One thing that raises the hair on the necks of directors of
executive MBA programs is the conception that an executive MBA is a
watered-down, less rigorous version of a full-time program. Due to
financial pressure from more business schools entering the EMBA
market, many schools are developing academically compromised
programs, thus enforcing the image of "MBA Lite," explains Leonard
M. Loedish, vice dean of Wharton West, University of Pennsylvania's
business school branch in San Francisco.
"I think in the long run that will hurt both the executive MBA
programs and business schools," Loedish says.
Wharton emphasizes that the school's executive degree is a full-on
MBA; the same curriculum and the same degree as in the full-time
program, only in a different format. Every other weekend, students
take classes in finance, marketing, management, operations, with
topics ranging from fiscal policy, private equity, and
entrepreneurship to venture initiation.
Some business schools are fighting the negative preconceptions by
simply calling the program by a different name. Jana Allen,
director of executive and Saturday MBA programs at the Crummer
Graduate School of Business, which recently renamed its EMBA
program as Corporate MBA, says that the word "executive" can be a
stigma in itself.
"We have run into quite a challenge with the term limiting
potential candidates from even considering the program," she says.
"Many see an EMBA as a fast-tracked, less-valuable degree, when in
fact it's not."
The increasing competition also is leading business schools to
market their programs nationally and internationally. With the
number of foreign EMBA students rising, many schools are starting
to accommodate executives traveling from as far as Japan and Europe
to attend class in the United States every other week.
Instead of making the students come to the program, a number of
business schools are taking the program to the students, in
particular to Asia, where companies are willing to make the
investment of funding an American MBA program for their top talent.
Last summer the Thunderbird School of Global Management in
Glendale, Arizona, graduated the first batch of executives from its
fully customized, company-specific MBA program for the Korean
manufacturing giant LG Electronics. The 13-month program consists
of 11 modules that are taught at the LG learning center in Korea by
the Thunderbird staff, with the final module taking place in
The pull for LG, which has 70,000 employees, 40,000 of whom live
and work outside Korea, was to provide a truly global mindset for
its executives, says Beth Stoops, associate vice president of
language and culture programs at Thunderbird.
"In addition to the global focus, the aspect I believe LG sees as
direct ROI to their strategy is that the program includes an
entrepreneurial project on the company's key strategic challenges,"
Stoops says. "The things that keep the chairman up at night are
linked to the program, and during the program, the students work on
Understand the ROI
With education purse strings tightening, neither companies nor
individual students can ignore the need to determine the return on
investment of an MBA - even if it's not easy to get your hands
around, says Penny Oslund, executive director of MBA for Executives
programs at the Kenan-Flagler school of University of North
"ROI is not strictly about increase in salary; it may be an
increase in the quality of life and confidence of the student."
According to Crummer Graduate School's Allen, ROI can be examined
from two angles: financial bottom line and changed behavior.
"[To determine ROI], companies should ask questions such as 'What
has changed in the minds of the executives to effectively conduct
business on a global scale? Is there a change in the leadership
style? How do they affect their own business units in terms of
leadership and revenue?'" Allen says.
For Leigh Anne Nieman, the two-year-long period of very little
sleep has been worth it. Before the EMBA classes started, she was
promoted as the director of business standards and regulatory
affairs at Disney Vacation Development - an advancement, she
believes, that would not have happened without her commitment to
the EMBA program.
The way to examine the program's impact on her career, according to Nieman, is to look at how it has made her a better contributor, broadened her overall business skills, and allowed her to contribute to the realization of company strategy. She says that, most importantly, her confidence and level of engagement have risen.
"It's not easy; I can say I'm the most tired I've ever been. But
overall it's been very rewarding," she says. "Suffice it to say
that nobody will be happier than my kids when this is over."