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Weekend Warriors: A Guide To Mb As For Working Execs


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WEEKEND WARRIORS: A GUIDE TO MBAs FOR WORKING EXECS

It's a balmy summer evening in New York City. More than 500 dressed-for-success executives are converging on the South Street Seaport. They're about to cruise around Manhattan on the De Witt Clinton, a replica of a turn-of-the-century steamship chartered for the night by New York University's Stern School of Business.

For the B-school, this evening is good public relations. Aboard are more than 100 corporate sponsors who send their managers to Stern's executive MBA program at $56,000 a pop. It's also a festive alumni reunion. And it's an initiation rite for the 44 newcomers who make up the Class of 1993. But this is a party they will soon forget: Five days later, these managers from such companies as AT&T, Bankers Trust, Georgia Pacific, and Morgan Stanley will begin a grueling two-year journey in pursuit of their MBAs.

GROUNDSWELL. They're joining the ranks of the 9,500 managers now studying in executive MBA programs at 102 business schools in North America--a student count that's up 27% from just four years ago. Like most, Stern's new crop will meet in classes once a week, on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, while holding down full-time jobs and trying to maintain some semblance of family life.

In theory, at least, these executive MBA programs are like premium ice creams: All the ingredients that go into them are supposed to be richer than what you'd find in a regular MBA program. They attract an older, more seasoned crowd of full-time managers who have a decade or more of experience behind them. They're taught by the schools' best professors, teachers who can withstand the challenges of executives who know better. And from the cruises to the fine wines, the student-managers are often treated as if they already carry the keys to the executive suite. "The chow line has to be good," says Richard R. West, dean of NYU's Stern School. "But in the classroom, you beat the hell out of them academically."

In many cases, those premium expectations are met. But a goodly number of managers are hitting the books at programs of questionable quality, many of which were launched in hope that they would quickly become cash cows for their schools. "Far too many programs are weakened, weekend versions of more traditional full-time programs," says Michael R. Forrest, associate dean of Pepperdine University's program.

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 academic credentials. And the intellectual rigor of some of the programs can be suspect, requiring far fewer hours than a full-time program to gain the same MBA degree.

'WARM BODIES.' Graduates of even some well-regarded programs cite glaring shortcomings. An alumnus of the Loyola College program describes some professors as "bottom-of-the-barrel selections: find any warm body to 'teach' this class." A graduate of the University of Rochester complains that the program he enrolled in focused "too heavily on theory and quantitative analysis. I wish more creative problem-solving and decision-making had been included in the program," he says.

You won't hear such criticisms about Northwestern University's Kellogg school of business. Already a two-time No. 1 winner in BUSINESS WEEK's rankings of full-time MBA programs, Kellogg shot to the top again in our first rating of executive MBA programs. Close behind was its crosstown rival, the University of Chicago, which offered the first executive MBA program in 1943.

Generally, though, this list of top schools differs dramatically from the regular MBA lineup. Such B-school heavyweights as Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, and Cornell don't even offer executive MBAs, allowing some more obscure B-schools to creep toward the front of the pack. Georgia State University's B-school, which has never placed among BW's Top 20 in full-time programs, finished ninth.

The ranking is a result of two new BUSINESS WEEK surveys (page 114). The magazine sent questionnaires to 2,844 executive MBA graduates from 30 schools, asking them to evaluate the quality of their experience. Some 1,610 replied, a response rate of 57%. BUSINESS WEEK also surveyed EMBA directors at 102 schools. Some 76 of the school officials responded, a response rate of 75%. The two polls were put together to achieve an overall ranking.

The result: Kellogg Dean Don P. Jacobs can now crow that he has not only the best full-time MBA program, but also the best degree-granting program for executives as well. Indeed, Kellogg's EMBA graduates typically rave about the experience--even those who had to pay for it themselves. At Kellogg, companies pick up the tab for 9 out of every 10 students. "If every business in this country was managed like Kellogg's program, we would have a booming economy," gushes one grad.

GRIPES. Students gave Kellogg high marks for teaching the business basics and for emphasizing teamwork. Weekly study-group sessions and team assignments formed a key part of the learning experience. Many grads said they found much in the program that was immediately useful to them on the job. "From the first week through the final week, I took something of value to work every Monday," says a marketing manager for a major chemical company.

There were some complaints: about the quality of teaching in finance and the lack of emphasis on international business. One graduate faulted Kellogg for not placing greater importance on integrating the early functional courses in such basics as finance and marketing into a more coherent whole at the end of the program. But such gripes were rare.

What are companies getting for their money? "It's an investment in human resources," maintains Edmund J. Wilson, who heads Northwestern's program. "It improves skills and abilities that will make a company's managers better performers on the job."

Unfortunately, another thing companies are getting for their investment is more turnover. A 1989 graduate of Columbia University's EMBA program figures that as much as one-third of his class has switched jobs since graduation. Echoes another Columbia grad from 1991: "About half of my class is now looking to change jobs." An executive who graduated from Northwestern this year expresses amazement at the number of graduates interviewing for new jobs as the program was ending. "Come on: These are 38-to-45-year-olds whose employers sponsored them in the program," he says. "Where's the loyalty?"

