Never Too Old For Business School

by Lauren Everitt on

Jim Schmitz graduated from London Business School's prestigious Sloan program at 62

Jim Schmitz graduated from London Business School’s prestigious Sloan program at 62

At time when most people are winding down – snatching up property in Florida, signing up for wine clubs, and burnishing their five irons for a nine-hole afternoon – Jim Schmitz, 62, is starting all over.

As the former director of the Cardiology Clinic at Scott & White Healthcare in Central Texas, Schmitz had made it in typical terms. He’d successfully treated patients in their 50s and 60s for heart disease, giving them a new stake at life. At the end of treatment, he’d ask: “Well, what are you going to do with the second half?” At 60, Schmitz turned the question on himself.

Searching for an answer, he Googled the best business schools in the world; London Business School (LBS) popped up in the top three.

I SENT OFF AN EMAIL & THE DEAN RESPONDED WITHIN 24 HOURS 

Schmitz fired off a three-line email to the dean of LBS asking about admissions. “The email basically said, ‘Dear Andrew, I’ve done cardiology for 30 years. I’m really thinking about switching gears – attached pleased find my curriculum vitae, and oh, by the way, what do you think?’” Schmitz recalls. “Within 24 hours [the dean] responded and said, ‘We have a program designed for people like you called the Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy, and you should come to London.’ So that was the beginning.”

Schmitz filled in the application, interviewed with an alum and crammed for the GMAT. “I got my score back and it scared me to death,” he recalls. He sold his house and gave his car and dog away. In January 2013, Schmitz arrived for his first day of class in LBS’ elite, one-year Sloan program (which awards an MS in Leadership and Strategy instead of an MBA).

While Schmitz may be an extreme example, his experience illustrates a larger shift: B-schools are increasingly targeting older, seasoned students, primarily through executive MBA and Sloan programs. While the average age for an executive MBA student has hovered around 37 years old for the past decade (it was 36 in 2003), the sheer number of executive MBA programs popping up all over the world attests to the growing demand for education among older, nontraditional students.

Unlike most two-year MBA degree paths, which tend to target students in their late 20s, executive MBA programs look for seasoned managers with more than 13 years of work experience – that figure jumps up to 16 years in LBS’ Sloan program (an executive MBA on steroids). Beyond that, B-schools across the world accept students years, and sometimes decades, older than the median age of their cohorts. European schools, in particular, are known to admit students over 40.

PEOPLE ARE WORKING LONGER IN TODAY’S MARKET 

While an exact count of the age outliers across all EMBA programs doesn’t exist, anecdotal evidence suggests that their ranks are growing, particularly after the recession, according to Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council. “In today’s market where more people are working longer – whether they have to or they choose to – it’s not just, ‘Well, I’m 65, it’s time to go sit in a rocking chair,’” he points out. “I just don’t think that mentality for the most part exists anymore.”

For Schmitz, that was certainly the case. “I believe I’m on the vanguard of a generation of people who spent their life working, who also understand that they have 20 to 30 years left and that vacation or playing golf is not going to be enough,” he says. Having witnessed the health care changes befuddle colleagues in his age bracket, Schmitz decided he could either stand by stumped or participate in the evolution of healthcare with an MBA.

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