EMBA Spotlight: At UCLA Anderson, A Leadership-Focused Program That Is All About Flexibility

UCLA Anderson School of Management

Cheddy Matthews loves his boss, Cheddy Matthews. After a 20-year career in the U.S. Marines, Matthews worked for years as an entrepreneur, business growth strategist, and motivational speaker. He founded and is the CEO of HED Space Coaching, a firm offering executive coaching, training, and workshops.

So, he wasn’t looking for a job (or a new boss) as he considered pursuing an MBA. Instead, he wanted to add value to the executive clients he coaches and spread his business overseas.

At UCLA Anderson School of Management, Matthews found an executive MBA program that seemed tailor made for his goals.

“The professional, ethnic, social, and political diversity of the class is a pure joy to see and experience. I have learned so much from the classmates as they have shared their thoughts based on their professional and personal lives,” Matthews tells P&Q.

“I never knew that ‘Hollywood Accounting’ was a thing or that prescribing Ozempic to every patient that wants it would bankrupt a hospital system. This has increased my professional awareness and opened my aperture to things that could be a value add when dealing with people and situations. It also helps me to understand, respect, and appreciate my UCLA ‘Anderfam’ even more.”


UCLA Anderson offers a 22-month Executive MBA program with three format options: The traditional EMBA where students come to campus every other weekend, an option where students come to campus once per month with asynchronous online learning in between, and a blended model with classes every other Friday and Saturday, alternating between live online instruction and in-person in Los Angeles.

UCLA Anderson EMBA At A Glance

Bi-weekly Monthly Blended
Length 22 months 22 months 22 months
Format On campus every other weekend, classes on Fridays and Saturdays On-campus one weekend per month, classes on Friday and Saturday; Asychronous online work in between
Classes meet every other Friday and Saturday alternating between on-campus and live online
Average cohort ~65 ~50 ~50
Academics A leadership-focused EMBA with more than 20 elective offerings which can be taken wit any MBA program at Anderson. EMBA pecializations available in Corporate Governance, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Marketing, Leadership Development, Global Management, and Technology Management. A team-based capstone project is required.
Residencies One required international business residency + optional global immersions/electives with other MBA programs and international exchanges with global business school partners
GMAT, GRE, or EA Test optional
2023-2024 Cost ~$183,552

The Anderson EMBA has a strong leadership focus. The full opening week is devoted to inclusive leadership for executives and has five hours of leadership instruction at the beginning of each quarter. Executives also get one-on-one leadership coaching from the Anderson career center.

The Anderson EMBA is also highly tailorable. There are 24 electives just for EMBA students, and they can take electives from other MBA programs as well, allowing EMBAs to build a specialized degree in 10 different focus areas.
And, the Anderson EMBA is global. It has one required international business residency with multiple other options for global experience through exchanges, international electives, and immersions.

For Matthews, four aspects distinguish the UCLA Anderson EMBA from its competitors. He calls them the “Four C’s”: A curriculum that allows students to build a degree according to their own career goals, its three flexible channels for delivery, its career and leadership coaching, and its culture.

“As we experienced these past two years, layoffs have impacted the cohort in a real way,” Matthews tells P&Q. Anderson’s career and leadership team helped the execs maximize their career searches while turning them into “transformational leaders.”.

Cheddy Matthews

As for culture, there’s nothing like being a Bruin, Matthews says. “We are more than classmates, we are friends for life. The strength of the alumni network and the interpersonal interaction with both cohorts – the class of 2024 and 2025 – is rich. I do not believe this is as strong at all institutions, but it is a major part of why I chose UCLA Anderson.”


UCLA Anderson’s Executive MBA tied for fifth place in Poets&Quants For Execs’ 2023 composite EMBA ranking of U.S. programs. It also ranked No. 10 in U.S. News’ ranking, No. 4 for stand-alone U.S. programs in the Financial Times and No. 9 in Fortune Magazine’s ranking. (Our composite list is based on three above rankings giving a 40-percent weight to U.S. News and FT and 20% weight to Fortune.)

This week, as part of our EMBA Spotlight series, we spoke with Gonzalo Freixes, adjunct professor and associate dean of fully employed and Executive MBA programs at UCLA Anderson.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with an overview of the Executive MBA at UCLA Anderson.

