IMD Retains Top Spot in FT’s 2013 Ranking

IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, wins coveted No. 1 spot in the FT's executive education ranking

IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, wins coveted No. 1 spot in the FT’s executive education ranking

The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) has done it again. The Lausanne, Switzerland-based school held on to its 2012 lead for the top executive education program in The Financial Times’ 2013 rankings. The school was one of the few to escape a major shakeup in the open-enrollment portion of the FT’s rankings.

IESE jumped two spots to claim second, while Harvard fell two rungs to fourth, despite topping every school for the quality of teaching and for placing second in “aims achieved” by program participants. The Thunderbird School of Global Management held steady and kept its third-place ranking. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business rounded out the top five by moving up one place from sixth last year.

The Financial Times’ list rates the top 70 providers of non-degree business programs for executive-level professionals.  Participating schools must have raked in at least $2 million in revenue last year to even be considered. The ranking puts the most weight on a participant survey, where attendees use a 10-point scale to evaluate everything from the quality of teaching to the probability of future use. At least 20 percent of a program’s participants must answer the survey for the school to make the list.  The results comprise 80% of the ranking – school data is used to determine the remaining 20%.

How credible is this ranking? Any survey that puts Thunderbird ahead of such highly regarded business schools, such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Chicago Booth justifiably raises eyebrows. After all, most participants would cherish a program certificate on their resume from Harvard or Wharton much more than one from Thunderbird, despite the school’s superior showing in the FT ranking. And because surveys of participants are very much based on how a school measured up to expectations, the ranking is largely a reflection of how a group of graduates felt expectations were met or exceeded by their school. It’s not a stretch to believe that Thunderbird participants had expectations that were not quite as high as those as Harvard or Wharton.


Whatever one thinks of the authority of this ranking, it does yield some interesting data. Which schools serve up the best food to their executive education participants? According to the FT, it’s the Stanford Graduate School of Business, followed by Chicago Booth, Wharton, the University of Virginia’s Darden School, and  No. 5 Harvard. So much for superior European cuisine. And when it came to facilities, IMD took top honors for the best learning environment, just ahead of some very surprising winners including No. 2 Washington University’s Olin School, No. 3 Darden, No. 4 European School of Management and Technology, and No. 5 IESE Business School in Spain.

More substantively, depending on your point of view, the best teaching faculty in executive education after Harvard is No. 2 INSEAD, followed by No. 3. Chicago Booth, No. 4 IMD, and No. 5 University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Darden, generally known as having the best teaching faculty in MBA education, was sixth, according to the FT survey data. And when it came to judging the caliber of one’s classmates, survey respondents were most pleased with the quality of their fellow students at Stanford, Harvard, IMD, INSEAD and Wharton.

Still, IMD led the pack thanks to its stellar scores on the newspaper’s participant survey. The school scored well on just about all of the key categories measured by the FT and also came out on top in terms of aims achieved and the quality of its facilities. The only area where the school was not in the top ten of the survey was in “follow up,” defined as the level of follow up after a participant returns to the workplace as well as networking opportunities. IMD’s emphasis on international perspectives and growth –  the school is eyeing hubs in Singapore and Brazil this year – must have also given it a boost. The Financial Times factors international engagement and program diversity into the ranking.


The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School made massive gains this year with its nine-spot jump from No. 20 in 2012 to No. 11 this year.  The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business also made inroads with its six-slot leap from No. 16 to No. 10.  Both schools notably offer a plethora of crash courses in business where professionals can get the basics in a matter of days and occasionally weeks – they’re also aggressively pushing these options abroad.

In February 2013, alone, Wharton announced the launch of three new programs, including one on advancing business acumen, another on capital markets and a leadership course for Indian executives.  Ross offers an executive education portfolio ranging from a week-long course in advanced leadership in Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa, to a branding strategy course in Hong Kong. The Financial Times’ data show the demand for short-term programs is growing – both revenues and participant enrollment in open executive education courses are up 5% over last year.  Clearly these two schools are jumping on the bandwagon, and the strategy seems to be working when it comes to rankings.


Not all executive program deans will be wearing smiles this week.  Those at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and London Business School will doubtless be engaged in some hang-wringing over the next few days. London tumbled four spots out of the top 10, dropping from No. 8 to No. 12. Darden plummeted a whopping nine spots from No. 5 to No. 14. Essec Business School also posted a major loss, falling 12 spots from No. 7 to No. 19 this year.

Harvard Business School’s two-point drop from the coveted No. 2 spot last year to No. 4 is also likely to raise student and stakeholder concerns. Fundação Dom Cabral’s fall from No. 17 to No. 23 rounds out this year’s hits.


Interestingly, schools with sterling numbers in executive education don’t always fare as well in the full-time MBA world. IMD’s full-time MBA provides a notable example.  The full-time program posted its worst showing in the history of The Financial Times’ global MBA ranking this year, falling six places to finish 19th, down from 13th in 2012.

Thunderbird’s full-time MBA program didn’t even make The Financial Times’ top 100 list.  Their EMBA program fared only slightly better – it dropped from No. 77 in 2011 to No. 83 in 2012.

Conversely, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business scored 14th place in the full-time MBA rankings but bottomed out at 53rd in the executive program list. It seems successful MBA programs don’t always translate to standout executive education and vice versa.

(See following page for the top 25 executive education programs in the new 2013 ranking by The Financial Times) 

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