There’s a motto emphasized in the executive MBA classrooms at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business: “Class starts Friday. ROI starts Monday.”
In the highly-personalized, small classroom setting, students work in teams to solve the real problems in their own companies, non-profits, or organizations. They are encouraged to take their lessons back to their teams and departments, and pass the knowledge along, says Suzanne Carter, TCU Neeley’s EMBA executive director and a professor of strategy practice for 14 years.
“Because of the small classroom size, it’s as if students have 20 to 25 consultants in the room helping them manage their own business issues,” she tells Poets&Quants.
20 YEARS IN THE EMBA SPACE
In May, TCU Neeley celebrated the 20th anniversary of the graduation of its first EMBA cohort. Located in Fort Worth in North Texas, the school is in the middle of one of the fastest growing business communities in the country. There is an appetite for executive training and education programs to propel business growth.
Neeley ranked 31st in Poets&Quants’ latest EMBA ranking, falling six spots from last year’s rank of 25. Our composite is based on U.S. schools’ performance in the three major EMBA rankings – U.S. News & World Report, the Financial Times, and The Economist – and schools that don’t participate in all three are penalized by our methodology. Neeley didn’t participate in either of the latest lists by U.S. News or FT, but it ranked No. 4 in U.S. schools in the Economist’s latest ranking in 2020. The Economist also ranked it the No. 1 program in Texas, and the No. 13 EMBA in the world. (The Economist, which announced this summer that it was killing its MBA ranking because of withering criticism, did not release an EMBA ranking in 2021.)
This week, Poets&Quants is looking at the Executive MBA program at TCU Neeley as part of our EMBA Spotlight series in which we try to highlight the larger trends in the degree while pinpointing what makes each program unique. Below, we speak with Carter who earned an MBA PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and is the founding principal of the consulting firm Carter & Associates. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with an overview of the Neeley executive MBA.
Our executive MBA Program has been around for 20 years now. We just recently had our 20 year anniversary of our first cohort graduation. Class sizes are typically around 30, but they range from anywhere to low 20s or below, all the way up to 35. The small class sizes are intentional because of our personal touch with students in the classroom.
We have a very diverse classroom experience in terms of industry. We have one of the strongest managerial experienced students, so they typically have more work experience than average MBA programs as well as managerial experience. So it’s a highly seasoned group of folks. It's also a very diverse perspective by age as well. They can range from 20s all the way into the 60s.
How many students in your current cohort?
This class we seated 19, which is pretty steady from the previous year. We had a lot of interest, but because of COVID complications, many people said, “next year.”
We meet every other weekend, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It is an 18 month program starting in August and finishing in February. January and February is what we call our Strategic Leadership Intensive, and that is where the students are really getting the final touches to their plans for after graduation. The students have options, then, to take some electives, but it's not required. Our EMBA Lockstep Program is completed at the end of February with graduation in May.
And you have an international opportunity as well.
That happens in June, smack dab in the middle, after the students have finished their first two semesters. It is one of our most experiential learning opportunities. We'll go to multiple countries on that trip, and teams will select an industry to analyze and look for business opportunities. So, students set up meetings with executives and companies, then they present their findings, and try to find business opportunities in a much different space than what they're accustomed to. We really challenge their VUCA skills – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
What kinds of students do you target?
We're typically a regional school, but we also attract people from as far away as New Jersey, Colorado, and Georgia. The majority of the students are within, I would say, 100 miles.
What do you think sets your EMBA apart from other Texas programs and from your peer schools?
I would say it’s the personalized approach that we take in the classroom. We really recognize that our students value different things depending on where they're coming from, and so we literally have personalized assignments. As opposed to a one exam that everyone gets, in some courses students pick a problem that they’re facing in their own organizations and solve it with the tools that we've talked about in the classroom.
So, students are working on problems immediately applicable to their own workplaces …
Yes. That's absolutely the case. For example, in our business analytics class, a student can bring in all of their data and, as a team, look at their particular issue and really resolve that issue. Or, at least analyze it in such a way that they can move forward.
We use the phrase, “class on Friday, ROI on Monday,” and it is true. Students not only get the information in the classroom, but they've told me they go back to their offices and teach that material to their own colleagues and departments. It’s a continuing saga of learning.
Another thing that I think differentiates us is we have a very integrated curriculum. Our faculty talk to one another, they say “students have to know this before they get to this,” and the program builds upon itself. For example, we teach business ethics at the same time as financial reporting. You would be amazed at the things that are cross learned in those types of situations.
NEXT PAGE: Trends in EMBA demand and students + Plans for alternate formats