Specialized MBAs Grow in Number

Such programs balance traditional courses with workshops and services imparting wide knowledge of one industry. Here's a look at some offerings

More business schools are offering specialized MBA programs. Whether they come in the form of an Executive MBA degree in a particular industry or a separate certificate earned in addition to the MBA, they all have a common aim: to give students a foundation in general management, from basic finance to strategy, and an in-depth knowledge of a particular industry.

Some experts argue that specialized MBAs are the wave of the future. Nigel Banister, chief executive of Manchester Business School Worldwide, says specialized MBA programs help those in a certain industry make better use of their time and get ahead more quickly in their careers. And companies see the value in hiring someone who is already a specialist. "Recruiters are begging for more," says Jim Riordan, director of the MBA in sports management at Florida Atlantic University. "They want people to be trained for what they'll be doing on the job.&quot

Industry insiders tend to love these programs, while academics remain skeptical. The courses are often taught by adjunct professors who have full-time jobs in the field, and there's a focus on hands-on work as opposed to theory. That's why just about everyone agrees that the best of these specialized programs balance core general management courses required by traditional MBA programs with electives, workshops, and career placement services that give a breadth of knowledge in one industry.

Students who are committed to a particular field and know exactly what they want to do with their post-MBA life are often perfectly suited for specialized degree programs. If that sounds like you, take a look at our round-up of a few of the more interesting MBA-plus programs:

Flying High

HEC School of Management in France is teaming with Concordia University in Canada to launch an MBA program in January, 2008 that will be taught in English but is intended for Europeans in the aviation industry, who must face deregulation and an ever-changing market. The program's initiators hope to break down the barriers between executives in various functions across the industry. The 20 to 25 participants anticipated for the program's first year will get a core Executive MBA education with a major that focuses on international civil aviation. In the future, says Georges Rochas, aviation development manager of HEC, the school may also consider covering defense aviation, a sector for which there is growing demand. For now, however, the organizers want to slowly build a community and curriculum.

Constructive Construction

Even bosses in basic industries are seeking highly specialized MBA degrees. A professional organization of the construction industry in England approached educators at Manchester about developing a curriculum that would help leaders in the industry become more professional, trained managers. Now executives in the construction business can attend a specialist MBA program at the school. Of the 100 or so executives participating in the year-old program, about half are from England, one-quarter are from the United Arab Emirates (mostly from Dubai, which is growing rapidly in the world of construction), and one-quarter are from other countries. Banister predicts that those who support this program will have excellent retention rates and as a result will experience improved business.

Real Deal

About five years ago, some educators noticed that MBAs were good at running numbers but were not informed enough to cash in on the real estate boom. MBA students at Berkeley's Haas School of Business can work toward a real estate certificate.

The program teaches students general management tools and provides a curriculum that includes financial analysis, real estate finance and securitization, project development, and e-commerce strategies. "[Students] don't just set up Excel spreadsheets and run numbers," says Nancy Wallace, a Haas professor and chair of the Haas Real Estate Group. "They understand that where you put the door on the loading docks and how you use the [construction] site all matters." Because most real estate employers have no official human resource or recruiting programs, the school offers specialized career placement services for students on the real estate track.

A Hospitable Bunch

At Johnson & Wales University, which has four campuses around the country, the hospitality industry has always taken center stage. The seeds of an MBA program were planted in the mid-1980s, when the school began offering an MS program in hospitality. By 1991, educators at the university decided that an MBA was more appropriate. Since then, about 180 MBA students each year have earned a specialized degree that trains them to serve the global tourism industry in event management, hospitality finance, and hospitality marketing. Recruiters include major travel companies and hotels such as the Marriott (MAR), Hilton (HLT), Hyatt , and Four Seasons (FS). Having a specialty is critical to career success nowadays, says Caroline Cooper, a professor at Johnson & Wales. Teaching her students the language and nuances of the industry is a primary goal. She says it's necessary to do this in the masters course work because students can no longer pick up on all these details in a four-year undergraduate program.

Team Captains

Separating sports fans from sports managers is the most difficult part of deciding who should be admitted into the Florida Atlantic University MBA in sport management program. Many applicants, says Riordan, mistakenly think that they'll be watching Derek Jeter take batting practice all day if they enter this field. That's simply not the case. The school never accepts more than 50 students, and they all have to prove they are passionate and committed to being in the sports business as agents, team managers, negotiators, and the like. Since 2000, students in this program have been learning about sport law, management of intercollegiate athletics, and entertainment (because the gap between sports and other entertainment is narrowing, says Riordan). The unique part of this MBA is its faculty. "If they don't work it during the day, they don't teach it here at night,” says Riordan. Alumni include a marketing coordinator for the Miami Heat, a community relations coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, a group ticketing representative for the Anaheim Ducks, and a director of merchandise at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla.

Movie MBAs

In May 2007, the Cass Business School at City University, London kicked off a new MBA program for those with an interest in the film business. Participating students have an average of 12 years experience working in film, television, music, or advertising. The reaction so far has been extremely positive, says Terry Ilott, director of the Film Business Academy at Cass. Industry insiders in Europe yearned for a program that accelerated the learning process for those in the film business—and Ilott says his crew tries to do just that. Students come to campus one weekend (from Friday to Monday) every month. In the first year they focus on the generic MBA core, but in the second year they choose from a range of electives specific to the film industry. "This program does the industry a great favor and does students a great service for their career development," says Ilott. He adds that what makes specialty programs like this one so special is that they bring people to the MBA who wouldn't normally consider the degree.

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