Cornell-Queen’s Novel EMBA Program

How have B-schools in regional markets where Cornell-Queen’s operates reacted to the program? Have you sensed any ill will towards the program? 

The first I’d heard of that was when Poets&Quants made the comment that maybe some directors would rank Cornell-Queen’s lower because they’re not happy about the program coming to their cities. I would hope that wouldn’t be the case. You know one very large university, and I’m personal friends with the dean and the director, had said stop taking my students, but it was very tongue-in-cheek – it was meant in fun.

I would remind people that we have a very large cohort, 163 students. However, these Boardroom Learning Teams are anywhere from five to eight people, so in any given city there are five to eight students. That’s really not threatening the local university in any way. Basically it’s just providing an opportunity for those students in that city who wish to go to Cornell or Queen’s to do so.

One of the things I’m very clear to say when I’m recruiting is that my job is to help you figure out what the best program is for you. If that’s Cornell, great, and I hope our conversation has helped you understand that. In every city, I always point out that there are a lot of great places where you can get an MBA.  So my job is not to convince you to come to Cornell. My job is to help you decide if Cornell is right for you. If not, then I wish you luck. That’s really how I feel about it. So from my perspective you could have 20 Executive MBA programs in one city, and I wouldn’t think they’d compete against one another because we’re really helping students find the program that’s the best fit for them.

I would hope that all of my colleagues in the Executive MBA space would think the same thing. We want students who are going to feel comfortable, thrive and add value to our programs. If you get a student for whom it wasn’t the right decision, then that tends to be not good for anybody. If there’s a director out there who may feel that Cornell is in my city and taking people from us, I would really hope they wouldn’t feel that way because I certainly don’t. I think when people better understand the nature of the Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA program and how it works, some of that might go away if it exists at all.

How do you respond to criticisms that the quality of education and networking opportunities in distance learning programs may be lower than that of more traditional EMBA programs? 

I would say that this program enhances networking. It enhances learning compared to the traditional classroom in the sense that  students get the best of both worlds. I think some of my current students that went on your website and rebutted those claims did a great job, so I don’t necessarily want to do that again. But I think the network is larger than what they would have in a traditional program in one city.

For example, you could be in a cohort with an engineer from San Francisco, somebody who works in the oil sands in Edmonton, someone who works on Wall Street and someone in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.  Outside of the Cornell-Queen’s method, they’d likely not be together because we’re bringing people from these diverse regions to one program.

So if they’re all looking at the same case study – the lawyer and the doctor and the engineer and the marketing manager – they’re all going to see slightly different things.  By giving each other these different perspectives, that’s where you really broaden your understanding beyond if you were in a cohort with a lot of people like you, who are in the same industry and have a daily life that looks similar to yours.

I think there are learning benefits to this model that the students will tell you all about. For example, when you’re in your boardroom and you’re on the network everyone is miked but also muted.  That enables people to have side conversations so they can discuss what the professor is lecturing about without interrupting the class.  As a result, professors will often say that the quality of commentary, questions and analysis is actually higher than what they see in a traditional classroom because the students have already vetted it out.  Or if someone says I don’t understand this, then a classmate  may say I get that, I’ll help you with that so you don’t need to go ask the professor.

What do you look for in strong Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA candidates? 

I always tell applicants that you can rely on me as the director to build the most talented, diverse and interesting cohort that the applicant pool yields. It’s really a peer-to-peer learning experience because of the EMBA demographic. Students have as much to teach each other as they learn from the university, so we’re looking for people who have experience to offer and really can contribute to the learning of others and have a context in which their own learning can be maximized. It’s a rigorous, Ivy League Executive MBA program so we have to make sure that we assess everyone’s academic ability so that they can succeed in the program.