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Executive MBAs: Are they worth it?

Last updated on: December 26, 2011 15:16 IST

Executive MBAs: Are they worth it?


Urmila Rao
Most executive education programmes promise to catapult you to the next level in your career. Careers360 examines what is on offer in the classroom for experienced working professionals.

Year 2006. Kavita Singh, manager with travel firm Cox and Kings, used to handle key accounts of the firm.

A few years into her job, she felt that the client meetings with senior level leadership required broader outlook than what she possessed. Her position gave her the confidence but she missed out on making a lasting impression.

During her interactions, she wondered if she could break the ice with the C-league; CEOs, CFOs, COOs, sustaining a striking conversation.

Kavita hoped that taking up Executive managerial studies will help her fill these gaps. Today, she doesn't feel that way. The experience turned out to be a mixed bag, if not disappointing.

Mid-career studies, Executive PG Programmes (PGP Ex) or Executive MBA enrollments are picking up. Several professionals like Kavita are joining the bulging band of mid-career managers, who, with five and even 10 years of work experience, aim to seek professional salvation in executive education. One wonders at the feverish rush for this newfangled stream.

"The concept of Executive MBA took off in the 1990s, when people realized the need for advanced degrees to further their careers," says Bhaskaran Srinivasan, Director, Executive Education, Manipal University.

But are Executive PGPs really substance or just hype? More like a passing trend before some other genre of education catches popular fancy? After all, in the age of focused-content knowledge or skill-based specalisations, what is the sustainability of executive studies?

A PGP-Ex attempts to demystify the rush. "It adds weight to the resume." A lot of professionals don't deny it. "Most candidates do the programme for the sake of doing it," maintains Jappreet Sethi, Senior VP, HR, Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate consultancy firm.

Candidates mostly choose part-time, online, or distance learning mode for studies as it means no interruption in the present career and cost-effective study.

While a majority self-finance, a few lucky ones get company sponsorship or fee subsidy. However, a handful of passionate ones take up residential option for a revived educational experience through sabbatical. But this is an experience which is still largely limited to the affluent and elite in India.

Let's come back to the question: Is Executive Education a trend?

Illustration: Dominic Xavier


'Programme beneficial for professionals who possess only technical qualification'

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Assessing Executive Education

An executive undertaking PG or EMBA programme looks forward to equip him/herself with management skills and techniques, strategic thinking, critical analysis, better communication and team-building skills.

"The programme is beneficial for professionals who possess only technical qualification," says P C Mehra, who teaches marketing at IMI, a premier Delhi B-school. It is not uncommon to see IITians and engineering students from other colleges or even accounting professionals becoming PGP Ex hopefuls in a bid to prop up their career prospects. Mehra also points out that those executives who earlier joined work soon after their Bachelor's feel tempted to be a part of the Executive Education (EE) club.

How meaningful is EE to corporate workforce, especially those who hold communication–based portfolios like sales and marketing or even for dynamic senior managers who have travelled far and wide, sealing lucrative business deals?

After all, they have been there, done it all, understand threadbare the nuances of business and corporate human behaviour, at a much elevated level compared to a textbook offering?

In this back, value-add of executive studies to interpersonal profiles get a tad debatable. As on date Kavita feels that the course which she took from IIM-Calcutta, didn't have as much takeaway as she had expected. The "wow" factor was not there. Her batchmates, some of them already MBAs, felt much the same. Yes, it did provide a platform for networking, she agrees.

In Delhi, Sampath Sundaram's experience echo's Kavita's. The classroom debates at his institution, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), he says, were not as invigorating.

"Some times professors didn't have satisfying answers to our queries," declares Sampath, 40, who studied Executive Master's in International Business, for 18 months. A professional with 10 years of marketing experience, he felt the need to equip himself for international markets since he was employed with the Korean Embassy. But, it was not the course, but connection to 'some good people' from the industry that turned out to be the real clincher.

Mehra backs EE programmes. Managerial studies widen an individual's knowledge domain, he says. Students obtain fresh perspectives and engage in meaningful dialogue in the classroom, he avers. "Students in a class comprise those from diverse backgrounds and portfolios," agrees Sampath.

Networking becomes all the more alluring in such a scenario. Global firms see merit in EE and sponsors handpick candidates. However, companies deploy this strategy to retain performers who the company feels are very valuable.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Our B-Schools have scant number of doctorates

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Mapping classroom to real world

It is worth noticing that PGP programmes are run by the same B-Schools who have failed to make any impressive cut in the global MBA rankings.