Such opportunism is a problem, concedes Wilson. "I wish I could say that isn't true, but some people enter the program with different motives." He estimates that 35% of Northwestern's crop of EMBAs switch jobs within two years of graduation. But B-schools are careful not to let executive students use their placement offices, often to their chagrin and complaint. For their part, many graduates say they move on because their sponsoring companies don't reward them with either promotions or more responsibilities once they get the degree.

That can be especially frustrating because nearly every manager who goes through a top-ranked program calls it a heavyweights as Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, and Cornell don't even offer executive MBAs, allowing some more obscure B-schools to creep toward the front of the pack. Georgia State University's B-school, which has never placed among BW's Top 20 in full-time programs, finished ninth.

The ranking is a result of two new BUSINESS WEEK surveys (page 46). The magazine sent questionnaires to 2,844 executive MBA graduates from 30 schools, asking them to evaluate the quality of their experience. Some 1,610 replied, a response rate of 57%. BUSINESS WEEK also surveyed EMBA directors at 102 schools. Some 76 of the school officials responded, a response rate of 75%. The two polls were put together to achieve an overall ranking.

The result: Kellogg Dean Don P. Jacobs can now crow that he has not only the best full-time MBA program, but also the best degree-granting program for executives as well. Indeed, Kellogg's EMBA graduates typically rave about the experience--even those who had to pay for it themselves. At Kellogg, companies pick up the tab for 9 out of every 10 students. "If every business in this country was managed like Kellogg's program, we would have a booming economy," gushes one grad.

GRIPES. Students gave Kellogg high marks for teaching the business basics and for emphasizing teamwork. Weekly study-group sessions and team assignments formed a key part of the learning experience. Many grads said they found much in the program that was immediately useful to them on the job. "From the first week through the final week, I took something of value to work every Monday," says a marketing manager for a major chemical company.

There were some complaints: about the quality of teaching in finance and the lack of emphasis on international business. One graduate faulted Kellogg for not placing greater importance on integrating the early functional courses in such basics as finance and marketing into a more coherent whole at the end of the program. But such gripes were rare.

What are companies getting for their money? "It's an investment in human resources," maintains Edmund J. Wilson, who heads Northwestern's program. "It improves skills and abilities that will make a company's managers better performers on the job."

Unfortunately, another thing companies are getting for their investment is more turnover. A 1989 graduate of Columbia University's EMBA program figures that as much as one-third of his class has switched jobs since graduation. Echoes another Columbia grad from 1991: "About half of my class is now looking to change jobs." An executive who graduated from Northwestern this year expresses amazement at the number of graduates interviewing for new jobs as the program was ending. "Come on: These are 38-to-45-year-olds whose employers sponsored them in the program," he says. "Where's the loyalty?"

Such opportunism is a problem, concedes Wilson. "I wish I could say that isn't true, but some people enter the program with different motives." He estimates that 35% of Northwestern's crop of EMBAs switch jobs within two years of graduation. But B-schools are careful not to let executive students use their placement offices, often to their chagrin and complaint. For their part, many graduates say they move on because their sponsoring companies don't reward them with either promotions or more responsibilities once they get the degree.

That can be especially frustrating because nearly every manager who goes through a top-ranked program calls it a demanding experience, a high-wire act of juggling family, career, and school. And sometimes, the pressure can be too much. Arthur Howe, a Wharton alum, recalls a classmate's dismay at not having prepared for a critical finance exam. "I heard sobbing and moaning in the back of the room," he says. "I turned and saw tears running down his cheeks. It was obvious he was overwhelmed by a sense of disappointment in himself."

For Stern's boat-riding newcomers, the pressure begins to build in the first of six week-long residencies. On their first day at Arrowwood, a lavish resort in New York's Westchester County, they are put into study groups, assigned second-year students as mentors, and plunged into a business-simulation game. They assume executive roles, making key decisions about whether to expand abroad and where, and what product lines to sell off or extend.

FASTER PACE. Within two days, each team gets a report card on the profitability of its simulated venture and each individual is getting feedback from peers on his or her performance. One manager is accused of being too autocratic because he directed his teammates to close plants without asking for their ideas on how to cut expenses. Another manager concedes she was too laid-back, not wanting to fully commit herself to the exercise. Before it's all over, everyone will walk away with a cassette tape of colleagues criticizing them. Jokes an instructor: "We suggest that you don't jog with this tape near traffic."

No sooner does the week-long session end than students begin their alternating Friday-Saturday schedule of classes. In addition to the eight hours of class time every week, each student puts in an average of 22 hours of schoolwork. Study groups meet a minimum of once a week, though when a project deadline approaches, the pace can quicken to nightly. "You can always tell an EMBA student by the condition of his lawn and how long the storm windows stay on in the spring," says Shawn Feeney, a Salomon Brothers Inc. vice-president who graduated from Stern this year.

When it's all over, most leave these programs with a mixture of relief and sadness. "We all went through the post-partum blues," says Jeffrey Relkin, a Dun & Bradstreet Corp. manager and 1990 Stern graduate. "It's like the last performance of the school play. It's bittersweet." At least he'll be able to savor his memories as an alumnus on Stern's next cruise around Manhattan.John A. Byrne in New York


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