Choosing the right school is just the start, says Annabel Denham. The best executive students know what gaps they want to fill.
Ambitious professionals tend to be drawn to the Executive MBA (EMBA) for three reasons: the potential salary increase, career advancement, and access to a diverse network of high-level individuals.
But the course is also on the upper end of higher education offerings in terms of cost – so to justify the time (up to two years of study) and expense (courses at some of the top schools come with a six-figure price tag), students need to strategically tailor their studies to make it worth the investment.
Fortunately, course professors will do a lot of tailoring for you. “Every EMBA programme now adapts for individual students – which is why the classes are so much smaller [typically between 40 and 60 students] than for the full-time MBA course. As soon as the school has confirmation of the new intake, it will start adjusting content and case studies to meet the cohort’s needs. The average EMBA student is in their late thirties – they don’t want to waste time on general knowledge,” Zoya Zaitseva of QS Top MBA points out.
But this also means that prospective students must identify their post-grad ambitions before signing up and find a school that’s right for them – particularly as the EMBA course tends to offer fewer electives than the full-time MBA. “Although some people are tempted to go directly to the latest business school rankings to make their choice, these do not tell the whole story. It’s important to look at the full picture to find a school that is offering the mix of professors, content and participant stats that suits you and your needs best,” says Dawn Bournand of QS Top MBA.
Cass Business School, for example, offers a tailored programme delivered in Dubai, with a “specialised Islamic finance stream” for those seeking expertise in Sharia-compliant finance. LSE has a focus on social studies. And Katz Graduate School of Business, based in Pittsburgh, specialises in developing the leadership skills needed to climb the corporate ladder.
FINDING YOUR NICHE
But there are opportunities for students to create their own niche, regardless of school selection. Jimmy Maymann, for example, reignited his entrepreneurial spirit while studying at London Business School – where he acquired the business skills to allow his venture GoViral to thrive.
So as the programme progresses, students should try to establish which of the core subjects matter most to them. “A common mistake, due to the pressures of combining work and study, is to take the electives that are easiest. But the best way of structuring your course is to think: ‘What gaps do I need to fill?’ and ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ You need to have breadth and depth,” says Kathy Harvey of Said Business School.
BUILDING A NETWORK
It’s important, however, to bear in mind that many of the best opportunities lie outside the classroom. EMBAs are designed so that you take most of your classes with the same students – providing enormous opportunities to gain contacts with managers across a range of career levels and specialisations. As Kellogg-WHU alumnus Pierre-Yves Rahari, head of shareholder services at Pimco Europe, has said: “As an alumni, you continue to receive the benefits of the alumni network for a lifetime. I feel that the network has really opened doors for me.”
In another example, a recent graduate of the Booth School of Business has set up a tech company operating in Singapore. “He has drawn heavily on the experiences and advice of the alumni community and former professors to get his business up and running,” Zaitseva tells me. She thinks it helped that he was on a collaborative programme, which operated across three campuses in the US, London and Hong Kong. “These programmes can offer access to a far wider range of connections. It’s another way that students can tailor the programme to suit their needs.”
THE RIGHT SCHOOL
Collaboration is just one of many ways that schools are attempting to attract the top students. During the early 2000s, demand for the EMBA rose to such an extent that a number of business schools launched new programmes: Cambridge Judge, Georgetown/ESADE, SKOLKOVO, Swiss Finance Institute, to name but a few. Consequently, schools are finding creative ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. At ESCP Europe, for example, alumni can sign up for post-MBA electives to continue to refresh and improve their skills throughout their professional life.
Such steps could help guarantee your investment pays off. Doing an EMBA is a big decision – so make sure you choose a school that fits your needs.