IESE, IMD Once Again Top FT’s Executive Education Rankings

Executive education programs aren’t known for their bargain rates. Non-degree offerings might be said to take their cue from their EMBA brethren. At its costliest in the United States, the two-year EMBA program at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the price tag has eclipsed $200,000. In a survey of programs by Poets&Quants four years ago, we found more than 40 elite schools with EMBAs that cost six figures; it’s impossible to imagine that four years of inflation and fee and other hikes has done anything but grow that number.

One thing the rise in cost in executive education hasn’t done: stymie the expansion of programs, degree and non-degree alike. A survey last October by the Executive MBA Council found graduates of EMBA programs to be more desirable than ever, and female enrollment to have risen to its highest point ever at 30.1%. Smaller, non-degree offerings have flourished as well. Perceived usefulness is one reason; a target audience of established professionals who can afford to pay whatever is being charged — or who have deep-pocketed employers footing the bill — is another. Perhaps the biggest reason: Non-degree executive education is a big-time cash cow for universities. Most leading schools offer programs ranging from a couple days to a couple weeks that can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $40-, $50-, $60,000 or more. They can be scheduled for any time of year, feature any combination of professor or expert presentation, feature re-purposed or customized materials, and be staged at any satellite campus or (better yet) exotic location. An intense few days or few weeks and presto — a handful of certificate-waving grads go marching happily back to work and schools get an infusion of oxygen (read: a bundle of cash). Everyone wins!

As both open executive programs, which offer courses on specific topics directed toward professionals regardless of employer, and customized programs, which are tailored to the needs of the companies that commission them, continue their healthy expansion around the globe, some schools just seem to be doing better at this than others. According to the latest rankings from The Financial Times, released May 13, Switzerland’s IMD and IESE Business School of Spain are again the twin powers of executive education — just as they have been for the last several years. In FT‘s 20th iteration of its executive education rankings, IMD, based in Lausanne, has been named No. 1 for open-enrollment programs while IESE, in Barcelona, tops the list in the category of customized executive offerings. That makes seven consecutive years at the top for IMD and four straight years at No. 1 for IESE, which also topped FT‘s composite ranking for the fourth straight year.


Stefan Michel, dean of the IMD executive education program, which teaches “business practices from different industries across the globe” and “how to lead in different cultures, expand your comfort zone, and develop your resilience to cope with the unknown.”

The new rankings signal some interesting developments for U.S. programs, as well. In 2017, Harvard Business School climbed into the third spot in the overall ranking for the first time, but this year HBS has slipped back to No. 5, supplanted by INSEAD at No. 3 and sliding below London Business School, which held steady at No. 4. The consolation for Harvard — whose battery of executive offerings runs from a four-day, $4,500 seminar on nonprofit performance management to a seven-month, four-module “alternative EMBA” for $50,000 — is that it remains the top-ranked U.S. program overall. Others, however, are gaining. Stanford Graduate School of Business, tied for No. 9 last year, moved up two spaces to take sole possession of seventh place in the overall ranking, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, 11th last year, moved up three places to land at No. 8. Wharton moved up four places, from 19th to 15th, and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, ranked 17th last year, inched upward to No. 16. Not every U.S. school is headed in the right direction: The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business dropped from No. 13 to No. 18, and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business stayed flat at No. 20.

In the separate open and customized rankings, Stanford — which in February added a new LEAD certificate and in August will add a new data course to its raft of executive offerings — returned to the top 10 in both for the first time in five years (seventh open, eighth customized), even winning top marks for its quality of participants and food and accommodation. Meanwhile, Michigan Ross rose from 20th to 11th in customized and from ninth to sixth in open (including a second-place in facilities), and MIT Sloan vaulted to 15th from 26th in customized even while slipping to 20th from 18th in open. HBS fell from fifth to ninth in customized and from No. 3 to No. 4 in open, despite second -place marks in teaching, quality of participants, and aims achieved, but remains the cream of the U.S. crop. Most other U.S. schools made their mark in one ranking but not the other: among them, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management rose from 20th to 16th in the open program ranking, while UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School moved up two spaces from 12th in the customized ranking. FT even singled out Kenan-Flagler for its consistency, noting that the school has ranked within a six-place range since 2012. UNC landed in the top 10 in six total criteria, including top marks for value for money.

Maybe UNC’s success in customized executive education is a Carolina thing. At No. 2 in that ranking this year, Duke Corporate Education moved out of third place and past IMD for the first time in three years, trailing only IESE. Created in 2000 as a carve-out from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, DCE’s facilities cover Durham, North Carolina, as well as San Diego, London, Johannesburg, Singapore, and Ahmedabad, India. In just 17 years, DCE has reached over 200,000 executives in 75 countries, which makes it the blueprint for every B-school looking to break into the space.


But FT‘s executive education rankings are usually a showcase for European and other non-U.S. schools, and in that regard, the 2018 version is no departure. IESE has held first place in the customized ranking since 2015, keeping its crown this year with top marks in new skills and learning, international clients, and faculty diversity, and near-top marks in just about every other category (see page 2 for an explanation of the rankings methodology). In fact, IESE, which last year rose to No. 2 in the latest Poets&Quants ranking of international business schools, is in the top five in 13 of 15 assessment criteria for customized programs. That was enough to earn an overall No. 1, as well.

IMD, a surprise winner of Forbes’ 2017 Global MBA ranking, was again the top open-enrollment program — as it has been every year since 2012 — thanks to earning the top spot in teaching methods and aims achieved. Demand has intersected with reputation, as the number of campus open-program participants in 2017 increased by nearly 10% to 2,700 from 2016, according to FT, all despite IMD being quite a costly venture: around $20,000 for its signature 14-week program. In the words of a corporate client quoted by FT, “They know what they are doing at IMD. I found the overall mix between training, teachers and participants highly relevant and extremely well thought-out and prepared.”

INSEAD moves up three places in the overall ranking, from sixth to third, thanks in part to its marks in customized faculty diversity (ranked third) and international clients (second). HEC Paris moved up to sixth from seventh in the combined ranking thanks to earning third-place marks in aims achieved and new skills and learning. Oxford Saïd Business School achieves its best performance in the open ranking, up to second, giving it a ninth-place finish overall. And London Business School marked its fifth straight year in the top 10 overall, landing at No. 4, just like last year. LBS has more than 10,000 new students in its exec ed programs each year.

“We are delighted to achieve this top-four position once again, incorporating results for both custom and open-enrollment programs,” Professor Julian Birkinshaw, deputy dean of executive education at LBS, told The Financial. “This ranking confirms LBS as a top performer within an elite group of world-class business schools.”

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