beyond the basics? What emerged was a course in two parts. The first two weeks are devoted to new research and topical themes, from the impact of the Sarbanes Oxley Act to sessions on hedge funds and private equity or US monetary policy. The course reconvenes five months later for the leadership week, and here again, there are plenty of new topics to discuss and ways to teach them.

The first course began in April last year, and the third one started last month, with numbers on each ranging from 11 to 15. Thirty people are booked for the programme that begins in September, but in the previous courses a number have had to postpone their involvement because of work and other reasons. Ages range from the late 30s to early 60s.

A three-week course, split into two sections, appeals to busy executives who are short of time. Mr Loudenslager had a weekend drive of nearly ten hours from Minneapolis to Kellogg’s complex at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, Chicago, but he was still in the same time zone, making it easy to stay in touch with his staff during the week.

The course is very intensive and Mr Loudenslager says it “very often felt like a firehose – one of the professors mentioned he was trying to condense a five-week class into about two hours.” But he says the time – ten hours of classes a day from Monday to Friday and half a day on the first Saturday – was used wisely, covering a wide range of topics deeply enough for him to know whether he needs to dig more deeply for himself in the future.

US Bancorp are paying the $23,000 for Mr Loudenslager to attend the Kellogg course, but not everyone who signs up to a post-MBA programme will be funded by an employer. The Thunderbird course costs about $36,000 for both the full-time and web-based versions and Mr Bryant says that, for the web-based version, some companies may not see the benefit in paying for a second masters degree, whereas they would pay for an MBA programme.

At Schulich, Ms Demeke is funding herself, paying about C$10,000 and working about 20 hours a week over two semesters. Will the course help her achieve her aims? “I certainly hope so,” she says “I have no regrets and I’m learning a lot.”

* The Game Changer – How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation. By A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan. Crown Business

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