Paul Hackwood is not your average graduate from an Executive MBA programme – an MBA degree for working managers. He is Archdeacon of Loughborough, in central England, with responsibility for 100 Anglican clergy in 180 churches. But Mr Hackwood has no doubt of the value of his Bradford EMBA.

“Quite a bit of the work I do is deciding strategy in the church,” he points out. Many of the human resource issues and even the finance issues he faces were dealt with on the programme, as was decision-making. But for this 47-year old man of the cloth there is one big difference between church and commerce. “Where business doesn’t fit in is in the values of the organisation.”

So much so that at one point he decided to get up and give the alternative view to one of the lectures, pointing out that co-operation rather than competition could be of more value.

It is a viewpoint participants on EMBA programmes may well hear more of in future. An increasing number of applicants are joining from non-traditional backgrounds. Doctors, research scientists, charity workers – all want to learn how to manage.

Even traditional students are becoming less financially hard-edged, says Marcus Schütz, assistant dean for the EMBA Global Asia programme at Hong Kong University. “Students are getting more of a community sense. They want to be responsible business people.”

The EMBA Global Asia programme was announced in June this year as a programme that linked three global financial centres – New York, London and Hong Kong. Given the current turmoil in world financial markets, the programme may seem ill-timed. Not so, says Ethan Hanabury, associate dean at Columbia Business school, which masterminded the programme along with HKU and London Business School. The original EMBA Global programme, ranked number one in the Financial Times rankings this year, was launched at the height of the dotcom boom in 2000 between LBS and Columbia. “We survived 9/11 when people said everyone would stop travelling,” he points out.

In Hong Kong, interest in the programme is impressive. “That region has been relatively unscathed [by the financial turmoil],” says LBS dean Robin Buchanan.

Increasingly, business schools are offering EMBA programmes in new locations. Just last month the Fuqua school at Duke University announced it would run two EMBA programmes in Dubai, London, New Delhi, St Petersburg and Shanghai within three years. One positive side effect of this may be that business schools are less subject to local crises, says Nigel Banister, chief global officer at Manchester Business School, which runs its EMBA in Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Shanghai. “If you operate on a global scale you are, to some degree protected,” he says.

Indeed, in Dubai, LBS has had to bring forward the start date of its EMBA programme. “We underestimated the demand,” says Lyn Hoffman, associate dean for EMBA programmes.

In Asia, there is a strong demand for EMBA degrees from entrepreneurs, according to Edward Buckingham, associate director of the EMBA at Insead. “There has been a surge in the number of entrepreneurs on the Tsinghua programme [the dual degree run by the Beijing school and Insead]”, he says. “This has been caused by the phase of development in Asia. Clearly, managers don’t want to leave their jobs to study.”

It is not just in Asia where the EMBA is gaining a reputation as the MBA of choice. In California, too, the growing number of high-class programmes is changing the perception about what many Americans used to consider a second-class, part-time degree. “They [EMBA degrees] are a newer phenomenon on the West Coast,” says Marjorie DeGraca, executive director for the Berkeley-Columbia EMBA. “More and more people are getting comfortable with the EMBA.” As well as the Berkeley programme, the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania now runs a programme in San Francisco.

Initially Ms DeGraca and her colleagues thought the joint degree would be the big attraction of the programme. “But it’s not so much the joint degree but the joint network,” she says.

The schools between them have 69,000 alumni across Europe, the US and Asia. Such networks do not come cheap. Many of the top EMBA schools charge more than $100,000 for the programme and that does not include the air fares to travel between locations. The Wharton programme in San Francisco, for example, now charges $159,810, including accommodation and food but not transportation.

The Wharton EMBA involves the same number of classroom hours as the full-time degree and there are no plans to change this, says dean Tom Robertson.

Other schools take a different view. Those studying on an EMBA programme are more mature and have greater work experience than traditional MBA students, says John Walsh, dean of faculty and staff at IMD. On the IMD EMBA the average age of participants is 38 or 39, he says, and that was taken into account when designing the degree.

IMD, like many other business schools, includes a work-based project as part of the programme. Unusually, however, it requires applicants to have completed its 10-week executive PED (professional executive development) programme, which teaches the nitty-gritty business basics, before they can apply for the EMBA.

One of the big differences between the full-time and executive degrees is that participants have to be very clear about the benefits they will receive from the EMBA because of their other commitments. “The fit element in EMBA is much more important than for the MBA,” says Eric Weber, associate dean for Iese Business School in Barcelona. “They’re doing 60 hours a week in their jobs, then 15 hours a week distributed learning and often family, small kids. Either they’re in the right programme or they jump ship.”

For Mr Hackwood, the value of the MBA was in using the best bits of business management to help in his pastoral career. “You don’t have to be a slave to the MBA, you have to use it as a tool – not let it become who you are.”

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