The Rise and Rise of the Executive MBA

An MBA – Master of Business Administration – has long been the degree of choice of people seeking to establish themselves as high-flyers in the world of business. But while the numbers signing up for traditional MBAs have begun to wane, there’s a new form of MBA that’s becoming ever more popular: the Executive MBA.
An Executive MBA, or EMBA, is the super-charged version of an MBA. While the average person taking an MBA is in their late twenties, those pursuing EMBAs are typically older and more established in their careers. MBA students are typically seeking to signal their abilities and ambition; EMBA students to add further shine to an already stellar career.

The EMBA is typically chosen by people at the mid-stage of their career.

Why is it that the EMBA is becoming more popular?

1. Entrepreneurs love it. The Financial Times has suggested that a key reason behind the growth of the EMBA is that while companies used to sponsor promising employees for MBAs, entrepreneurs are independently seeking out the EMBA to improve their skills and competencies. This is particularly relevant for the tech industry where non-traditional backgrounds are common. Tech entrepreneurs may find that while their tech skills enabled them to found and build up a company, developing management skills is harder – that’s where the EMBA can help.
2. The course is taught flexibly. By the time you’ve reached a stage in your career where an EMBA is appropriate, stepping away from your company for two years of study can be impossible – not to mention other commitments such as family. The EMBA acknowledges this, with flexibility built in from the start. A sizeable portion of the course is often taught online so that studying for an EMBA doesn’t have to mean neglecting work.  
3. It’s suitable for people from diverse backgrounds. It’s not just people who work in the conventional fields that you might associate with MBAs – such as finance or consulting – who choose an EMBA. For instance, Hollywood producers have studied Oxford’s EMBA at the Saïd Business School. And this doesn’t just cover diverse careers; the flexibility of the EMBA is also helpful for working parents.
4. It’s a hugely international course. If you take a look at the Financial Times’ Global EMBA Rankings, it’s immediately obvious how many of the top courses are based across several different institutions in several different countries. Even those that are based in just one location offer the opportunity to study modules overseas, such as Warwick University’s EMBA, which offers elective modules in China, India, Mexico, Brazil and the United States. Students will also travel from across the world to attend a top EMBA programme. The end result is that an EMBA doesn’t just offer the chance to improve your skills – it’s also an international networking opportunity.
5. It’s tailored to the needs of the individual. EMBA courses combine compulsory modules such as Accounting, Marketing and Leadership with elective modules that in some versions of the course allow students to tailor their studies very closely to their own personal and business development needs.  

Where should you study an EMBA?

The Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA Program tops international league tables.

Going back to the Financial Times’ Global EMBA Rankings, it’s notable how little the list matches generic university rankings, even if you drill down to related subjects such as Business and Economics. That’s because the EMBA didn’t originate with ancient universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, but instead grew out of the MBA, which itself began in the USA in the early 20th century. The MBA spread across the world, becoming popular in Asia and Africa before MBAs were even offered in Europe, which wasn’t until the 1950s. While the ancient universities of Europe have done a lot of catching up in the time since, it remains the case that the top universities in the world overall may not always be the best choice for an EMBA.
Aside from the Financial Times’ version, there are several other rankings of EMBAs available, such as from the Economist or the Wall Street Journal. The rankings can differ considerably on the basis of the different criteria used, and any prospective student should inspect those criteria closely to ensure that they reflect what they’re looking for in a course.  

How can you tell if an EMBA is right for you?

An EMBA can be a chance to expand your international network.

1. Consider if you’re at the right stage of your career. This is paramount because EMBAs are targeted at people who are already in senior management positions. Sometimes, an EMBA is misunderstood as a “better” MBA, but if you’re not far enough on in your career, you can’t use an EMBA to advance because you won’t be ready for the content of the course. Instead, if you haven’t yet started a business career, you might wish to consider a pre-university course; if you’re at the early stage of your career, an MBA may be appropriate.
2. Look at courses and see if they reflect your goals. It may be that an EMBA covers some but not all of the skills you’re looking to gain, and it may be that tailored coaching or other courses are more appropriate to your needs.
3. Assess whether your expectations are realistic. An EMBA will not guarantee you a promotion or a pay rise, though in many cases the investment in your skills can result in these things. Consider the outcomes that are listed on course websites and check that your own hopes for an EMBA reflect those outcomes.
4. Send your CV to course provider and ask. Course providers don’t want people to take EMBA courses if that’s not what’s right for them – with this kind of small-group teaching, it’s important that every student is suited to the course. So they will be happy to advise you on whether an EMBA really is the best option for you.
5. Think about what you’re prepared to put in. An EMBA represents a considerable commitment in time and energy, not to mention money if you’re not being sponsored by an employer. The amount that you benefit will depend considerably on the amount that you are prepared to commit to working on the tasks set and developing your skills. If you’re prepared to put in the work, you’ll be sure to reap the rewards.

Image credits: woman on the phone; taking notes; HKUST; international.