George Clooney Has Nothing On These EMBA Road Warriors

George Clooney, step aside.

You’re just a piker next to Harsh Gupta, the quintessential “Up in the Air” road warrior (referring to the 2009 movie starring Clooney, who plays a consultant who travels over 300 days a year on business).

Every other weekend, Gupta is flying 7,261 miles through ten time zones from Dubai to Chicago simply to get an Executive MBA degree from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill. All told, the roundtrip travel costs $4,800 a pop, consumes 30 hours in the air, and adds 14,522 miles to his frequent flyer account.

Kellogg EMBA student Harsh Gupta

“I meet people and they ask, ‘So, where do you come from?’ When I say, ‘Dubai,” I see their jaws drop to their chests,” says Gupta, the chief executive of his own consumer electronics company. “It’s an expression that’s impossible to describe, but it is worth seeing.”

By the time he graduates with his Executive MBA at year-end, Gupta will have spent 1,140 hours in the air—not including the inevitable flight delays and cancellations–traveling a total of more than 500,000 miles just to get the degree. And he will have spent more money on business class airplane tickets–$182,400—than the $153,900 cost of tuition and fees.  “But if I capitalize the expense over my life span,” he says like a true MBA, “I am sure the returns will be far greater.”


Perhaps the most surprising thing about all of this is that Gupta is hardly alone. Almost all of the premier business schools boast full-time executives willing to endure the proverbial commute from hell to earn a prestige piece of parchment. These MBA road warriors make huge sacrifices in money and time to get an elite graduate business education, putting considerable strain on both their work lives and their families.

Indeed, even administrators of the schools are bemused and a bit bewildered by the willingness of execs to travel thousands of miles every other week to attend class. One Executive MBA student at IE Business School endures an eight-hour flight from his home country of India to the school in Madrid, Spain, every other week. “Can you imagine that?,” says Dean Santiago Iniguez de Onzono. “It’s heroic.”

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