Ask the Expert: EMBA 2012

Could an Executive MBA help you in your career? Find out what our experts had to say in our Q&A

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Could an Executive MBA help you in your career? If so, how much would it cost? And how do you choose the right programme? These and other questions will be answered by the Financial Times’ panel of experts in a live Q&A session on Wednesday 17 October 2012, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST.

Send your questions now to and they will be answered during the live session. Or join the debate on this page.

On the panel are:

Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Bill Boulding is the dean and J.B. Fuqua professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the US. His previous roles at the Fuqua School include deputy dean, senior associate dean for programmes and associate dean for the daytime MBA programme.

Zhiwen Yin, associate dean at Fudan University School of Managment

Professor Zhiwen Yin is the associate dean of Fudan University School of Management in China, in charge of professional programmes and international cooperation. He is also the executive director of the EMBA programme.

Betsy Ziegler, associate dean of MBA programmes and dean of students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

Betsy Ziegler is associate dean of MBA programmes and dean of students for the Kellogg School of Management in the US. Before joining Kellogg in 2011, she served as a principal in McKinsey & Company’s Chicago office where she led the firm’s life insurance operations and technology practice.

Della Bradshaw, FT Business Education Editor

I am considering taking an EMBA but wonder if it will really make a difference? Would it perhaps be better for me to take a couple of executive courses instead? It would certainly be cheaper.

Betsy: In today’s complex environment, management education is more relevant than ever. In this case I could argue that now is a wonderful time to make the investment in an EMBA degree – to propel your career forward, to open up new and exciting opportunities and to become a leader who drives positive change.

By far one of the biggest benefits of participating in an EMBA programme like Kellogg’s is the ability to network with other executives – to learn from each other, exchange ideas and make deep connections that last beyond graduation.

For example, our EMBA graduates join a global community of more than 54,000 alumni and the Kellogg School and Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting recently announced the launch of the Executive Career Acceleration Programme (ECAP), a breakthrough approach in career management and leadership development.

All this said, it really depends on your professional and personal career goals. Perhaps executive education is the right choice for you at this moment in time (Kellogg also has a robust portfolio of executive education programming!)

Della: It depends what you are looking for. Certainly, executive courses could help you with specific issues, but may not give the broad sweep of business knowledge that you would get through a degree. Also, the people you will meet on the programmes will be different - one of the advantages that is always sited by MBA and EMBA graduates is the networking opportnities. And again, some people want to have a degree.

Zhiwen: From my experience, the EMBA programme did change the mindset of a lot of my students. They had the same concern before coming to the programme, but found the value of the education on the way. Compared to executive courses, the EMBA is a well structured programme, providing a broader view of management and preparing for the higher level of management positions. Meanwhile, most executive courses focus more on specific areas or topics. It really depends on your requirement.

Bill: It depends. Are you looking to remedy what you perceive to be a specific deficiency which is impeding your career progress? If so, a short non-degree course can be incredibly helpful. On the other hand, if you are interested in embarking on a transformational experience, an EMBA programme would be more appropriate. Of course, a transformational experience comes with substantially more commitment and effort on your part.

A lot of my colleagues in our London hospital are talking about MBAs because the NHS seems to think this is good idea. I have spent years studying to get where I am as well as paying the high cost. When I have looked at local part-time MBA degrees they look incredibly expensive and I am not sure whether the subjects taught will help me in my career as I want to stay in the NHS. Therefore I am very negative about what this MBA degree can do for me. Can you help?

Betsy: More and more prospective students are realising the benefits of an MBA degree beyond just salary and career development. An MBA degree has long-term value both personally and professionally – it’s really about taking yourself to a higher level: making deeper connections and broadening your professional network; gaining exposure to world-class faculty and innovative thinking; and, at Kellogg, enjoying global opportunities that come with being part of our EMBA network, with six campuses spanning four continents.

Bill: For anyone with specific career interests, it’s important to evaluate whether an MBA programme will be a good fit for your goals. Researching options and connecting with graduates to understand their experiences are critical steps.