For a little historical perspective, up until maybe 2017 we had the sort of traditional EMBA program that many top schools have: Meeting every other weekend on campus, etc. Then we decided to add another cohort or section under a hybrid modality where half the work was on videos, asynchronous, and students would only have to come once a month so that they would connect with the other cohort. That went really well. We doubled the program, and we got a lot more people from out of area.

Fast forward to COVID, and as a lot of schools saw, there was a big unexpected spike in applications. So we added a third cohort, also with a hybrid format, but we decided to do hybrid synchronous. They would meet every two weeks like the traditional EMBA cohort, but every other time on Zoom. And guess what? The program has sustained that; We have been able to keep those three sections and three schedule options which are very popular with students.

You know, some like the flexibility of watching the videos on their own time. Others like the discipline of having class every two weeks and getting to see their classmates and the faculty once per month. Of course, we still have our traditional program.

We have dedicated EMBA electives on Sunday, starting in their second quarter. We also have our part-time MBA program, which we call FEMBA – fully employed MBA – which also has Sunday electives. Our EMBA students can take electives in the other programs, which has been very, very popular.

What do you think sets your program apart from your competitors?

We offer the traditional course subjects that most schools do with a bent towards more seasoned executives. But we also offer a few things that I think set us apart. First, we have a strong leadership component. Students do an opening week focused on leadership development, but then they have five hours of leadership instruction at the beginning of each quarter for the remainder of their programs.

The first quarter or so is focused on inclusive leadership. The next two quarters are focused on ethical leadership. And then the second year is focused on transformational leadership, which is defined as a mix of industry acumen, tech skills, and analytical skills alongside innovation, inclusivity and collaboration, and purpose driven. We really tried to define what we are as a school and determine the right combination of technical/analytical skills with soft and leadership skills.

The “Transformative Leader” as defined by UCLA Anderson’s EMBA Program features a balance of hard skills (at the left of the wheel) and soft skills (at the right).

Second, having a very flexible schedule option is a differentiator compared to most programs.

And third, having the ability for students to take electives – at no extra cost – with the other MBA programs. We have about 24 electives each year just for EMBA students. In addition, they can take evening electives during the week if they’re close by, other weekend electives, some remote electives, etc. We offer approximately 10 specializations for EMBA students.

About how many students do you enroll for each of the three format cohorts?

We typically have around 155 and 165 EMBA students per cycle. There is still a stronger demand for the fully live, on-campus option. We generally have about 40% of EMBAs wanting the live option and then 30% and 30% wanting the other two hybrid options.

That’s roughly equal to about 65 students in the live section, and about 50 each in the other two.

Was it a surprise that the live, in-person option has remained the most popular, even for very busy Executive MBA students?

We expected it because the one thing about the EMBA that they value, I think, above even the curriculum is the networking. The ability to talk to people that are like them with managerial or executive experience. We do have all three sections here at least once a month which really has been beneficial.

Any other differentiators?

The other aspect is global management. Most of your EMBA programs have, you know, one trip during the program, two to three countries to choose from. We do that as well. Built into the program is a required international business residency. We lay out three or four countries that the students can choose from to go with one of our faculty members and learn about doing business in that region.

Gonzalo Freixes

In addition to that, Andersen offers seven global immersions every year which are open to all the MBA students. For example, I took 40 students to Cuba in December. And of those 40, it was about a third EMBA, a third part-time and a third full-time MBA.

We also have nine to 10 exchange partners with such schools as London Business School, Bocconi in Italy, Waseda in Japan, ESAN in Peru, as well as schools in Cape Town, Israel, Melbourne, and Brazil. Students have a one week block in the summer for electives, and we each sent five to 10 students to each other. So the students have like 20 countries to choose from each year. I think our record holder at EMBA is five international trips, and that record has been tied more than once. That adds an aspect of the program that is super popular with the students and gives them that real global perspective, which is so important to today’s business environment.

Why was global something UCLA Anderson wanted to carve a niche in?

It started back in 2007-2008 when we started those exchange programs with two schools: London Business School and Bocconi. And when we asked the students how many were interested in doing this, something like 57 of them raised their hands. We had strong demand, so we added another exchange partner, and we started doing these global immersions. They just grew in popularity.

