Exec Ed Rides High

As the economy picks up speed, enrollment in executive courses is rising.

David J. English knew he needed to give his organization a better balance. The president of Hospices of the National Capital Region, based in Fairfax, Va., felt that his group focused in turn on serving as many patients as possible in the Washington area, or fund-raising, or staff satisfaction, each to the detriment of the others. He wanted to make sure all three were in line with the organization's mission: to help terminally ill patients and their families. He just couldn't figure out where to start.

Then, a former executive gave him an idea: Go back to school for a while. So last spring, English enrolled in a three-day executive education course, "Creating the Market-Focused Organization," at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. The course started with a series of diagnostic questionnaires to determine his company's market focus vis-à-vis its goals. Lectures from B-school professors followed, along with case study analyses. But the highlights were questioning top execs from International Paper Co. (IP ) and Washington Mutual Inc. (WM ) and engaging in one-on-one consultations with faculty members. For English, it added up to tangible change at the office. He has since reorganized the group's staff and reallocated resources to better meet the mission.

After several years of half-filled classrooms, enrollment at exec-ed courses is up 20% to 30%, according to BusinessWeek's Executive Education rankings and interviews with program directors. That's largely in response to an improved economy, since tuition alone runs up to $10,000 for an executive to attend a weeklong course, or $20,000 for two weeks.

Demand is greatest for leadership development and strategy courses. Such programs at Columbia Business School have seen enrollment gains of 90% to 120% in the past year, says Ethan Hanabury, Columbia's associate dean for executive education. Columbia's 14-day, $19,000 Executive Development Program is one favorite. Enrollment is also up at Harvard Business School's five-day, $9,000 High Potentials Leadership Program, designed for those on the fast track.


Exec ed is not just about career advancement. Courses that teach negotiation and dealmaking tactics are hotter than ever, say program directors. The Wharton School's Executive Negotiation Workshop -- an $8,950, five-day intensive course on the art of getting what you want out of business deals -- used to attract mostly junior-level managers, but is now catering more to managing directors, even CEOs.

Participants often say they can put their new skills to work immediately. John St. John, director of sales and marketing for Amesbury Group, a Sioux Falls (S.D.) maker of window and door fixtures, used his newfound knowledge just days after returning from Wharton -- when his chief rival slashed prices 50% below Amesbury's. At another time, he says, he would have lost a big client. But, the class helped him see there was more to the relationship than price. "I found we had elements of value" to offer that the cheaper competitor could not, says St. John. "The course paid for itself...many times over."

How do you get your company to pony up for tuition? Kellogg's Executive Education Marketing Director Eric Fridman says you must demonstrate an understanding of the challenges facing the company and explain how a particular course will help you tackle these issues. If your employer is still unconvinced, try negotiating the cost as a form of compensation, as part of an expected bonus, say. It also helps to mention competitors whose execs have attended -- schools can clue you in to who they are. And some schools keep rosters of former attendees prepared to give testimonials to hesitant bosses. A conversation with an alum such as David English or John St. John just might seal the deal.

By Jennifer Merritt

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