An MBA Custom-Fit for Executives

Leadership programs can turbocharge a fast-track career

After more than eight years with Clorox, Christopher Quinn is aiming to break into the company's upper echelons. But the 36-year-old Quinn, now director of sales for Latin America, knows that to make it, he needs to broaden his skills beyond consumer marketing. So when the University of Michigan Business School called on Mar. 5 to say that he had been accepted into its new executive MBA program, he was ecstatic. An MBA "will give me an ability to compete," he said.

Executive MBA programs are becoming a popular option to turbocharge an already fast-track career. The programs, which are more condensed than regular MBA courses, not only provide a means for a specialist to become a strong generalist manager, but also coach execs in leadership and competitive strategy. Last June, close to 8,000 were enrolled in EMBA programs worldwide, according to the Executive MBA Council, which comprises schools with such programs.

The barriers to entry are high. Unlike regular programs, experience and responsibility--not GMAT scores--are what count. EMBA students must be mid- to senior-level execs, "part of the next generation of leadership at their organizations," says David Ardis, managing director of Michigan's program. Many schools require at least 10 years of experience, five of them in management. It helps, too, to have a title, such as vice-president or director. Most participants in the programs, which limit class size to 45 to 60 students, are in their 30s.

The price tag is usually steep. Tuition for these 18- to 24-month programs can run from $30,000 to $115,200. Michigan, for example, charges $90,000 or $95,000 for its 20-month program, depending on whether you have Michigan residency. On the bright side, tuition often includes such incidentals as textbooks and some companies still foot the bill for their executives. At London Business School, 65% of the 60-odd students in a class are sponsored, 20% fewer than in 1998.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle is the time required. The need to be on campus varies widely, from every weekend to one week every two months. While that may seem minimal compared with some part-time MBA programs, it can still be difficult for a busy executive. And most of the coursework is done off-campus, with the student working on his or her own or with group members. Klaas Ockens, 35, a REIT manager with Deutsche Logistik Immobilien in Hamburg, is taking classes at London Business School, although he's enrolled at Columbia Business School's EMBA program. He spends up to 15 hours a week studying and, in addition to conference calls with classmates, can drop as many as 40 e-mails a week to his team members.

MERGERS. Michigan's EMBA candidates will be required to trek to the Ann Arbor (Mich.) campus one Friday and Saturday a month. Classes will focus not on core subjects but on business issues, such as organizational behavior. In between these meetings, assignments, required reading, and online lessons can eat up as many as 12 hours a week.

As business has become more global, so have alliances among B-schools. Columbia's B-school and London Business School will inaugurate EMBA-Global in May. Classes will alternate between the London and Manhattan campuses over the course of two years. Also offering a joint EMBA program, called TRIUM, are New York University's Stern School of Business, London School of Economics, and HEC Paris Graduate Business School. During this 16-month program, beginning in the fall, students will meet for two weeks each in London, New York, and Paris, and a week each in Hong Kong and Sao Paulo.

Other universities, meanwhile, are going where the students are, offering programs away from their traditional campuses. Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management launched its first executive program in 1999, in Westchester County, N.Y., 215 miles southeast of its campus. "When you're in Ithaca, you've got to get out [to attract students]," says Thomas Hambury, director of Cornell's executive MBA program. University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia offers an EMBA, but, having noticed a dearth of such programs on the West Coast, it will start a sister program in San Francisco this fall. Says Wharton EMBA Director Howard Kaufold: "There was an opportunity for us to draw people."

If you're interested in getting into a program, talk with the program directors. They'll tell you if you've got a shot. Only if the signs are good should you broach the idea with your supervisor, who'll most likely serve as your reference as well as your champion when you ask your company to sponsor you. After all, there's little worse than lining up a sponsorship from your company and then having to admit that you didn't make the cut.

By Mica Schneider

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