MBAs for Executives: The Top 25 Schools

Our rankings of these increasingly popular programs may surprise you

When Joseph O'Boyle enrolled in an Executive MBA program--a rigorous two-year degree aimed at high-potential senior managers--his motives were simple. "I've got a quant background, and I wanted to round out my management skills," says the 38-year-old audit manager at the Chicago office of financial-services company ABN Amro Inc. (ABN )

But he soon realized he was learning a lot more than he expected. The program at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management threw together an unlikely mix of students--from a scrap-metal dealer to a beverage executive--in one study group, and the collective expertise spilled out of the classroom. Together, they mapped out a plan to overhaul a fellow student's lackluster family business--and today, the company is healthier than ever. "We all had different backgrounds, we all had something different to add," says O'Boyle, whose company paid his way. "It's really what makes the program work."

That tight teamwork approach has become a hallmark of Kellogg, which earns the No. 1 spot in BusinessWeek's first ranking of EMBA programs in a decade. The B-school's reputation among directors of other EMBA programs is second only to its popularity with students. Every Kellogg student who answered the BusinessWeek survey--about 65% of the most recent graduating class--said they would choose Kellogg again. Grads also praised the caliber of instructors and their ability to draw on students' experiences as managers.

The importance of excellent teachers and relevant coursework were dominant themes among the 3,041 students at 82 schools--a 60% response rate--who responded to the 2001 survey. BusinessWeek set out to gauge the satisfaction of EMBA students, similar to the customer-focused methodology used in the biennial ranking of full-time MBA programs (Best B-schools, Oct. 2, 2000). For this ranking, the graduate poll accounted for 50% of the overall score of a program, while a poll of EMBA directors at those schools made up the balance of the score.


  In the new rankings, the No. 2 place went to Kellogg's nearby rival, University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. With few exceptions, Chicago grads graded their teachers and support staff as excellent, citing engaging professors and in-depth courses as Chicago's strength. Respondents also gave Chicago high marks for treating them as the adult, mid-career, family-minded students they are--a sore point at some other programs. "From Day One, the school included my family in everything," says one 2001 grad who, like many EMBA students, traveled to another city for a class every other weekend and studied extra hours.

Rounding out the top five EMBA programs for 2001: the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, which scored No. 3 and earned top honors in the directors' poll; Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, which came in fourth, with praise from grads for the relevant curriculum; and the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, No. 5, whose program includes popular three-day seminars on leadership and ethics. With a tuition of $54,000, UNC offers the best value of the five.

There are a few surprises, too. A relative newcomer, the seven-year-old International EMBA program at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, posted ninth, garnering kudos for its strong international emphasis and good faculty. Also unexpected was Columbia University Business School's low grade. Long considered a giant in the EMBA world, the program received the lowest score for student satisfaction among the Top 25. Grads complained about an oversize program and disappointing instructors. They rated Columbia teachers as only "average"--with the exception of a few top-notch professors--and criticized the school for failing to foster a sense of community. Safwan Masri, vice-dean at Columbia, says the school has recently embarked on an "ambitious teacher development program" to address instruction quality.


  Ever since Dartmouth College offered up the first-ever MBA course in railroad accounting a century ago, B-schools have catered to younger, full-time students just a few years into their careers. Executive-level MBAs didn't come on the scene in full-force until the late 1960s, when Wall Street firms began to send a steady stream of senior execs uptown to Columbia to hone their managing skills. Today, EMBA programs are a staple of corporate life, offering executives advanced degrees without having to enroll in a full-time master's program. And they're big business for the B-schools, bringing in more than $150 million each year at the Top 25 alone.

Besides providing a crucial revenue stream to the schools, EMBA students offer ivory-towered academics a valuable window on real-life business issues. Students provide "a constant source of reality checks," says University of North Carolina business law and ethics professor Robert J. Adler.

Just how important are EMBA programs to corporations? Evidently, they're very important. In this year's survey of grads, 52% said their companies paid full tuition, and nearly all corporations gave their managers time off for their studies. But the number of students paying their own freight is rising, putting pressure on schools to provide career counseling. Another concern: the weakening economy, which could stall both EMBA and nondegree executive education programs as corporations tighten their belts.