Our school really had a strong global focus anyways, and created the Center for Global Management. So, it was a combination of we felt as a school that having this perspective was one of the key things that they needed to get out of an MBA. And secondly, they were just immensely popular with the students.

With the type of EMBA candidate that you typically attract, do you think they like these global opportunities because they are just culturally enriching for them, or are they looking to get more professional global exposure?

It’s a little of both. When you travel to a country as a tourist, it’s a different experience. You’re going to go see monuments and eat at nice restaurants. They can still do some of that. But then they get to immerse themselves in the business, the economy, what it’s like to work in that country, what it’s like to run a business, and to invest there. It’s something that you wouldn’t see if you went to a country as a tourist. For executives that have increasing responsibilities in management decisions, for any medium or large sized company, that is going to involve global business.

I hear all the time from EMBA students, “Oh, we’re looking into Latin America as a company, so I really want to go on the program in that region.” And some of our global programs have a particular focus. For example, I did one focused on ESG in South America in Chile. Another one of our faculty members of social entrepreneurship did one in Africa. One of our professors is taking a group to Berlin this September, focused on entrepreneurship in the Mittelstands in Germany.

Let’s dive into leadership a little bit more. Why was that something UCLA Anderson wanted to plant its flag in?

When people are coming to an EMBA program – to distinguish it from a part time program or a full time program – I think leadership development becomes a very important component. We have a dedicated CLD team – standing for Career and Leadership Development – and all of our career and executive coaches are certified because we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just career coaching, but it was also leadership coaching. So EMBAs can participate in a lot of one-to-one coaching with our internal career coaches. In addition to that, we have a component called Leadership at Anderson where they get 20 hours a year of work with an external executive coach.

What are some recent or ongoing innovations in the curriculum that have you excited?

Anderson has a mandatory capstone program as a lot of schools do, but many of them have it as an option, not required. Historically, that had been a consulting project where we work with an outside company or nonprofit organization. We’ve had that for more than 60 years at Anderson across all our programs.

About 15 or 20 years ago for the full-time program, we developed the Business Creation Program where students can take some entrepreneurship classes and, as their capstone, launch their own business. We brought that to the EMBA about five years ago. Now about 40% of the EMBAs are doing that as their capstone, and about half of these businesses are actually launching. So that’s pretty exciting.

And, because we’re always trying to innovate, I’ve had a couple of students in the last two, three years working on an offshoot of that which we’re now going to formalize. That is, instead of launching your own business, we’re going to get a couple of teams to do what’s called Entrepreneurship by Acquisition. This is really something that the EMBAs are looking to do because they’ve acquired, hopefully, some money they can invest, and they’re looking not to start a business from scratch, but to identify a business to purchase.

Are you saying that you’re starting with this Entrepreneurship by Acquisition capstone with the current cohort or that you’re developing it for the next.

We are starting with first year students this year and offering them this Entrepreneurship by Acquisition option when they do their capstone next winter and spring. We currently have some students in the current second-year class that did this as an independent project, and it just made so much sense to formalize. We have a class that’s called Entrepreneurship by Acquisition, so that would be a prerequisite.

UCLA Anderson Class of 2025 Profile

Class Industry
Typical cohort size (all formats) 150-165 Operations 14%
Average work experience 15 years Finance 12%
Average management experience 9 years Marketing 12%
% Advanced Degrees 26% Engineering 10%
% Minority 21% General Management 10%
% Women 30% Business Development 6%
Countries of origin 25 Consulting/Healthcare/Entrepreneurship/Software Development 5% each
Industries 30+ Small business owner 3%
Law/Science/Strategic Planning/Television Production/Public Relations 2% each
Human Resources 1%

Tell us about the opportunity for teamwork in the Anderson EMBA.

About half of the work that students do across their core and elective classes is group work. We call them mini boards or learning teams. Whether it’s doing a group case write up or analysis, a research paper, a group presentation. Obviously, the capstone is entirely a group of five students.

Every two quarters, we change groups and we assign the groups so that they can be balanced.
We do something called the Workplace Big Five at the beginning of the program in which one of your tasks is to find out your working styles across a variety of components. It can reveal how students work together as a group, what their preferences are and all that. So that’s built into the program as well as part of the leadership series to help them improve their teamwork ability.

We also have a department that is focused on team building, and they have meetups throughout the program with the coaches to work out any conflicts they are having and also just learn how to be more effective as a teammate.

