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By Dominic Basulto

The elite B-schools have responded to increased demand for their traditional MBA programs by increasing the resources and programs available through executive education. There are two major components of executive education: (1) short-term, non-degree programs lasting anywhere from two days to two weeks and (2) a condensed Executive MBA program (“EMBA”), which usually meets in evenings or weekends, adapted to a working executive’s lifestyle. But what exactly is executive education and its most well-known offspring - the Executive MBA? And how does it differ from the traditional MBA program?

First of all, candidates should carefully define their terms. For instance, both INSEAD and Harvard Business School offer executive education (of the non-degree variety), but not an Executive MBA, while Columbia, Kellogg, and Chicago offer both executive education and a full Executive MBA. Thus, Business Week and the Financial Times carefully delineate their ratings- one for non-degree executive education, and one for Executive MBA programs.

There are three critical factors when considering the trade-offs between the EMBA, executive education, and the traditional MBA: (1) status within the corporation (2) educational goals and (3) future career goals.


The first important factor to consider is one’s status within the corporation. Almost all executive education programs offered by the elite B-schools demand that candidates selected for executive education programs be one of 2-3 high-potential candidates within the organization and earmarked for a defined promotion plan. Possession of a mere title (e.g. “Head of Representative Office”) is not enough, since most executive education programs stipulate corporate sponsorship. Simply stated, a candidate who does not receive full monetary sponsorship by his or her corporation will not qualify for executive education. For instance, HBS requires that candidates be nominated, sponsored, financially supported by the current employer, and relieved of all work responsibilities as needed. In short, the corporation must evince a dedicated interest in nurturing and advancing your career.

That being said, non-degree executive education programs are much easier to be accepted to, since they only require a sponsorship commitment by the employer, a brief outline of work experience, and a billable credit card number. Executive MBA programs, much like traditional MBA programs, require the full set of essays, transcripts, GMAT scores, and application forms. Moreover, candidates are expected to be more experienced (10+ years) and older (30+) than applicants accepted to the 1- or 2-year flagship MBA program. At Wharton, the average age of entering candidates to the EMBA program is 33, with 10 years of work experience. At some top programs, candidates have 15-18 years of work experience.

Finally, candidates ultimately accepted to EMBA or executive education programs must have a flexible schedule to allow junkets to Europe or the USA on a fairly regular basis. For this reason, B-schools expect employers to fully support and coordinate the programs. The most successful EMBA programs are those located in major metropolitan areas (New York, Chicago, London) where candidates can easily attend evening and weekend classes as well as take off for 1- or 2-week residential segments of the program. In order to accommodate an increasingly more international clientele, B-schools have launched onsite executive education programs away from the home campus (especially in Europe and major Asian business centers such as Singapore and Hong Kong). Kellogg has developed an international EMBA offered in Israel, Hong Kong, and Germany.


Next, consider your educational goals. Applicants to traditional MBA programs desire first and foremost a wide-ranging exposure to all aspects of general management theory and basic business principles. In contrast, participants in short- term executive education programs (and to a lesser extent, EMBA candidates) desire only “real world” learning within a narrow niche. Consider a 5-day course on “Mergers & Acquisitions” (“M&A”) offered by Wharton’s finance faculty. It is assumed that the building blocks of M&A (DCF analysis, valuation, capital structure, securities markets, competitive strategy) are already known. In a typical “Finance” course at Wharton, the topic of “M&A” would occur only in the final chapters of a textbook.

Many of the customized courses offered by executive education providers have been a response to steady blurring of the distinction between consultant-led seminars and B-school courses. Participants expect an immediate “take-away” from short-term seminars and are willing to pay up for this privilege. For instance, a 3-day program at Kellogg on “e-Business Strategies” targeted to New Economy types carries a price tag of almost $4,000. Keep in mind that firms invest in executive education as a strategic weapon in order to compete, and can sometimes demand highly-customized programs for their up-and-coming executives. U.Texas offers customized courses for leading high-tech companies (e.g. Texas Instruments) seeking an edge in the New Economy.

Moreover, a major difference between the EMBA and MBA exists in how students are taught. The MBA is strictly a residential experience, where one lives, breathes, and sleeps business 24/7. On the other hand, an EMBA takes advantage of Internet content delivery and videoconferencing technology to educate participants, some of whom are located a continent away, while classes are not in session. Those who desire strong alumni connections, a classroom setting, and the social aspects of working in teams and living amongst peers might not desire the more “virtual” aspect of executive education, where busy professionals are more commuters than residents. B-schools such as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, and Chicago have embraced “technology partners” in order to make the online components of the programs more of a complement, than a replacement, for peer-to-peer learning.


An important consideration for those contemplating an EMBA versus an MBA is whether it makes sense to take a 1- or 2-year “time-out” from a career in order to pursue advanced management education. EMBA and executive education participants do not desire a break in their career, and can structure different options of part-time, evening, and short- term residential blocks that extend over two to three years. While an MBA is a full-time commitment, an EMBA typically requires at most 30 hours/week since all participants are busy managing their companies. In a real sense, this most closely approximates the current situation in Moscow. The final decision is one shaped in no large part by the travel commitment involved in European and American executive education programs. To give an idea of how executive MBA programs typically draw only from a narrow geographical region, the Wharton EMBA draws only 12% of its participants from outside the Northeast USA (New York, Washington, Philadelphia) commuter region.

Consideration of the MBA ultimately revolves around salary, with the elite B-schools promising starting salaries near $100,000/year. Candidates are expected and even encouraged to change companies, sector, and function upon graduation with the MBA. EMBA candidates, on the other hand, remain with their companies and work during the full tenure of the program - they do not change employers upon graduation, or only upon payment of an acrimonious “break-up” fee. Employers have dedicated anywhere between $50,000-$90,000 in financing for the EMBA and view any moves away from the company as nothing short of treasonous. For this reason, EMBA programs do not tout access to career placement services or even average starting salaries after graduation.

Finally, some thought must be given to the “prestige” of the degree. Russian candidates desiring more access to international employers or seeking to break through a “glass ceiling” at home desire a prestigious degree with plenty of market power. Unfortunately, EMBAs have traditionally been viewed as only a part-time degree, as a kind of “MBA lite.” Content for the EMBA ultimately is less comprehensive than the full-time MBA and has been viewed as glorified in- house corporate training. This perception has gradually been changing as B-schools now view executive education in general, and EMBA programs in particular, as more of a core business. Customized courses specifically tailored for client companies now account for up to 40% of a B-school’s revenues in executive education, and the potential to offer a co-branded EMBA with elite consulting firms has already been mentioned. In an extreme scenario, two Russian managers might one day debate the merits of an INSEAD MBA vis-a-vis an INSEAD-McKinsey EMBA.

Thus, there are obviously a number of issues to consider when choosing between different options for business school education. More experienced senior managers have the option of corporate-sponsored EMBAs and short-term executive education, but the access to an Executive MBA degree is limited at best for Russian applicants, once logistical notions of travel and sponsorship capabilities of most Russian companies are considered. In response to this problem on a global level, leading institutions such as Columbia, London Business School, Duke, and Kellogg- by fusing high technology with stellar program content- have been in the forefront of making executive education available to all global managers, be they in Texas, Taipei, or Tblisi.

Dominic Basulto is a 1998 graduate of Yale School of Management and currently works as a consultant for Pericles ABLE. He represents Pericles in America and does MBA Advising through the internet. For more in formation please write to or call us at 292-6463/5188

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