The health sector is one of the most dynamic and intricate industries in the world - it needs leaders with both business acumen and exceptional insight into the complexities of the industry. Equally critical is the need for creative, new approaches to improve patient outcomes, access to care and cost management strategies.

A health sector management certificate has long been a part of our EMBA programmes because of our ability to leverage Duke University’s longstanding leadership in business education, research, and clinical care. In our experience these graduates become leaders of consequence within the global health sector.

Della: MBA and EMBA programmes in the US have long been attractive to medical doctors - indeed one of the growing trends in the US is for joint MD/MBA programmes.

Their attractiveness to the National Health Service in the UK is a more recent move, but I think it is understandable as NHS budgets are squeezed that there is a growing enthusiasm for doctors as well as administrators to have management skills, in areas such as human resource management as well as just the money side of things.

I am torn between two EMBA programmes. One - at a top school - will involve considerable travel to and from the school, the other is almost on my doorstep but is not that well known a school. Does brand and ranking really matter for an EMBA?

Betsy: Investing in an EMBA programme takes significant time, energy and resources. The return on that investment varies widely across programmes. You will have to weigh the personal trade-offs – further travel vs the quality of the programme – and decide which one is most important to you.

Brand matters because it brings with it access to some of the most brilliant minds in business, unparalleled leadership development opportunities and a powerful global network.

For example, Kellogg’s EMBA network includes partnerships with top schools in China, Israel, Germany and Canada. Access to a network of this calibre can make all the difference in one’s personal and professional development.

Della: You need to decide whether your primary goal is to learn more about business and so hopefully get promoted in your company, or change jobs. If the latter is the case, you need to consider the branding issue. Also, if you want your company to help pay for the course or, more importantly, give you time off, you will need to consider what they want as well.

Bill: A decision to join an EMBA programme represents a tremendous commitment of resources on the part of the student: finance, emotion, time. The rewards associated with this commitment can be extraordinary, unlocking both capabilities and opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. Such a decision should not be made lightly or overweigh short term considerations.

Thus, yes, in my opinion, brand and reputation do matter in a significant way. However, what is more important is understanding the substance behind the brand and reputation. Talk to the schools, talk to current students and talk to alumni. What makes the school unique? Will you get the transformational experience you expect and deserve given your particular aspirations?

Zhiwen: I can’t say brand and ranking matters for every programme. But overall, brand and ranking does tell something different for different programmes, especially for the programme on the higher ranking for certain consecutive years.

Talking about your case, I’d like to suggest you take a look at the programme content, maybe take an opportunity to talk to the alumni and students of each programme, and try to get more information about the difference of both programmes.

From a little research I can see that there is great difference between the cost of EMBA programmes. Are there any programmes that are too expensive?

Zhiwen: To my experience, the definition of the “EMBA” programme is very different in different schools. Some are really targeting the executive level, while some are only the regular part-time MBA programme, targeting mid or junior level managers. Therefore, the design of the programmes are different and the prices have to be different. So when you consider the education programme, you have take a look at its content: admission criteria, curriculum, etc.

Bill: As you note, EMBA programmes vary quite a bit in cost. They also vary in terms of return on investment. Whether some programmes are too expensive is really a personal assessment.

For example, the programmes which are globally focused are typically more expensive. If you aspire to a leadership role in a globally-minded organisation, these programmes may be well worth the added expense given the richness of the student experience.

Della: Business schools, in the US in particular, will tell you that they are not experiencing any price sensitivity in the EMBA market, though I know a number of top programmes have actually reduced or frozen fees this year. I guess these are business degrees and the schools can charge what the market will pay.

I am thinking of studying for an EMBA but when I have mentioned this to my colleagues in the office they have been very negative, and say that it will just mean they will have to take on part of my workload as I will be either away from the office for a lot of time or too tired to do my work. I work in a small team so I can understand this and don’t want to have to face resentment at work and be the cause of disruption in my team. I would like to ask the panel whether I should abandon my plans, or study full-time instead.