In the recent The Economist (October, 15, 2011) B-School rankings, no Indian B-School finds representation in the top 30. The sole representative, IIM-A, sits feebly at 78th position in the Asian category. So, one wonders, how robust could be the curriculum design for experienced professionals, which our B-schools configures.

The other notable aspect is the faculty qualification. Top institutions like Dartmouth & MIT-USA, IESE-Spain, HEC-France house 100 percent PhD faculty. In comparison, our B-Schools have scant number of doctorates and their research output, consultancy services as well as effective industry engagements are often questioned.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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The B-school attitude

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Also put in the dock is the attitude of the some of the well-known schools. When Kavita and her batchmates didn't find the IIM-C curriculum outstanding, couldn't they have given their feedback?

The answer is 'No' because 'It wouldn't have mattered anyway'. If popular schools find themselves so exceptional why don't they have overseas professionals vying to enrol in them?

Syamant Sandhir, CEO, Futurescape, a management consultancy firm asks, "Do professionals get trained in 'creating risk' as opposed to 'managing risk?' How often are candidates equipped to react in real time to actual emergency situations?" he asks. He also questions the social inclusiveness aspect of management studies where energies are more oriented more towards corporate gains backed by individual ambitions. "Corporate executives need to give back to society as well," feels Sandhir.

Sethi of JLL says, "The real payoff is when you can pick up a real business problem and solve it using newly-acquired knowledge and skills." But Sethi also articulates that implementing classroom learning to the real world depends much on the professional himself. Post programme, can he/she demonstrate effectively that he/she can service his clients better, or can lead to increased revenues for the company?

"If an employee can demonstrate that he can create competitive advantage for his company, then he is bringing learning out of the classroom," says Sethi.

Yogesh Malik, who was employed with Godrej & Boyce when he took PGP in Sales & Marketing was able to do that. The distance-learner of IIM-Indore says that the course helped him to identify the product gaps.

He explains, "We were looking for product range diversification but realised that we needed to cater to a few product gaps first." Soon after the situation was assessed, goods were launched and the problem was addressed. Yogesh, now sales manager with a global firm, 3M, credits the course for the clarity.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Should you sign up too?

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As on date, when an EE mention sits pretty on the resume; it opens up wide doors for promotion, mobility across function areas and unlocks cross-sectoral opportunities.

To sum up, avenues for a fresh start open up. The quintessential desire of an increased pay package and/or a greater role responsibility or a blend of both is targeted through EE.

But gear up for a few facts. "Most candidates don't get any pay raise immediately after completing the course, the payoffs are gradual but for sure," says Sethi of JLL. Yogesh agrees. Even the IIM brand failed to boost his wages immediately, but it did give him an edge when he changed his job to 3M.

Genpact's Piyush Mehta, Senior VP, HR sees clear merit in mid-career management studies. He says, "Constant learning enables an individual to grow personally and professionally." Genpact, an arm of Fortune 500 company, GE, encourages executives to pursue full-time MBA programme under its sabbatical policy, offering fee subsidy as well.

Full-time PGPs deliver desired exposure in educational experience. The icing on the cake is enrolling in a high-rank B-school.

"In residential programme, the peer learning is high," says Dr. Anil Rao of Welingkar, Bangalore. "Candidates from a reputed school are assessed favourably by a company," Sethi maintains. Progressive firms usually tie-up with institutions whose deliverables are well-known.

Cheil WorldWide, for example, runs a global programme with Wharton. "Every year 20 of our best employees from around the world are sent to Wharton for a short executive programme, tailored to the needs of our business and organization," says Alok Agarwal, COO, Cheil WorldWide, SW Asia. EE aims to train professionals to be future leaders. An expanse of knowledge, especially to hardcore technical backgrounds, is worthwhile. "A candidate with technical experience who specalises in marketing can be a good marketer in a tech company," says Alok.

"Good leaders are not only experts of their domains but are also adept in cross-disciplinary transactions," sums up Uday Salunkhe, Director, Welingkar. At Manipal University, the cost of programme is Rs. 180,000. The entry requirement: One year of work experience.

Welingkar's fee is Rs 5 lakhs for candidates with 5-years of experience whereas, ISB charges Rs 27.70 lakhs for those with 10 years of employment background.

A wide fee range means a wide room of negotiation in salary and position. High fee-payers clinch better deals. And the range is 10-40% over the last drawn pay packages. Sort out schools which offer best return on investment if you too aspire to be member of the EE club.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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