Staying Relevant to Enable Impact

The Executive MBA experience at the cusp of the decade.

Staying Relevant to Enable Impact

There are quite a few reasons why experienced managers decide to pursue Executive MBA (EMBA) studies halfway through a successful career. Much like a guided hike across the jungles of the Amazon or the mountains of Tibet, the EMBA carries its participants on a curated trip beyond the fringes of their comfort zone. Along the way, they will find new business opportunities and close the generation gap in order to emerge as global leaders who have laid all prejudice to rest.

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A transformative experience for the new future

According to a 2019 analysis by the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) – an academic NGO dedicated to the promotion of the EMBA degree – the factors motivating prospective students are now considerably different to what they were just a decade or so ago. Expectations have shifted from attaining tangible career- and income-based results after graduation to what may seem more abstract and fluid outcomes such as digital adaption and personal transformation, as well as the acquisition of soft skills and the desire to have a positive social impact.

During an EMBAC conference on the current industry trends, Martin Boehm, dean of the IE Business School (Spain), also underscored changes in the practical skill sets that the EMBA is expected to meet. These are mainly to do with technology and the way it can be integrated into business. The dean described this ongoing process as a “constant demand for human capital that can meet the digital transformation”. Digital literacy, Boehm insists, is a must.

To understand the urgency of the matter, one has to look at the latest data by the World Economic Forum (WEF), presented in their 2018 “Future of Jobs” report. The document estimates that by 2022 the average machine and automation-based contribution to labour will be 42%. For reference, the current volume of tasks completed by robots is just over a quarter of all work, or 29%. This threatens to put as many as 75 million people out of work in just four years.

In order to avert disaster, the WEF advocates a new approach to corporate management and policymaking – one that treats investment in human capital development through lifelong learning as a necessity for survival instead of a financial and organisational liability.

All of this illustrates just how real the challenges presented by the digital era are, and business schools are aiming to anticipate the leadership skill set for the changing times. In fact, lifelong learning is one of the EMBA’s core premises. Seeing how the EMBA degree caters to senior managers in their mid to late thirties and beyond, the programme is an instrument for lifelong learning in itself.

The changing executive classroom

But how exactly is the EMBA classroom developing to meet the expectation of students? Here are some facts from the 2018 EMBAC Membership Programme Survey. One of the most notable trends is that more EMBA programmes are offering the opportunity to learn from a distance – 54% currently, compared to 42% in 2015. Digital distribution of course material continues to be the most common method of teaching, while curriculum delivery by means of recorded lectures and classroom activities has surged by 17% in the same period.

Read: Why Business Schools Transcend Borders

In this way, both the curriculum and the teaching methods mirror the real world. However, the true value of this shift is that it exposes the participants to digital learning. For some, this is a natural environment and a preferred learning style. Yet, for those who will be challenged, this will be a great learning experience and an effective way to grasp the technological future. Combining those two ways of experiencing technology in the EMBA classroom is certainly insightful for all participants.

The shift to more flexibility is also evident at many schools across the world. Take the new Global EMBA structure at NEOMA Business School (France). Aside from fixed study visits to business hubs like London, New York and Bangalore, students can choose from several tracks that deliver the exact same core curriculum: a 10-month run, a 15-month marathon, or a high-intensity 2-month sprint. While the latter might seem counterintuitive at first, a quick in-and-out approach to a programme that usually drags on for years is actually preferable for some companies. It also helps to maintain focus.

The faces behind the stats

Alumni can best reveal what the impact of immersing in an EMBA can be. However, let us look at some raw stats first. According to a survey conducted by EMBAC in 2018, 14.6% of EMBA graduates enjoyed an increase in overall compensation after the completion of their studies. Another poll, carried out in collaboration with LinkedIn, found out that 72% of EMBA alumni considered the programme to be a positive force in their careers, helping them gain promotions and substantial salary increases or propelling their entrepreneurial ambitions.

Now let us examine some stories behind the statistics to get a feel for the real-life transformation for EMBA participants. The motivation of 47-year-old Jens Grüneklee for his ESSEC & Mannheim EMBA studies reveals an important aspect of the value of the EMBA. He had just finished his contract as a director at a Munich-based financial services provider when he realised he wanted to change direction. Being a representative of Generation X, the experienced manager judged it too hard to progress his career while in direct competition with millennials and Gen Z members. “I had gained a lot of professional experience and knowledge throughout my career by my mid-40s. However, this was purely practical experience. […] I had last studied 15 years earlier. I lacked the basics, the theory, which is critical when you’re up against younger, well-trained people”, Grüneklee says. At a time when we have the highest number of generations in the workforce concurrently, a lunge across the generation gap might be all that a seasoned executive needs in order to get back on track. His decision to journey well beyond his comfort zone should be celebrated as both a personal achievement and a testament to the rejuvenating potential of the EMBA. But most importantly, this experience will enable him to build on his rich experience a long way into the future.

Read: EMBA Career Paths Are Becoming More Diverse

Phillippe Nascson, a 2012 graduate from a triple degree programme by London School of Economics, NYU Stern, and HEC Paris – called the TRIUM Global Executive MBA – provides a good example of social entrepreneurship. Nascson founded HUMaiN Global, an organisation which promotes the ethical innovation and development of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and their use for social advancement. HUMaiN Global is comprised of three arms – Ai.VEN, a social development fund dedicated to AI and robotics; The Robot of the Year competition, a competitive mechanism to channel financial resources from the fund to projects championing social impact; and the HUMaiN Foundation, a non-profit enterprise that aims to enable the implementation of AI and robotics innovation in healthcare, education, and the environment. One such social impact project currently under development at HUMaiN is a chatbot that helps fight bullying and build confidence among children.

Interestingly enough, BusinessBecause tells us, the project drew the attention of Jennifer Pilat – a more recent graduate from the same EMBA programme and a professional with experience in the public sector. Pilat was immediately drawn to Nascson’s cause and, together, they started visiting countries around the world to promote the potential of AI in the betterment of local communities and our society as a whole.

Admittedly, cutting-edge innovation and social causes are not on everyone’s agenda, and they are certainly not the only path that an EMBA graduate can take. The story of Thomas Perterer, a WU Executive Academy Global EMBA graduate, can attest to that. When he graduated, he went on a global career frenzy that first took him to Libya, then back to Austria while working on projects in Saudi Arabia, and finally to Germany, where he currently holds an executive post at chemical products powerhouse Lhoist. Looking back at his time as a student, Perterer describes the experience as being “fresh”, “out-of-the-box”, and “priceless” in its ability to expand his horizons beyond international borders.

The last two examples provide a balanced mix of outcomes to anyone who is considering pursuing an EMBA degree. And even though each story is unique – a late-to-class executive who wants to close the generation gap, a tech entrepreneur with a social cause, an ambitious salesman under peer pressure, and a global trekker with a taste for heavy industry – they have all been made better leaders by the journey. This is because leadership is borne like a torch, rather than bestowed like a medal.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2019-2020 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “Staying Relevant to Enable Impact”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.