Why An Elite EMBA Is Definitely Worth It

UCLA’s Anderson Graduate School of Business

Straight up: If you tackle an Executive MBA (EMBA) program at a top tier business school, your next two years will be hell. But at least it’ll be a good, brain-boosting, endorphin-enriched, caffeinated kind of hell.

Been there. Done that. I have a traditional media background, specialized in business, and witnessed publishers struggling with digital transformation. I started or co-founded four businesses in Washington, DC, New York and Los Angeles, wrote six business-related books, and long considered getting an MBA to cope with a media world turned digitally upside down.

Daniel Kehrer

So in 2010 I finally went for it – albeit later-career than your average EMBA. I also wanted to set an example for my two sons that learning is a life-long process and sometimes requires sacrifice. And, well, I thought it would be fun.

Proximity-wise, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management was perfect. But there was the small matter of acceptance to its elite, highly-selective EMBA program, ranked #5 worldwide by Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Taking the GMAT after 25+ years out of school was surreal. Studying seemed silly, so I took it cold. In what was surely a fluke, I scored 97th percentile on the verbal side, helping mitigate a queasier quant score.

I joined a 72-member class of the smartest, most-dedicated (and opinionated, I might add) people I’d ever seen in one place. It was a fascinating, diverse group, representing numerous nationalities, industries, professions, and advanced degrees. Beyond that, I’d later learn, they were also great and very caring individuals.

At some point, the class named itself “The Power of 72.” In finance, of course, that’s a quick way to calculate how long it will take an investment to double at a particular rate of return. (Just divide the expected rate into 72.) The moniker fit. Classmates demonstrated repeatedly that working together and feeding off one-another’s ideas produced an informational compounding effect that benefitted everyone.

The program proved hugely challenging, but unequivocally worthwhile. Here are six factors that – in my view – make an EMBA worth the pain and price, as you create intellectual assets that make you a more valuable “human resource.”

1. Excellence Abounds

The admissions folks at Anderson, and I’m sure other top b-schools as well, are pros who skillfully assess and select candidates to achieve a dynamic, diverse group capable of not just the academics, but contributing something more in the process. We had CPAs, engineers, MDs, artists, musicians, investment analysts, attorneys, pilots, entrepreneurs, producers, research scientists, military guys who manage aircraft carriers and others all telling stories, debating points and offering innovative ideas in class sessions, seminars and highly-creative study group presentations, not to mention the not-infrequent happy hours (um, “networking sessions”).

2. Mind-Altering Vibe

The environment at a top b-school is highly energized, and for me, even awe-inspiring. There’s always activity, including nights and weekends, which makes it intellectually stimulating just showing up. Plus you’ll go toe-to-toe with world class faculty who are top thinkers, researchers and practitioners in their fields. At Anderson, for example, it wasn’t unusual to be in class one day and see your professor interviewed on television or quoted in The Wall Street Journal the next.

3. Connections Count

Connections are carrots that all top programs dangle in front of prospects, along with career development services you’d pay richly for elsewhere. Anderson’s career director gets standing ovations. Connections are both short- and long-term assets that will pay dividends for years to come. As to the ubiquitous ROI question, studies show unquestionably that graduates of top tier programs make more money. But instead of ROI, I prefer thinking in terms of ROR – Return on Relationship – an emerging concept in online marketing that calculates value from engaging with others – customers, prospects, contacts, etc. – in an increasingly fragmented digital world.

  • Spot on! I’m currently enrolled in the MIT EMBA at Sloan and would agree with every point. It has been an amazing experience but indeed a stressful, energizing challenge. If you can make it happen, and can get into a top program (never mind affording it) it’s well worth it. Your new connections and what you learn from them are as important as what is taught in the classroom (which is also good) Great article.

    • Birchtree

      Not that another endorsement of this article is needed – but I also fully agree with the author and your support of its major points. I am currently enrolled in one of the MBA programs for executives through Cornell University’s Johnson School, and it has been a truly transformational experience on so many levels so far- one which I also fully recommend to anyone interested. From the skills/tools learned in the actual courses to the amazing network which participants are introduced, a top tier program has the potential to cause meaningful and positive changes within your life. Their are many great schools and programs to explore, do your research and find the one that offers the best “fit” with your life and goals and go for it!

  • Wish we could say the same for the joint program with Singapore.


  • Brain

    You’re full of assumptions my friend and that is dangerous.
    1. “You’re sure…are pros” – what contribution in the process? Sounds more like an expensive and limited group assembled to crowd source whatever the task is in order to say you completed the project. Ugh.
    2. “Highly energized? Awe inspiring?” No disrespect, hmm…group pursuing a similar egotistical accomplishment of getting the paper with elite school name on it seems narcisstic at best. Why not pool everyone’s $$ for tuition and use it as VC? Now, that’s something to be narcisstic over. Toe-to-toe with world class faculty? Great, a battle of wits and you’re sorely unarmed – that’s what everyone should pay for. About seeing your professor interviewed on television, what abount diminishing returns? Do you get less excited each time?
    3. “That will pay dividends for years to come…” Paying the cost of tuition has never been directly attributed to increased earnings. It’s not a direct cause and effect relationship. Everyone knows this.
    Performance. Performance. Performance. People skills. Technical competence. Leadership. Vision. Managing at your level. Control what you control. You leave your future to chance on a piece of paper and claim ~$100K price tag at an opportunity cost of two years not having done anything tangible? Wait..you have a social network now of like minded equally impressive network that know how to spend alot of money for meaningful and positive changes. Well done.
    I’ll stop there…I’ve already written too much.
    “The unexamined life is not worth living…”

    • danny ice

      bang…pooof…game over…

    • Jung

      Poorly written – “cost of two years not having done anything tangible?”, except learning different perspectives and expanding one’s depth; wonder what it is the author of the comment has done in the last two years that he considers tangible. Read P&Q, write comments, and cite Socrates at the end of a short-sighted response. Here’s the problem with people like you Brian, you’ll spend the rest of your life vomiting opinions that initially seem insightful and intelligent, but you begin to listen and realize that nothing you say has substance. Your lips are moving, but only stupid is sounding. Hey, you like the last sentence? Doesn’t make sense? Weird, cause it sounds like something you would write. Here’s another one in your honor – Ignorance. Ignorance. Ignorance. Lack of insight. No Vision.
      “How unfortunate.. You can’t fix Stupid” (by the way you used Socrates in completely the wrong context)

      • Can’t we all just get along

        Jung, you need a hug.

  • Dr_Truth

    How are the ‘connections’ of value if one reason why everyone is taking the emba is because they don’t have useful connections?
    You’ll end up with connections to more people without useful connections.