Ask the Expert

Could an executive MBA help you in your career? If so, how do you choose the right programme? The Financial Times’ panel of experts answered readers’ questions in a live Q&A session on Wednesday, 22 October 2014, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST.

On the panel were:

Xiongwen Lu, dean of Fudan University School of Management in China

Professor Lu is the dean and a professor of marketing at Fudan University School of Management. He received his PhD in economics from Fudan University and was a research fellow and visiting scholar at Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business, MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University. His research interests cover marketing, corporate reorganisation and change management.

Peter Tufano, Dean of the Said business school Oxford, is pictured at the London FT building.
Peter Tufano, dean of the University of Oxford Saïd Business School in the UK

Peter Tufano is the Peter Moores dean and professor of finance at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, where he has led the development of the new Oxford 1+1 MBA Programme. Before joining Oxford, Prof Tufano spent 33 years at Harvard, most recently serving as professor and senior associate dean at Harvard Business School, as well as the co-founder of the Harvard University Innovation Lab (i-Lab).

Della Bradshaw

Della Bradshaw, FT Business Education Editor


Click on the questions below to view the answers.

Q1) Is an executive MBA viewed in the same light as a full-time MBA? Also, I have noticed that the average age of the executive MBA tends to be higher. Does this mean it isn’t necessarily suited to a younger candidate like myself?

Q2) As a 20-something candidate, would an EMBA be valuable to me?

Q3) What is the likelihood of someone with eight years of work experience getting a summer internship? How would employers view an EMBA candidate vs. a full-time MBA candidate?

Q4) How would you describe the typical EMBA student today? And how would you summarise the impact the programme has on their career?

Q5) What do you think of the online programme created by Jack Welch? Are online programmes ever as good as traditional ones?


Q1) am a 25 year old business analyst working in financial technology and looking into the possibility of getting an MBA. Is an executive MBA viewed in the same light as a full-time MBA? Also, I have noticed that the average age of the executive MBA tends to be higher. Does this mean it isn’t necessarily suited to a younger candidate like myself? ~ Ciaran


Peter: At Oxford, we only have one MBA degree, which runs in a one-year full-time format and in a 21 month modular format, with the latter adapted for executive students.

It is important to consider what is most important for you at this time in your career. Do you want to take time out to to study while you decide if your career should take a new direction, or would you benefit more from being able to take your newly acquired knowledge back to your day to day role?

Our executive and full-time MBA programmes are equally rigorous. Executive and full-time MBAs from the world’s top schools are well regarded in the market. Executive MBA students tend to have more experience, with responsibilities which lead them to prefer the modular format.


Xiongwen: Yes, you are right. The MBA programme is appropriate for younger professionals who are pursuing their career growth for the future. EMBA students have already established their career path and most are in management roles at middle or higher level.

Of course, MBA and EMBA courses are almost the same. But EMBA students don’t have much time, therefore the course is designed in modules or delivered at weekends, which is a more intensive learning experience. This also leads to the preference that EMBA students have the similar backgrounds so they can learn from each other.


Della: The reason executive MBAs enrol older participants is that they often have fewer contact or teaching hours than a traditional campus-based MBA - the Wharton EMBA is the only case I know of where the teaching hours are the same.

The reason for this is that more senior executives probably no longer need the basic business training of younger participants. So, if you are still in your twenties, an MBA is probably your best bet.

That said, there are lots of different MBA models emerging now. Thorough research is needed by anyone looking into this.


Q2) I am currently 28 and thinking about getting an MBA to enhance my career and earning prospects. I’ve recently considered EMBA programmes because of the opportunity to learn and network alongside mid-career professionals… As a 20-something candidate, would an EMBA be valuable to me? ~ Richard


Peter: An excellent full-time MBA should give you the opportunity to network and learn from a culturally and professionally diverse group of managers. Many of our full-time students already have several years’ work experience and the discussions in class reflect this diversity. They also become part of a wider university network and benefit from the experience of Oxford alumni all over the world.

At 28, you would be among a very small group of younger executive MBA students but you would have many more peers in our full-time MBA programme. On average, our MBA students have five years’ professional experience and are 28 years’ old. The average age of our executive MBA students is 38 with 15 years’ experience.


Xiongwen: All MBA and EMBA courses are almost the same. Only the course time is differently scheduled, with EMBA courses taking place at the weekend or on a module basis. This is a more intensive schedule.

At 28, I think you can choose either the full-time MBA or a part-time EMBA, and the latter is preferable if you are already in a middle-level management role. This means that you are a potential leader.

However, if you are not in the management role, but an engineer, analyst, etc, I think an MBA is more appropriate to you.


Della: My concern would be that the type of programme that would accept you at 28, would not match the quality of full-time programme that might accept you. It will be up to you to make the case that you have the level of experience needed to contribute to an EMBA programme. It is as much about what the other participants can learn from you, as what you can learn from them.