Over the past few years, B-schools have also ventured far beyond their home campuses, creating a wide collection of global programs. BusinessWeek's 2001 EMBA ranking are based only on a school's primary campus program, but students in the global programs at Duke, Chicago, and the University of Toronto were also surveyed. Grads of Duke's five-year-old Global Executive program, held in Durham, N.C., and in cities like Frankfurt, Prague, or Santiago, Chile, over 19 months--praised the program's teaching and structure. But grads of some of these programs found the quality disappointing. For example, graduates of Chicago's Barcelona EMBA faulted profs--who fly in from Chicago---for not addressing enough non-U.S. business cases and ideas.


  Often more effective, report students, are international alliances between schools. NYU has a joint EMBA with HEC Paris and London School of Economics, while Columbia linked up just four months ago with London Business School. Students are already raving about the program and exposure to LBS profs. Columbia will also begin a joint EMBA with University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business next year.

Above all, the quality of teaching and classes, along with instructors' ability to incorporate these seasoned managers' experiences into classwork, are key to overall student satisfaction. Students overwhelmingly say they want deep coverage of "a broad scope of course material that's ideal for leadership and management positions" along with a "commitment to student needs" and "excellent professors." Having high-quality classmates to learn from is also crucial, says Gregory Fleischmann, a Columbia grad.

Probably the hardest subject to teach, but one that requires the most professor-student interaction, is leadership. It's something companies always want more of from their managers, particularly in an economic downturn or a crisis. No crisis could be bigger than the one left by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, say many profs and administrators. For one, it showed that leadership is about more than just making decisions, says Andre van Niekerk, director of Pepperdine University's EMBA program. It also entails displaying courage, managing employee expectations, and paying attention to ethics.


  Leadership is one of Pepperdine's specialities and one that wins high marks from grads. Now the school is sure to cite a new example of leadership and tough decision-making. A 1995 Pepperdine EMBA grad, Thomas E. Burnett Jr., 38, was a passenger on United Flight 93, which crashed into a Pennsylvania field after Burnett and others tried to overwhelm its hijackers. "Tom assumed a mantle of class leader, so there was really no surprise when we heard what he had done," says former classmate James Heath.

Until last month, most EMBA programs taught crisis management through the classic, 20-year-old Harvard Business School case study of how Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ ) responded to the cyanide contamination of their popular pain reliever, Tylenol. But now, say many EMBA directors, classes will need to focus on a world changed by the events of September 11. Says Dan Nagy, associate dean for executive programs at Duke, who teaches a case study on Boeing Co. (BA ): "Now I need to ask my class, `If you're the CEO or a vice-president at Boeing, hit by this tragedy, what are your short- and long-term goals. How do you help your employees?"'

While class content is critical, student diversity also figures into the EMBA experience. Schools like the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and Georgia State University's Robinson School of Business benefit from a considerable number of women and minorities in class. "We've made a direct appeal to corporate HR departments at our largest sponsoring companies," says Sidney E. Harris, EMBA director at Georgia State. The B-school also markets directly to successful female managers. Both efforts account for a current class comprised of 32% women.

Recruiting women isn't so simple, counter many administrators. For one, there are fewer female managers therefore fewer female EMBA candidates. And schools say women resist the rigorous schedule that interferes with family responsibilities.


  What can make it easier for women--and all students--are the special touches from a program's support staff. Juggling 60-hour workweeks, senior management responsibilities, and family life, these thirty- and fortysomethings also find it difficult to manage details such as buying books, registering for classes, or finding lodging. So many schools take charge of the logistics, even transportation to and from the airport. Which schools got an A in TLC? Topping the list after Kellogg, according to grads: UCLA's Anderson School, Wharton, UNC, and the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business.

To be sure, keeping students happy is important. But now, with the economic downturn likely to deepen, students and corporations alike might think twice about even embarking on an EMBA, with its steep tuition. Understandably, more than one administrator has a case of the jitters. "Some companies that sponsor students may find themselves just trying to stay afloat," worries Georgetown's Lisa Kaminski, director of the school's EMBA program. But so far, few schools report students dropping out, and applications remain steady. Companies may feel the need more than ever to develop strong senior managers, speculates Howard Kaufold, EMBA director at Wharton.

Moreover, notes Lee Dailey, director of executive and management education at United Technologies Corp. (UTX ): "If you put a stake in the ground and say that education is one of the core values of the company, you can't very well back off when times are bad." Indeed, the worst of times might be a good time to stay the course.

By Jennifer Merritt in New York

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