How an Executive MBA can take you places you never thought you’d go

David Lewin, Nell H. Jacoby, Chair in Management, UCLA Anderson School of Management

While some students continue on to higher education directly after graduating from college, many more head out into the world to work. It is only after gaining years of experience and success that they realize they could do even better by enrolling in an executive master of business administration (EMBA) program. Instead of just learning about theories and concepts that they may someday apply, they can immediately apply them in their work lives, says David Lewin, the Nell H. Jacoby Chair in Management at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

“The EMBA program draws people who are very highly committed because their average age is 38 and most of them are juggling jobs, families and the program,” says Lewin, who also serves as president of the Labor and Employment Relations Association. “They have a lot of balls in the air and are trying to do something quite demanding. They may actually be more attuned to the program and get more out of it than students in the MBA program precisely because they have other commitments and can immediately apply what they learn over the weekend to their jobs on Monday.”

Smart Business spoke with Lewin about how UCLA’s EMBA program can benefit successful executives who are looking to do even more.

How do students’ experiences in the work world impact performance in the program?

The students’ experience works very well for certain courses. Students are able to interpret and reinterpret that experience in the context of the concepts that are provided to them. Thus, they have a strong preference for ideas that can potentially be translated into practice.

Because we have one section of students entering the program annually — this year the number was 73 — and they take their core courses in one section, they become closely bonded. That experience works well, too, because strong bonds make them more willing to critique each other’s work and treat themselves as a learning community, learning from each other as well as from the faculty.

The courses are highly demanding and students have to fit the demands of the program into the demands of their work and home lives. But that allows them to take what they are learning and have the opportunity to apply that learning quickly, whereas students in the MBA program have to wait until they graduate, get employed and advance in the workplace.

How do students put that knowledge to work in other ways outside the classroom?

In the second year of the program, students self-select small groups to conduct a Strategic Management Research (SMR) project. For two quarters, each group has a client company (or non-profit organization), a faculty adviser and a specific issue or problem to work on. At the conclusion of the SMR, each group must deliver a written report and an oral presentation to the client. These groups often become tighter than the assigned study groups they worked in previously because they are producing deliverables for clients, which can be distributed across the globe. For example, an SMR group recently traveled to Africa to meet with its client organization, and other groups have traveled to Asia, Europe and Latin America for the same purpose.

Because the students have self-selected their groups and are ‘on the hook’ to produce, they typically have a very strong, positive experience. Once in a while, however, and as occurs with groups in any context, an SMR group faces the challenge of learning from a negative experience. For example, a group may lose its main client contact because that individual has left the organization during the project. Occasionally, a client company doesn’t supply the quantity or quality of information required by an SMR group. Also, occasionally, a group may have internal conflicts about its deliverables or its communications processes or a free rider problem. Whenever you have a substantial number of groups working on assignments like the SMR, certain problems will arise, yet students can learn as much or more from these types of conflict as they can from positive experiences; it’s all part of their professional development.

How does the program contribute to the leadership growth of students?

In all of our MBA programs, when students first enter they have an orientation or, in the case of EMBA students, a residential, in which they take a course titled Leadership Foundations. While certain leadership concepts and frameworks are covered, the course is heavily experiential and includes such activities as a survival exercise, a self-assessment, case analyses, a negotiation simulation, an outdoor team building day and study group norm setting. The end-of-course ‘deliverable’ is a Leadership Map in which students state their leadership aspirations, summarize their leadership strengths and limitations, and specify a preliminary leadership development plan for their two-year EMBA program.

In the EMBA program, but not in the MBA or Fully Employed MBA (FEMBA) programs, there is a second Leadership Foundations course offered in the latter part of the first year, and a third course offered in the latter part of the second year. In this last course, students produce an additional, final Leadership Map, this one externally oriented. The big challenge here for EMBA students is to specify how they’re going to further enhance their leadership capabilities after they leave the safe harbor of the program. The underlying rationale for this three-course Leadership Foundations sequence is for students to have recurring (if not continuous) leadership capability development — not just leadership knowledge, but also the ability to apply that knowledge. Currently, the Anderson School is considering adopting this course sequence in the MBA and FEMBA programs so that leadership development for students in those programs doesn’t end at the conclusion of their orientation.

David Lewin is the Nell H. Jacoby Chair in Management at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Reach him at (310) 206-7666 or [email protected]