How an Executive MBA can change the way you think about your business

Professor Rakesh Sarin, Paine Chair in Management, UCLA Anderson

Even though he’s on sabbatical this year, Professor Rakesh Sarin can’t just walk away from teaching. He says he enjoys teaching the MBA and Executive MBA program students and is learning too much from them not to teach at least one class. He particularly enjoys teaching the Executive MBA students, as he says they bring new challenges.

“EMBA students are lot more engaged on conceptual issues, even though they have to balance work and study,” says Sarin, who holds UCLA Anderson’s Paine Chair in Management. “They also can apply their new knowledge to their careers immediately, as they already hold full-time jobs.”

Smart Business spoke with Sarin about how the EMBA program differs from the MBA program and how it can change the way you think in your own business.

How does the EMBA program differ from the MBA program?

Students in the EMBA program have more experience. Their primary goal is learning to enhance their careers. It really changes the nature of the discussion in the class.

EMBA students are generally very well prepared. They are used to meeting deadlines and managing their time; you don’t have to monitor whether they are preparing for the class.

Whereas in the MBA program students are focused on learning concepts; in the EMBA program students like to challenge concepts and see extensions of them as they apply to real life. Some of that goes on with MBA students, as well, but they tend to focus more on being sure they can apply those concepts to their homework and exams. EMBA students also think about exams, but more as a reflection of their understanding of the material, and not so much as a goal. They are more interested in how to apply the concepts they learn to the real world.

It’s interesting to talk to them because they tend to bring their own ideas and experiences into whatever concept we are covering. They’re also not afraid to offer their own opinions. The answer might not be what I had in mind, but they are thinking of it in a different way, and I find that very refreshing.

How does their work experience translate to the classroom?

One example is when we were doing a case in which students had to decide whether they were going to put more money into a marketing campaign of a dealer promotion, or put more money into consumer promotion, meaning they would give coupons directly to consumers. There was a student who had faced a similar situation at his job at a major corporation and he was able to provide a lot of input on what he did. Another example is when I was talking about something that happened a couple decades ago. Because of one student’s work experience, he was able to update us on what had happened since then.

Our students are very willing to share their experiences, which helps solidify what they learn. As a result there are a lot of things from the classroom that they are able to apply very quickly to their careers, and are then able to come back and talk about their own real-world applications. From an instructor’s perspective, it’s very refreshing to hear, ‘I learned this in the classroom, and here’s how I’m going to now try to apply it to my work situation.’

How does the EMBA program impact the way students think?

It helps them with decision making and changes the way they think to become more analytical.

The program really emphasizes analytical thinking and how to use it to make real-world decisions. We try to not just teach regression analysis, for example, but how to use regression analysis to improve the forecasting of what you are doing in your company and improve decision making.

How do study groups encourage students to work together?

I find that students in learning teams build closer relationships and are more willing to help one another out. They may be competitive in the classroom when they are discussing something, but within their groups, teamwork reigns. I give two kinds of assignments in my class in which students can work together in groups. In the first, they work together to submit group assignments. In the other, they can work on problem sets as a group, but must submit assignments individually. It can be hard to judge because I only see the output, but I get a greater sense of the entire team contributing.

Sometimes the more goal-oriented MBA students tend to outsmart themselves by delegating someone to do the primary work. Then, when I ask questions, I can see someone is on top of it, but the other group members are less engaged. I don’t see that in EMBA students. Someone might be carrying more weight than another person, but they have all talked about it and have all engaged in the assignments they have been given.

Those relationships often far outlast the classroom. Those 70 students in the program move from one class to another, and are together for the whole year. That builds relationships and further enhances the value of the EMBA program.

Rakesh Sarin holds UCLA Anderson’s Paine Chair in Management. Reach him at (310) 825-3930 or [email protected]