IMD Tops Financial Times Exec Ed Ranking For Ninth Straight Year

IMD campus plaza, where executive mba students congregate.

IMD places first yet again in the Financial Times 2020 ranking of the best open-enrollment programs in executive education (Photo courtesy of IMD)

IMD, the European business school based in Lausanne, Switzerland, has done it again. For the ninth consecutive year, IMD topped the Financial Times‘ ranking of the best schools for open enrollment programs for executives. Rounding out the top five this year was No. 2 the University of Oxford, INSEAD and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, both tied for third place, and No. 5 Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Conspicuously missing from the global ranking of the top 75 schools was the largest executive education player in the market: the Harvard Business School, which declines to participate in the FT exercise. The school’s highly lucrative in-person executive education business brought in $222 million of revenue in fiscal 2019 through more than 60 on-campus offerings that last year brought over 12,600 participants to campus.

IMD, which counts on exec ed for 80% of its revenues, held onto the top spot by scoring well across a large number of metrics used by the Financial Times to rank exec ed programs. The FT‘s surveys of program participants showed that IMD gained ground in eight of ten program-related criteria, ranging from the “quality of faculty” to “new skills and learning.” According to the FT, the school now also ranks first in “teaching methods and materials.” The British financial newspaper quoted one IMD exec ed participant:  “It really matters that the faculty can rope in industry leaders, so that participants can also see the practical implementation of the concepts, rather than feel that it’s coming from an academic [and wonder] ‘what does he/she know?’”


The Financial Times also publishes a separate ranking of executive education programs that are customized for specific companies and organizations, ranking 85 schools in total. On this list, IESE Business School in Spain claimed top honors, followed by HEC Paris, Essec Business School in France, Duke Corporate Education, and SDA Bocconi in Italy. In this custom ranking, IMD placed seventh behind No. 6 INSEAD. IMD slipped four spots from its third-place finish last year, while INSEAD climbed seven places from 13th last year.

The new rankings come at a turbulent time for the executive education business. The coronavirus pandemic has all but shut down most in-person programs. IMD suspended all face-to-face executive programs in mid-March initially for a six week period that was later extended until June 8th. All programs requiring face-to-face interactions will either be converted to virtual delivery or rescheduled to a future date. On June 8th, IMD is planning to re-open the campus with selected face-to-face programs.

Harvard Business School closed down all its in-person exec ed programs on March 15 and is hoping to open back up on June 12th. But the school warns would-be participants that programs currently scheduled to begin on June 13th or later will be evaluated as conditions continue to evolve. The shortfall in exec ed revenue, as well as other key revenue sources at HBS, is expected to result in a $115 million hit to the school’s annual revenue and a $22 million loss (see HBS Expects Revenue To Plunge $115 Million, Causing A $22 Million Loss).


The FT cranks out its open-enrollment ranking from survey data provided by business schools and participants who completed their programs in 2019. Schools submit one or two general courses of at least three days in length and one or two advanced courses of at least five days. That process allows a business school to put forward its best programs to get a better overall ranking. Participants from those programs are then surveyed by the FT which requires a minimum of 20 responses for a school to make the final ranking.

A total of 5,480 open-enrollment participants answered this year’s surveys, a response rate of 37%.  To create its ranking, the FT combines responses by advanced and general-level participants to calculate the first 10 ranking criteria which include their opinions on the quality of their classmates, their assessment of the teaching, and the relevance of the skills they gained. Those opinions inform 80% of the ranking. The remaining 20% of the ranking is based on school-provided data, including the percentage of female and international participants, growth, international location, and partner schools.

As is typical in many rankings, there are some eyebrow-raising, roller-coaster results. UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, for example, rose ten places to finish 12th in open enrollment programs from 22nd last year. Florida Atlantic University College of Business jumped a dozen spots to rank 59th from 71st. Copenhagen Business School soared 14 places to finish at  55th this year from 69th in 2019. Rotterdam School of Management rose 11 places to 54th from 65th.


And there were schools that slipped in double-digits. The Thunderbird School of Global Management dropped ten places to 42nd from 32nd a year ago. So did ESCP Business School, falling to 41st from 51st. Shanghai Jiao Tong University also lost 10 places to rank 29th from 19th.

With alumni opinion so heavily weighted in the ranking, and with differences among participant responses often scant, the dramatic ups and downs are inevitable. That is also why the FT tries to place some ballast into its rankings by including the results of participant surveys from two and sometimes three years when available.

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