Q3) I am a first-year MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (London campus). I work for a government organisation and have been partially funded (no employment commitment) to attend this programme. I am 32 years old with eight years of work experience primarily focusing on project and infrastructure finance. I chose to enroll onto an executive programme because I could not afford to attend a full-time MBA programme. My primary reason for doing an MBA is to switch employer. I am trying to adopt a non-traditional EMBA career path route by actively pursuing summer associate positions with investment banks. What is the likelihood of someone with eight years of work experience getting a summer internship? How would employers view an EMBA candidate vs. a full-time MBA candidate? ~ Ali


Della: Thank you for your question Ali. I would have thought the chances of you getting such a role would be very good indeed. You need to talk to the career councillors on your programme about this. I would have thought the bigger problem would be to get the time off from your existing employer.


Peter: Employers use internships for two reasons: to get a specific piece of work done and/or to test out a person for a possible future position. Your experience should be a plus for certain employers seeking fresh insights. For example, banks which fund large scale projects or large real estate projects would likely find your government experience on these projects valuable.

Our MBAs who have the same amount of experience as you, routinely find internships or work on summer projects with interesting firms. In general, it is less common for executive MBA students to seek or be given internships, but at Oxford many of our students use their required entrepreneurship projects as a way of opening up new opportunities with potential new employers or new sectors.

The process of researching and collecting information on a new initiative or a new business can bring you into contact with potential employers who may be interested in your experience. The executive MBA students also benefit from contacts within the class. For example, I met with one of our executive MBA alumni who transitioned into a new career by leveraging the connections within his class.


Xiongwen: I fully understand your situation and concern. In China, we have a much larger size of part-time MBA students than full-time MBA students because most of the part-time students can’t afford quitting their jobs and they are successful in their careers.

However, among part-time MBA students, some still switch their jobs upon graduation. Because their undergraduate majors are engineering, science or liberal arts, they really want to change their career path after their MBA so that’s why they take internships or any other kind of part-time job, in order to prove or testify they have the potential for a new career path. But it’s not easy, even after their graduation. It takes time to experience the new job, such as in investment bank, commercial bank or consulting firm, and justify whether they like the new job or not.


Q4) How would you describe the typical EMBA student today? And how would you summarise the impact the programme has on their career?


Peter: The Oxford Executive MBA students come from every walk of life and from over 30 countries around the world, so there is no “typical” student profile. No country dominates our programme and everyone is a “minority.”

Our students do share some characteristics though. All of them are at a transition point in their careers where they know they can make a difference to their organisations and achieve even more than they have so far. They are curious and ambitious, and impatient to lead change. Compared to full-time students, executive MBA participants will typically have more professional experience, but this could be as successful managers in large corporates, the public sector or as entrepreneurs. Many of them go on to dramatically different and exciting careers after their MBA programme.


Della: We get a pretty clear picture of today’s EMBA students from the survey of alumni we conduct in order to compile the FT EMBA rankings.

What is very clear to me is that the motivation behing EMBA participants is changing radically. The EMBA used to be the passport to the corporate board, with companies sponsoring their managers to study. Now individual managers are bearing the costs themselves in order to be able to use the qualification as a passport to a new company, a new sector or even a job in a different sector. So today’s EMBA participants are much more like the traditional MBA student.

Do they get the same salary hike as their MBA counterparts? It is not dissimilar.


Xiongwen: Acutually different countries and schools have different interpretations and requirements for EMBA students. In general, they should be senior in their career path, in mid-level managerial roles. In China, EMBA programmes usually recruit executive-level managers of big companies or owners of the small or medium-sized companies.

EMBA programmes have different impacts in different conturies. Mature markets, such as the US and Europe, adopt EMBA education as a supplement to the MBA education. While in emerging economies it’s parallel to MBA programmes, which means they make a much bigger impact on economic growth than the regular MBA programmes.


Q5) What do you think of the online programme created by Jack Welch? Are online programmes ever as good as traditional ones?


Xiongwen: Online business education is the future, definitely. However, as a business educator, I would like to be more realistic. In short-term, I believe the kinds of tech-knowledge courses, such as mathematics, statistics, financial engineering, even accounting can be delivered online by good instructors.

However, in-class education is more about interaction between faculty and students and between peers students, which can’t be fully actualised and supported by the internet and other current technologies.

To some extent, EMBA and MBA education are more about the learning process of cross-peers as well as between faculty and students , which needs creation of chemistry. But in long run, technology can make any changes and make any differences.


Della: Jack Welch is quite candid about his own EMBA. It is not competition for the likes of Harvard or Wharton, he says, but for those that don’t have the time or the money to attend those top universities. He also describes the programme’s “Achilles heel” as the lack of engagement between participants.

Online degrees generally do provide a valuable education, but one that is different from a campus-based programme.


Peter: I don’t know the Jack Welch programme well enough to comment, but I believe that a purely online programme will not deliver the rich experience of a more traditional programme. At Oxford, our model is to deliver an educational experience where the business school and our programmes benefit greatly from being embedded in the university.

We think that face to face education, both in the classroom, over dinner, on sports fields and elsewhere - with people studying business, law, sciences or the humanities - produces rich outcomes.

For example, if you want to work on an entrepreneurial venture, it is useful to connect with scientists and engineers with new ideas. Deep connections with classmates are likely cemented in person. There are many virtues of an online format - we in fact deliver some of our material online - but there is far more to be gained from a business education that includes a substantial face to face element.

Get alerts on Massachusetts Institute of Technology when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article