Before taking the plunge, many people considering an Executive MBA program want to know what they can expect in the classroom.
Antonio Bernardo, a professor of finance at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, has taught in the MBA program for 16 years and the Executive MBA program for the last six. He says the real-world experience of the Executive MBA group creates a lively, collegial atmosphere.
“There are many occasions when the students relate their work experiences to the issues we discuss in the classroom,” Bernardo says. “It shows how real organizations try to execute policies we recommend in theory.”
Smart Business spoke with Bernardo about how the Executive MBA classroom works.
What are the main differences between a full-time MBA course and an Executive MBA course?
One of the big differences between the two programs is the EMBA students immediately see the value of the material we are covering in class and can use it immediately in their careers.
Students will come up to me and say ‘I’m working on this problem right now that is exactly like the material we are covering in class. How would I deal with this nuance?’ People immediately see the value and have applications for it, many of them in real-time.
Another big difference is the classroom discussion tends to be richer. Students have more management experience, they are obviously a little older than the full-time students and the backgrounds are quite diverse. That is one of the reasons why I love to teach in the program. I learn a tremendous amount from the students who bring their own experiences into the discussions.
What is the environment like in an Executive MBA classroom?
One important aspect that is true in all our programs, but especially true with EMBA, is that it is a very collegial environment. The students recognize they need to work together and learn a lot from each other. They have intense demands on their time from their work and family life, so they have a lot to do.
That happens in our full-time MBA program too, but I think the EMBAs recognize it is a matter of survival that they work well together in groups and lean on each other. Everyone sees it as a positive sum game; we can all make ourselves better by helping each other out.
What is likely to be covered in a normal EMBA class?
An EMBA class is less likely to go according to plan. I will have a plan for the class, but quite often a really interesting thing comes up in the discussion and I don’t want to just ignore it because I have to follow my plan. Normally, my planning is a lot more flexible, and I leave a lot more time for discussions that you can’t predict in advance.
Learning from the experience of others is a big part of the value in an executive MBA. My view: Don’t try to kill those kinds of discussions. Let them flourish, but at some point you have to rein them in. For me, that has always been the challenge. How do we make sure we get all this experience into the classroom discussion without overwhelming the material we have to cover?
How do you relate that back to subject material that initially spurred the discussion?
The topics specifically covered in the core course I teach in corporate finance are mainly issues surrounding valuation and capital structure. For instance, how do firms finance themselves?
That is a pretty rich set of topics to get student input on, because invariably EMBA students are working on exactly those types of problems. It’s not that challenging to get it back to the material; the harder part is the nuances that come up in execution. Often, that is where the students have an interesting perspective. The theory will say, ‘You should take investment projects in these situations,’ and a student will point out an organizational challenge that makes it difficult to execute that policy. Those issues of execution often show up in the classroom discussion. The theory says one thing, but in reality you have to deal with different situations. How do we deal with those nuances? That is where the discussion gets incredibly interesting.
Why would someone opt for an Executive MBA instead of a full-time MBA?
If a person is in a very good position at their firm, the opportunity cost of leaving that position to go to a full-time program would be very high. That would be one reason. An Executive MBA is a good choice for people in a strong career path in their current organization who need to develop skills to push them over the top.
The other advantage of an Executive MBA is that the scheduling of the program can be accomplished while maintaining your career. The EMBA group meets every two weeks on Fridays and Saturdays. Obviously, these people have an incredibly difficult workweek with their careers and family life, but the scheduling of the EMBA allows them to juggle all those different things in their life.
Antonio Bernardo is a professor of finance at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Reach him at (310) 825-2198 or firstname.lastname@example.org.