Zhiwen: For the EMBA education, you need the support of the company. As an executive, your leaving the company for certain days does not only signify an added workload to your colleagues, but also some potential risk to the company. You have to have the understanding and approval of your boss. You have to persuade him/her that the EMBA education will help the company in the long run.

Betsy: In the end, you should base this decision on your personal and professional goals. We offer many channels by which you can get a MBA – there are different choices and flexibility in how you can earn your degree, but a Kellogg MBA is a Kellogg MBA no matter which path you take. And we feel our MBA is differentiated by our distinctive culture, our academic rigour and our powerful, global community.

That said, it’s the velocity and “stickiness” of the learning curve in the EMBA programme that is the differentiator; what you learn in class today can be applied at work the next week. The programme offers a faster way to put theory into practice – it sticks more because it goes beyond book-learning alone.

Bill: It’s important to be sure your colleagues have a realistic view around the implications for your work performance. The reality is that there will be times when you cannot offer as much support as you would if you were not in an EMBA programme.

However, this is balanced against another, very positive, reality. While you are going through the programme you are building capabilities that have real-time returns. You can contribute more to your organisation because you can do more. We believe the overall result is a net positive for your colleagues.

Have Chinese programmes long been among the top in the world, or is this a recent and growing trend?

Zhiwen: EMBA education is relatively new in mainland China. Initially, the central government authorised 30 business schools to run the EMBA programme in 2002. So this year is only the tenth anniversary of EMBA education in mainland China. Because of that, Chinese EMBA programmes only recently appeared in the FT EMBA ranking.

But on the other hand, thanks to the fast economic development of China, and the efforts of lots of business schools’ professors and faculty in China, Chinese EMBA programmes have also developed and improved very fast. I believe you will see more Chinese EMBA programmes in the FT ranking in the near future.

Della: Chinese schools have been working for a very long time to get where they are. I remember back at an AACSB conference in Chicago in 1998 that a delegate from the Chinese government outlined the need for high-quality Chinese MBA programmes and graduates. Many have worked with top schools such as MIT Sloan, Harvard and Insead to learn how to do this. And of course, the EMBA is the degree of choice in China because so many top executives missed out on an MBA when they were in their twenties.

Bill: Historically, the MBA is a US-based invention. However, we are at a unique time in history in which globalisation has changed business - and therefore the business education space. In the midst of a changing global landscape, many US schools have been forced to rethink their models and boundaries as Chinese schools have emerged as prominent players in offering EMBA programmes.

We believe that it is important to be embedded and connected in key regions of the world. For us at Fuqua, China is certainly one of those places and our programme features a residency in China. However, we also think it is important to highlight how China connects to the rest of the world. Thus, we also provide students with residency experiences in London, India, the UAE, Russia and on our campus in North Carolina. The residencies give students the opportunity to experience business in these key regions deeply and personally, with a curriculum which uniquely explores these regions and how they connect with each other and the student as a global leader.

When thinking about an EMBA, prospective students should definitely consider a school’s emphasis on China and how it connects to other key regions around the world, as well as how the overall programme connects to students’ personal leadership challenges.

I’m concerned that my employer will not share my enthusiasm to embark on an EMBA, let alone consider partially funding my programme. How can I best persuade them that my studies would ultimately deliver value?

Zhiwen: It really depends on your career development plan, not only set by yourself, but also by your employer. If the employer plans to give you more responsibility, they have to help you to prepare for the future. Education is part of the preparation. They have to understand the investment of your education is also the investment of the company’s future.

Bill: This is an important question and you need to have a good answer given the investment your employer is making in you. You should have a discussion with current students and alumni to have them provide you with examples of how their EMBA experiences have produced both short-term and long-term returns to the sponsoring organisation.

Betsy: Institutional support – in terms of time to devote to the academic experience – is critical in pursuing an EMBA; in fact it is a requirement for admission to Kellogg’s EMBA programme.

The value proposition in attending Kellogg includes: a distinctive student culture, a powerful global community, leadership development opportunities and learning that can be applied real-time to your job. You’ll want to articulate these benefits to your employer – the programme has the potential of benefitting your organisation as much as it does you.