Do you attract students from a particular set of industries?

Southern California is known for its diversity of industries. If you go to New York, you might have a lot of finance people. If you go to the Bay Area, you might have a lot of tech people. SoCal is much more dispersed.

So, not surprisingly we have a not insignificant size of folks from the entertainment industry. Because we have all the military bases down in San Diego and across the state, about 10 to 12% of our class are military, many of whom are transitioning out after being officers for many years. We do have finance folks, we have marketing folks, real estate is a strong element, healthcare, all the kinds of industries that you might expect.

Looking at all the changes in the EMBA market over the last several years – the pandemic, adoption of hybrid modalities, AI and analytics, etc., – what are some opportunities for the Anderson EMBA in the future.

Through our recent strategic planning process, we did identify areas of focus for the school: tech, especially clean tech, healthcare, etc. We do have the Easton Technology Management Center that develops new courses and programming to keep up with the times. We went from no classes on AI to three classes on AI. Obviously big data and machine learning, all of those kinds of things, to keep up with the skill sets needed for that left side of the wheel, the analytical side.

Also on that left side of the wheel is the industry focus. Our specializations allow people to focus on a particular industry like entertainment, like real estate, or a particular functional area, like marketing or finance. Recently we developed a specialization in corporate governance which has been very popular with our EMBA students, taught by one of our leading faculty that does research in that area.

We always try to continue to change with the times.

Are these new courses coming more in the form of electives, or some content being added to the core as well?

A little of both, but more electives, obviously, so people can focus on the areas that they want to focus on. We recently underwent a change in our introductory statistics class to make it more business analytics. Students learn how to compile the data, but are working with R and other tools, AI etc., to learn how to use data to make decisions.

I wouldn’t say we’ve added to the curriculum except for our ethics class. More so we just changed the curriculum to adapt the traditional class to deal with new realities.

And what about challenges for EMBA programs in the current environment?

For the last decade or so, there was a lot of up and down, mostly down for a lot of programs, in terms of enrollment. I think because we introduced the flexible options, we saw growth where others did not. But now a lot of schools are beginning to offer hybrid and online options.

Interestingly, not so much in EMBA. We see it a lot with part time programs; part time and online are just becoming one. Berkeley recently introduced their FLEX program, which is 90, 95% online in their part time program.

So, the challenge is how do we attract these folks? It’s a combination of you need to schedule options that work for people, and then you have to have innovative and changing programming that attracts them in terms of the knowledge.

I have to compliment one of our competitors: The Wharton School recently introduced their 75% online program, and I think it’s wonderful. I think they’ve put together a really good program. That’s an example of the kind of innovation you need to do to attract different kinds of folks.

Because just doing the same thing – that every two weeks Friday and Saturday classes – is only going to get you so far. I think we’ve tried to stay ahead of the challenges by offering the other delivery options, increasing electives and specialization, global opportunities, etc.

Obviously, tuition, especially for EMBA programs, has gotten pretty high. So that’s always a challenge for students to get the financing for it. The old days where companies used to pay for it, those are gone. Having different options for how people are going to pay for it is important.

Looking at return on investment, we’ve done surveys of our alumni at both EMBA and FEMBA to document that the ROI in terms of compensation is worthwhile. It’s also emphasizing that you can’t just quantify it just monetarily. It’s also about personal development and growth. Our alumni constantly tell our prospective students about how it’s changed their life and their profession.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One thing I haven’t talked about, that I would be remiss no to, is that in some places EMBA programs are taught by non-ladder faculty.

At our school, because we value intellectual capital and we have a top research institution, all of our core EMBA classes are taught by our research faculty. We consider that to be extremely important so the students can learn the basics, but also be exposed to some of the trends that they are researching in their areas. That is another critical component, I think.

I also think that the fact that our EMBAs can take classes with the other programs and do even the global trips with the other programs, we have a really nice sense of community across the programs. I think sometimes these programs tend to be in their own silo.

We’re also beginning to do things together with other schools at UCLA. For example, we have a bio design program as a capstone that has people from the medical school, the law school, the nursing school and Anderson. They do their capstone together. We’re trying to develop some things with the School of Engineering as well, and work more closely with the School of Theater, Film and Television. Those are the kind of interesting things that a school like UCLA can do because the whole campus is right there.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.