Traditional MBA or Executive MBA Program?

An EMBA program is more than "an MBA without the kids," but an experienced cohort does make a difference.

An Executive MBA has an impressive ring to it, and for individuals with experience in upper and mid-level management who want to boost their careers through an academic program, it could be just the thing. But how does an EMBA really differ a traditional MBA program?

For a start, Executive MBA programs are targeted towards older applicants with more work experience. For Davide Turi, a 36-year-old student on Imperial College London’s Weekend Executive MBA program, this in itself was an important consideration.

“I didn’t want to be Uncle Davide,” jokes Turi about the prospect of being the oldest in class. “I wanted the possibility to share the experience with people at my level.”

Turi is a marketing director for a major Italian media company. The format of the weekend program has allowed him to commute from Milan on a monthly basis. In previous years, students have commuted to London from as far as Boston and Shanghai.

And as well as the benefits of an international study body, Imperial’s program includes international study tours, providing “an opportunity for Executive MBAs to see business in action within an international context.”

An element of international learning is a key aspect of most EMBA programs these days, delivered through study trips and exchanges with foreign partner institutions. The University of Texas, Dallas Executive MBA features two trips abroad.

“It’s an opportunity to apply what they have learned and visit with a real cross-section of different players in a global business environment,” explains Thomas Henderson, the program’s assistant dean. “It can be meeting with governments, business, multinationals, local, and global organizations.”

Henderson believes such an experience benefits all EMBA students, no matter what their future roles.

“Our thinking is that whether you are interested in global business or not, globalization is here to stay,” says Henderson. “The forces of globalization effect the mom-and-pop corner shop as much as it does the global organization, so to really understand today’s dynamic business environment, that global piece is essential.”

In fact, some programs make the international angle the centerpiece.

One difference in applying to an executive program as opposed to a standard MBA is that EMBA applicants are judged on different criteria. Quality work experience, for example, will often be valued higher than an academic pedigree. Furthermore, many EMBA programs do not require a GMAT score.

“How relevant is a GMAT score, particularly if you’ve taken it ten years ago?” Henderson asks rhetorically.

“We would much rather have an individual apply who has some very significant, relevant work experience – somebody who has managed and led an organization; someone who can really contribute to the classroom.”

With an older and more experienced cohort and a greater focus on case studies and applied learning, one of the most important things an EMBA can offer comes not from the institution itself, but the bringing together of driven individuals from a whole spectrum of business sectors.

“You’re sitting in a classroom with people with significant experience, and the opportunity to network and learn from each other is really greater,” says Henderson, comparing UTD’s Executive MBA to the traditional MBA.

“There’s less emphasis on the one-way transfer of information from faculty member to student – it’s more of an engaging, dynamic classroom discussion based around case studies where everyone has a lot to share based on their experiences.”

“We are from such different backgrounds,” says Davide Turi of his EMBA cohort at Imperial.

“If you are working on a case study in an different industry from the one you have experience in, it’s important to get feedback from other students who have a different background, so this is an immediate positive point.”

Because most executive programs operate a part-time format, students can constantly apply new approaches and ideas in the real world.

“With a full-time MBA it’s possible you could forget something,” says Turi. “But if you are working at the same time you have the possibility to apply the things that you are studying the day after.”

And for him, the EMBA has given his career a boost long before graduation.

“I saw that I improved my performance [at work] in presentations, in my ability to analyze situations, to apply financial knowledge to my proposals,” says Turi. “So, I saw – month-by-month – that I was improving a lot, and I had great feedback from my boss and colleagues. It’s been such a powerful experience.”

Photo: Katherine Hala / Flickr (cropped)

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