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Executive MBA can only go up

A change in attitude by employers means that the EMBA is enjoying a surge in popularity. Widget Finn reports

BUSINESS schools are reporting strong demand for executive MBA (EMBA) programmes designed for senior managers and high-flying younger executives.
The market is up by 31 per cent since 1995, according to the Association of MBAs, and over four years has enjoyed an average annual 5 per cent rise. Since the 2000 launch of the Global Trium Executive MBA, by New York University’s Stern School of Business, the LSE and HEC School of Management, Paris, applications have jumped by more than 140 per cent.
Matt Symonds, co-founder and director of the World MBA Tour, says: “High-fliers get to their later thirties and want to catch up. Now they can do a part-time programme and fit it round their career.”
There are other, more complex, reasons says Sri Srikanthan, programme director for the EMBA at Cranfield School of Management. “Twenty-five years ago, the MBA was a risky proposition and people weren’t keen to be pioneers. By the 1990s, it was well established, but the biggest challenge to students was the cost. Now they don’t have to take a financial risk by giving up their job, but the scarce resource is time. An executive MBA gives the flexibility of studying and working, too.”
Steve Gibbs, business development manager for the trading charity STL Distribution, had a pragmatic motive for doing an EMBA at Lancaster Business School. “I wanted to keep my job. I travel a lot, so a one-week module every two months could be fitted into my schedule. As the group lives together during the programme there’s lots of socialising and discussion after the day’s work, which you wouldn’t get on a part-time course.”
Srikanthan sees a change in employers’ attitudes. “They now see the MBA as another way of retaining or motivating high-flying managers. One of our client companies estimates that if it fully sponsors an individual on an MBA programme at a cost of £32,000, the outlay is recovered if the manager stays in the company for three to four years. When he or she leaves within two years the recruitment costs will be far in excess of that sum.”
While an increasing number of students are self-sponsored, they all have company backing in the form of time off to do the programme. Symonds says: “Ten years ago, sending a star employee on an MBA course might be a reward for good service. Now companies have more sophisticated training needs and realise that it is to their advantage to become involved.”
The main feature of an executive MBA is that students apply what they learn directly to issues in their own organisation. The format, usually five days’ concentrated study, means there is an immediate application in the workplace.
Professor Rick Crawley, director of external relations at Lancaster Business School sees the advantage of longer blocks: “In a conventional programme, students are only hours away from other parts of their lives and it is difficult to forget problems at the office or home.”
EMBAs give the opportunity to ground the theory in practice much more quickly than in a full-time programme. But balancing study and a demanding job brings considerable pressures, particularly if the student also has a family. Skrikanthan claims that there are other disadvantages in doing an EMBA. “Some companies fail to appreciate the knowledge that the student has gained and expect them to return to their former pattern of work. At the other extreme, employers think that their MBA graduate is the answer to every business problem.”
Though the cost of an EMBA — sometimes more than a full-time MBA — tends to rule out small and medium-size enterprises, it can be valuable to entrepreneurs.
Nic Cottrell, a self-employed computer consultant studying the new executive MBA at Said Business School, says: “I carried out a full strategic analysis on my own business and am now looking at how EU expansion can offer new opportunities.”

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