I have looked at several EMBA programmes, some require the GMAT test and others do not. At my age and with my workload, studying for an EMBA is enough hard work, without having to study for the GMAT before I can even apply. Are there any top schools that do not require the GMAT?

Della: Increasingly business schools are looking at different tests that will be equally good at predicting the success of particpants on EMBA programmes. Insead, for example, has already launched its own EMBA test and at the EMBA Coucil meeting in Paris this week, it was one of the hot topics. So, watch this space...

Betsy: Each institution sets its requirements for admission based on what is important to their decision making process. At Kellogg, we do not require the GMAT for admission. Given the average age of our EMBA students is 38, we heavily weigh the quality of an applicant’s work experience and their overall potential in our admission decision.

How are MBA programmes designed to cater to the unique needs of professionals seeking to change industries / careers following completion of the programme?

Betsy: Many students pursue an MBA degree to either change or accelerate their career trajectory. In full-time programmes this is often facilitated through internships during the programme.

For a prospective EMBA student who is considering a career switch (or an entrepreneurial venture), I would recommend learning more about the career management services at schools of interest to help guide this journey.

At Kellogg, for example, career coaching is available to all students. Self-sponsored students (and those with employer approval) are eligible for coaching on topics like job search strategies, resume writing, networking, interviewing and evaluating employment offers. A self-assessment tool is available to all EMBA students, and a career coach can discuss results. And career management workshops of both general interest as well as topical areas are scheduled throughout the year.

As I mentioned earlier, the Kellogg School and Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting also recently announced the launch of the ECAP programme.

Apart from China, the other major emerging economies are hardly represented in the ranking: only one school from Brazil, one from South Africa and none from India. Does this reflect a lower quality of business education in these countries?

Della: No, not at all - just that in those countries the educational needs and culture are different. The degree of choice in China is the EMBA, but in Brazil it is executive short programmes that are the most popular - Fundação Dom Cabral does very well in our Executive Education rankings, for example. In India it is the pre-experience PGP (post-graduate programmes) for those in their eary twenties that are the most popular.

I see that some established schools’ programmes have gone down in this year’s FT EMBA ranking. Is this a sign that their quality is declining, or rather that there is more competition these days from other parts of the world?

Bill: The 2012 rankings show that many traditional players dropped. This is a reflection of the competition intensifying in many key regions around the world. It’s also fair to say that 2009-2012 was a period of variable economic growth around the world.

The FT ranking shows that schools with heavy footprints in regions where growth has been quite strong were disproportionately successful in the current rankings. With this said, it’s safe to say every programme needs to up its game in terms of providing a student experience and a curriculum that matches the needs of students looking to be the leaders of consequence the world needs.

The world has changed business, and business schools have an opportunity to respond to those changes. In fact, since business is at the nexus of many fundamental challenges we collectively face, we have an obligation to prepare the leaders who will positively shape the world in responding to these challenges.

I work in the IT department of a large company and I am studying on an EMBA programme at a top-ranked business school. The other students on the programme are mainly men and I have been shocked by their attitude to me and the other women on the programme as they generally dismiss us out of hand. The other women on the programme say thry are used to this in their own companies, but I am not. What can we expect the programme directors and professors to do about this?

Bill: We need to find sufficient common ground so as to take advantage of our differences. The reality is that innovation and value will be driven through collaboration and co-creation which unlocks the creativity from diverse people and perspectives. We have a culture, known as Team Fuqua, which ensures these core values are upheld.

I am about to enrol on a part-time MBA degree. Is this as good as an EMBA? Also, are distance learning or online degrees as good as on-site degrees?

Della: Traditionally part-time degrees are more flexible, and participants can dip in and out as time schedules permit. The participants are also often of different ages and have different levels of experience.

For the FT EMBA rankings we require the particiants to begin and end the programme as a single cohort and for the programme to be a maximum of three years in length. Typically participants are in their late thirties or forties.

However, online technology means many of these traditional definitions are breaking down, and students who had to study locally in the past for logistical reasons, can now choose business schools further afield - even in different countries.

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