Customised executive education is a booming and dynamic business.

While it can take years to turn round a failing MBA programme, executive education course directors must be responsive to changes in client needs and move rapidly to adapt their offerings.

This means that the clients interviewed for the Financial Times rankings from year to year often experience courses which are very different from those ranked previously.

Along with the fact that small numbers of clients are interviewed, this means that the customised education ranking is inherently volatile.

None the less, more business schools are keen to be involved each year.

A total of 66 schools took part in this year’s exercise and 60 are ranked. In 2005, 58 participated and 50 were ranked.

At the top of the table, there is a remarkable degree of stability: Duke Corporate Education, IMD and Stanford Graduate School of Business occupy three of the top four slots.

Duke CE is first for the fourth year running, IMD is second for the third year and Stanford is fourth for the second year.

Their corporate clients cannot praise Duke CE and IMD highly enough. Duke CE ranked in the top three for nine of the 11 areas on which clients were asked to give feedback. IMD was ranked number one for its faculty, teaching materials and facilities. And it seems that clients will be back for more – they also scored top marks for future use.

These two schools can be justly proud of their top slots. The scores on which the rankings are based put them so far ahead of the rest of the field, that it would take giant leaps in its scores in order for any other school to catch up.

In terms of regional trends, the “custom” table tells a very different story from the “open” table. This year, purchasers of customised programmes thought that US schools did a better job than their European counterparts.

US schools dominate the top half of the table – of the top 10, eight are based in the US. A total of 24 US schools were ranked. Of these, three retained their 2005 ranking, 11 improved on it and six moved downwards.

The same number of European schools were ranked. Of these, only one, IMD, retained its 2005 ranking, while four improved and 14 slipped back.

There are a few notable exceptions to this downward European trend. HEC, un-deniably one of the strong players in this field, improves its standing each year and was the only other European school to appear in this year’s top 10.

However, the 2006 prize for most improved European school goes to Stockholm School of Economics. After a lengthy merger with ISL, a Swedish executive education provider, the new entity is making up lost ground. SSE has risen from 47th place in 2005 to 35th this year.

The graphs which accompany this piece show some interesting changes in the profiles of clients who purchased custom executive education in 2005.

This year, 4 per cent of purchasers had between 50 and 499 employees and 17 per cent between 500 and 4,999. Corresponding figures from last year were 2 per cent and 13 per cent. Small and medium-sized companies are recognising the value of this type of management education.

The sectors which clients operate in remain similar. In the 2005 rankings, 29 per cent of clients were involved in industry/manufacturing and 15 per cent in finance/ banking. The percentages are identical this year too.

In this year’s ranking, however, the percentage of clients involved in retail, leisure and consumer services overtook the percentage involved in IT, software and telecommunications.

The figures were 11 and 10 per cent respectively, as opposed to 8 and 12 per cent in the 2005 ranking.

This year we have also presented data on the types of programmes developed for clients in different regions.

It is interesting to note that in South America, the emphasis is on top-level strategic courses rather than lower level functional and technical programmes. The reverse is seen in Africa and the Middle East.

Of the 60 schools ranked this year, there are 24 each from Europe and the US. Four are from Central and South America, three from Australia and two from South Africa and Canada. China is represented by one school.

There are nine new schools in the ranking. These come from a broad range of countries and both South African schools are new to the ranking.

There are also five schools in the 2006 ranking that participated in 2004 but not in 2005.

These include the two top US business schools from the FT’s MBA ranking: the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Business School.

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