The Shift Away From General Management In EMBAs

P&Q: How do you see the EMBA market changing in the next five to ten years?

Gallager: I see it growing. I see it becoming more international. There seems to be more and more people looking for opportunities to manage and run businesses outside of the U.S. There seems to be more of an international awareness that there are opportunities outside of the U.S. The full-time program might remain domestically focused in terms of employment opportunities. But EMBA program seems to have students increasingly willing to engage in environments outside the country.

The reason is the continual trend towards a global economy and the need for domestic companies to continue to mine emerging markets for growth opportunities. To get to the executive track, you need a successful track record of having an international assignment. EMBA programs are more in a position to provide that compared to a full-time MBA. And our career management office has really responded to those needs and has increased those opportunities.

P&Q: Are EMBA students requiring more career management service? If so, exactly what kinds of help are they seeking and getting?

Gallagher: There have been huge changes in that area. Roughly eight years ago, we prohibited students from having access from career services. We didn’t want to help students get jobs when their current companies sponsored them in our program. Since that shift, it has been one of the areas we have put the greatest attention towards. Even if they are not interested in changing their careers, many take advantage of career advice opportunities. Increasingly, they want access to the same kind of on-campus recruiting events and opportunities as full-time MBAs. They want to be on interview schedules for recruiters who are on campus to recruit full-time students. Another trend is international students are looking for assistance inside of the U.S. while U.S. students are looking for international experience. It seems to be going in both directions. Career services have had to expand their offerings and expertise in international careers and career changes. How do you help a 35-year-old make a career change is a question they weren’t dealing with until recently.

So they have to help them understand what companies are looking for and help them distinguish themselves from other applicants. Even just a few years ago if you were a strong executive and were willing to work in an international office, you were unique. There were not a lot of people willing to do that. Those who had experience working across international borders were rare people. Basically, if you wanted to give it a try, that qualified you for the experience. Those days are gone. They are absolutely gone. Most large companies now have international branches. People managing across borders has blossomed. Just raising your hand and saying you are interested doesn’t just open the doors anymore. What is the skill set realistically that will make you a viable candidate for those positions? How do you fill the gaps? These are very important conversations for our career management office.

For the international students wanting to work here, there was a day when those students could get the work permit to work in the U.S. pretty easily. Getting a degree from a prestigious U.S. school was a path into many different countries. And those days have changed. With the number of visas shrinking, it is harder and harder for international students to get career opportunities in the U.S.

P&Q: Who or what factors are your program’s primary competitors?

Gallagher: We compete with other highly ranked EMBA programs just on the basis of the cache and pursuit of quality of the degree. We have always competed with other well-ranked schools and whatever the best local alternative is. Sometimes the local options are tough to compete with. A prospective student could go to a UT-Austin, or Rice, or Emory, which are all schools that are regionally strong. It becomes a decision sometimes to travel to us or stay close to where they already are. With the increasing international activity, schools located outside of the U.S. are providing very strong competition for students. In Western Europe, you can go to a number of top business schools, INSEAD, London Business School. It is no longer obvious that a prospective student would be better going to Duke, Kellogg, or Wharton than they would be going to INSEAD. I don’t think it is the case in South America or Asia, but certainly in Europe. European business school competition has been strong. A lot of schools in the U.S. are now trying to distinguish EMBA offerings through some kind of emphasis on industry or niche that makes them the best school if you are interested in that niche.

Take an EMBA in sports marketing, for example. Even if you are a third-tier school, you might be able to put together the best sports marketing EMBA program in the world. I am seeing a lot of competition now coming through special certification and narrow focuses that distinguishes a school from the general management model. It is hard to be competitive in that space. And we are trying to respond. We offer certification in health management. We might win some students who would go to a similarly ranked school because they are looking for a career in the health sector.

We have also responded by offering additional coursework and certification in marketing, finance, strategy, energy, environment, entrepreneurship as well as the health sector. It has been a very helpful marketing tool. It goes back to the people interested in a career switch. A degree with an emphasis in that area can distinguish our graduates from others. I think more and more schools will move in that direction.

I think those types of programs used to be viewed as an MBA-light. Everyone moved toward the same disciplines and the same curriculum because students wanted a real core MBA degree. So a bunch of schools were offering the same product. Now the pendulum has swung and people are saying why would I go to your school? What makes your program different? Schools are responding with, “you get that core degree and you get this emphasis, too.”

P&Q: If you could make one thing happen in the EMBA marketplace, what would it be?

Gallagher: I wish we could see a more sophisticated and transparent way of measuring EMBA programs. There are so many poorly constructed methodologies. A better ranking system would serve everyone well. My point of view is to emphasize an evaluation of the fit between the student and what the program is designed to do. That is the most important indicator of program success. If students come in with needs out of alignment with what the program has to offer, the prestige of the program doesn’t matter.

There is a lack of awareness of what actually happens to you in different EMBA programs. What you experience and whom you work with makes a difference at the end of a program. Rankings should shift from evaluating prestige to evaluating strengths. They should be a way to help applicants become more aware and thoughtful. They should help people ask good questions.