More Einstein & Tolstoy Than Welch & Gates

What do Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and IE Business School in Madrid, Spain have in common? Roughly 20 Executive MBA students. On March 6, executives and managers from 14 countries, including Malaysia, China, Peru, Pakistan and Mexico, will meet in Providence for their first day of class in the newest and one of the most imaginative partnerships ever struck in business education: the IE Brown Executive MBA program.

The novel 15-month program is a poster child for the most recent wave of executive MBA partnerships–ones that unite the business basics with another discipline all together, while infusing courses with a healthy dose of global content.

In this relationship, Brown is a poet, with faculty slated to deliver liberal arts topics ranging from medical anthropology and neuroscience to international politics. IE is the quant, carrying the bread-and-butter MBA classes. “Many of the leadership challenges confronting global executives arise in the social, political, cultural, and philosophical context that we all know matters, but that usually gets sidestepped in conventional MBA programs,” explains  David Bach, dean of programs at IE Business School, and academic director of the IE Brown Executive MBA. If their website is anything to go by, expect more Einstein and Tolstoy than Welch and Gates.

Such alliances were once considered risky ventures. If it wasn’t the logistics that turned schools off of the idea of moving students and faculty around the globe, it was the thought of working so closely with a rival. But the results are impressive. These executive MBA programs shirk the somewhat prescriptive course of MBA instruction­­–making their single-school EMBA cousins look dull in comparison. Classes meet for varying lengths of time on different continents, often with long gaps between. Students interact through online learning platforms, on Skype, and team conference calls are a given between modules. In lieu of office hours, professors keep class discussions flowing online.

These new degree structures stem from an appetite at B-schools to keep pace with globalization. Through alliances and other programs, “we are witnessing nothing less than the emergence of a global system of management education that transcends national systems,” according to the AACSB Globalization of Management Education Report, published in February 2011 by AACSB, the chief accrediting agency for B-schools. “The connections and depth of interaction among institutions and individuals around the globe will become the most important defining characteristic of the new system.”

The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management is a relatively old hack at the practice. The land-locked school established its Warsaw Executive MBA program in 1994 with the Warsaw School of Economics. A few years later, the school forged alliances to launch the Vienna Executive MBA. Today, this class meets in four countries, Russia, China, India and the US. In 2001, the school added the China Executive MBA (CHEMBA), which advertises a particular knack at “the dynamic business environment of the South China region.” Meantime, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management was forming similar programs in Israel, Germany, Hong Kong, and Toronto.

In 2000, more B-schools aligned to bring the best of their wares abroad. That year, top-ranked schools such as Columbia Business School and London Business School announced a partnership to offer EMBA-Global (now called EMBA Global Americas and Europe), which meets in London and Manhattan. NYU-Stern, HEC-Paris and London School of Economics added the 16-month TRIUM EMBA program to the mix. TRIUM’s most unique piece comes from LSE, which examines the intersects between geopolitical issues and business.

“The earth seems to be shrinking in terms of the number of alliances we see,” says Brigitta Theleman, OneMBA program director at UNC Kenan-Flagler. OneMBA is a five-school partnership – yes, five – that includes The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Rotterdam School of Management, Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey Graduate School of Business Administration and Leadership (EGADE), and Brazil’s Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo da Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV-EAESP). This year, OneMBA enrolls 110 students between its five home campuses.

Global, multi-school programs are increasingly popular with students and employers. In the Financial Times’ ‘EMBA Rankings 2010,’ multi-school degrees command the top three spots. The 13-year-old Kellogg-HKUST EMBA program, which leans on regional expertise from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is first, followed by EMBA Global Americas and Europe and TRIUM. Spots No. 4 and No. 5 went to INSEAD and University of Chicago–Booth, which work independently to shuttle their EMBA students to global satellite campuses.

The programs are hitting their stride as more EMBA hopefuls call for global content to match the demands they face in their multi-continent careers. “Getting the best of the best got my attention,” says Ivar Borge, a member of the TRIUM global executive MBA class of 2011, and head of the consulting practice at PwC’s Bergen, Norway office. “LSE is well known as a brilliant school for economics and the macro picture. NYU-Stern is known for finance, and HEC-Paris for their strength in marketing, for instance.”

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