An Executive MBA or An Advanced Management Program?

For years, executives viewed the multi-week management programs at business schools as miniature versions of the MBA. The long-time gold standard of these educational experiences has been Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program, the so-called AMP.

Since its founding in 1945, more than 20,000 executives have graduated from the program. Many of those execs put the AMP on their resumes as if it’s an MBA degree. It’s that well known and that prestigious. The program used to last a full 11 weeks, but has since been collapsed into eight weeks at a cost of $64,000—largely because few companies can easily afford to give up a top executive for nearly three months.

And truth is, an AMP from Harvard or any of the equivalent multi-week general management programs at Stanford or Northwestern is just not an MBA. It’s impossible to cram two years worth of work in just a few weeks, no matter how hard a school and its professors try. If you want the real thing, yet can’t afford or want to leave your job, your best option is the Executive MBA.

In theory, at least, these programs are like premium ice cream. All the ingredients that go into them are supposed to be richer than what you’d find in a regular MBA. They attract an older, more seasoned crowd of full-time managers who have a decade or more of experience behind them. The average years of work experience for an EMBA student is 13.3 years; the average years of management experience is 8.4 years. A school’s best professors, teachers who can withstand the challenges of executives who bring considerable experience to discussions, teach student execs. And from the fine wines to the accommodations, usually in upscale hotels, student-executives are often treated as if they already carry the keys to the C-suite.

These days, about 35% of EMBA students pay their own way. About 30% receive full tuition reimbursement from their employers (down five percentage points from 2006). And the remaining 35% percent receive partial reimbursement. These programs tend to be costly, though at least they allow you to hold onto your job, unlike traditional full-time MBA programs where the opportunity costs of forgoing a salary for two years can cost you more than $200,000 in lost pay. So if you work for a company that would be willing to foot the bill and you believe you could benefit from the degree, you should sign up immediately.

In recent years, business schools have devoted much time and energy to making Executive MBA programs among the most innovative offerings in business education. International partnerships among schools all across the globe are now common. Some of these programs are formed by the marriages of strange bedfellows. One recent example: A highly creative program put together by Brown University, which does not have a business school, and IE Business School, a top-ranked MBA player in Spain. International residencies have become core components of many of the best EMBA programs. Chicago’s Booth School of Business has campuses in both London and Singapore so if you are an EMBA student in Chicago, you’ll have residencies in both Europe and Asia. If you are an EMBA student in Chicago’s program in Singapore, you’ll be going to the U.S. and Europe.

These are but a few of the premium ingredients commonly tossed into the mix. In most cases, the high expectations of these programs are met. Indeed, almost 97 percent of the EMBA grads who took part in a 2009 exit benchmarking survey said their programs met or exceeded expectations for impact on their career. About a third of the EMBA grads reported being promoted after getting their degrees, while 44 percent received additional job responsibilities.

Students’ average salary at the start of their EMBA program was $125,029, according to the survey of 3,348 students from 112 programs. Upon completion of the EMBA, students’ average salary rose 9 percent to $136,722. Remember these numbers were recorded in the most severe recession since the Great Depression. The graduating students, moreover, expected a payback period on the degree of some 49 months.

Getting into a top quality program is a must, however. A large number of managers are hitting the books at programs of questionable quality, many of which were launched in the hope that these programs would become cash cows for their schools. This is especially true of many online programs. “Far too many programs are weakened, weekend versions of more traditional full-time programs,” one dean complains.

Some of these schools, say the critics, accept virtually any paying customer who walks through the door—even those with as little as two years of work experience. The faculties are composed of too many adjunct teachers with dubious intellectual credentials. And the intellectual rigor of some of the programs can be suspect, requiring far fewer hour than a full-time program to gain the same MBA degree.

That’s why it’s important to consult rankings, however imperfect they may be. It’s also a good idea to visit the schools you’re considering, sit in on a class or two, speak with current students and with alums.

Getting an Executive MBA can be a life-transforming experience. You just need to invest the time and energy to make the right choice for you.


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