What makes an executive MBA program global? Curriculum, an international network, and extensive overseas experience on the part of the participants, most business-school administrators say. To appear global -- and thus develop a cachet that enhances their reputation -- business schools often add international courses, recruit more students from abroad, and offer short trips to other countries, where students can meet local execs. Still, when every school uses the same approach, it takes a new model to stand out, says David Ravenscraft, associate dean for executive MBA programs at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School.
In an effort to do that, Kenan-Flagler and four other B-schools are joining in a worldwide effort to offer a new global executive MBA program called OneMBA. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), FundaÁao Getulio Vargas in Brazil (FGV), the Monterrey Tech Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership (EGADE-ITESM) in Mexico, Erasmus University's Rotterdam School of Management, and Kenan-Flagler say they'll begin OneMBA in September, 2002.
Schools such as London Business School and Columbia Business School already offer joint EMBA programs under one name, and other schools partner to offer nondegree programs. But OneMBA appears to be the first EMBA program that will involve such a wide variety of schools -- and a format that doesn't require the execs who attend the program to board planes for every class meeting.
The two-year program aims to expose about 100 senior execs to business practices in each school's region. In four one-week sessions, students will gather in cities such as Rotterdam, Gd·nsk, Hong Kong, and other locales in Asia and the Americas. To keep costs down and avoid excessive travel, students will spend the majority of their time at their home universities studying core courses and working in teams on as many as eight real-life business projects.
The schools encourage each exec to bring a problem from work to solve in class. So before they're accepted into the program, executives have to submit a letter of support from their senior management. Graduates will receive an MBA degree from the school they spend the most time at and from OneMBA.
EMBA programs are experiencing one of their most creative spurts since they were first offered in the 1940s, thanks to heightened competition and pressure to be more global. About 175 universities and schools now offer 210 EMBA programs worldwide, according to the Executive MBA Council, a nonprofit association of universities and colleges. And the market is appealing for schools. BusinessWeek's top-25 EMBA programs alone generated $150 million in revenues in the past year.
If the program is a success, OneMBA partners' brands and programs stand to gain in stature. Kenan-Flagler ranks No. 5 in BusinessWeek's 2001 executive MBA rankings, while CUHK and Rotterdam School of Management rank No. 33 and 34, respectively. "CUHK has a strong regional reputation already, but OneMBA will increase its ability to contribute on an international level," says Japhet Law, dean of CUHK's B-school.
OneMBA's Latin American schools didn't crack the top tier in BusinessWeek's survey, though they are tops in rankings by Latin American publications such as American EconomÌa. FGV already offers an EMBA program, but any international components are taught from classrooms in São Paulo. "Doing business in different contexts can't be comprehended by reading literature," says Antonio Carlos Manfredini, FGV's associate dean of international affairs.
For all the appeal of exposing students to business practices in other countries, one concern remains: B-school profs say partnerships have had a tendency to fail. Last year, EGADE-ITESM dropped out of the two-week Executive Program for the Americas, run with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management and other B-schools. The partnership wasn't equal, since some schools tried to dominate the program with their professors, charges Alejandro Ruelas, director of the OneMBA program at EGADE-ITESM. The school has maintained ties to those B-schools in other programs but is careful that the curriculum is delivered in ways that suits everyone.
OneMBA aims to avoid such problems. "The one difference in this [program] is the principle of equal partnership," says Ruelas. "Kenan-Flagler is the best ranked out of the five schools, but it's trying to make it equal. You don't feel that it's the American coming in that just wants a Latin American perspective." Kenan-Flagler's Ravenscraft agrees, saying that no single school's faculty will dominate the curriculum and that schools outside of the U.S. and Britain have greatly improved their quality in recent years, so every school has plenty of good profs.
Kenan-Flagler has been itching to launch a new EMBA program for about two years. It planned to start Corporate MBA, a program for five or six global companies' executives, in September, but dropped those plans because of the weakening economy. The cost would have been high -- nearly $90,000 per student -- and most companies couldn't afford to send five execs at once, Ravenscraft says. But "it's a big growing market," he adds. "We want to be part of that growth."
The cost of OneMBA differs by region. In Brazil, the full program will cost around $30,000, while Kenan-Flagler will charge closer to $64,000. Do the schools stand to profit? "In the long run, we'll make some money on this, but the margins will be small," Ravenscraft says. The value, he believes, comes from being a trendsetter. "We're taking global content to a new level."
Even in the face of a recession, OneMBA has a good chance to fare well. "Putting five schools together isn't easy," says FGV's Manfredini. But it's a way to ensure that students who graduate with a global MBA have gotten a genuinely international education.
By Mica Schneider in New York