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The new executive class

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In an increasingly complex and rapidly changing global business environment, Executive MBA (EMBA) programmes allow seasoned managers to evaluate how far they have come and where they want to go. Providers of EMBA programmes say while suitable Executive EMBA candidates may have racked up several years of experience, the EMBA experience can help them to identify areas for improvement and to work on these shortcomings.

Professor Didier Guillot, academic director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) OneMBA, Global Executive MBA Programme, says having recently experienced a major financial and economic crisis that is still significantly affecting some major parts of the world, the time is right for business professionals to upgrade their skills.

“I think now is a good time for professionals to pursue studies to understand the sources of this crisis and its consequences,” Guillot says, adding that business leaders need to prepare organisations for different scenarios and ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

Guillot says EMBA programmes at the CUHK Business School are designed to offer new insights and skill sets. For example, he says the OneMBA programme is unique as it is delivered as a partnership among five schools on four continents.

He says the programme offers students an opportunity to learn from and with other business leaders in the developed economies of North America and Europe, and in the emerging markets of China and India in Asia, and Brazil and Mexico in Latin America.

The CUHK Business School also offers an EMBA Chinese bilingual programme, taught in both Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The Business School’s EMBA English programme, launched in 1993, was the first of its kind offered in Hong Kong.

Guillot says the OneMBA programme reflects a new era of business knowledge and thinking. “Too many of the business and management studies have focused on business models from North America and Europe,” he says. “Of course, it is still important to understand what has fuelled the emergence of these Western economies and their flagship companies to world business prominence. But the times have changed radically,” says Guillot.

He believes business and management innovation is now more driven by emerging markets, so it is crucial for business leaders to know and understand what is happening in China, Brazil and India. “Business leaders need to learn about the way business relationships are successfully formed and sustained with the corporate leaders of the organisations leading the pace in these regions,” says Guillot.

Furthermore, no company can afford to be just local anymore, he adds. “I am not sure all business leaders and managers understand the full consequences of this new reality. What this really means is that even if your main business is within your traditional market, you have to understand the potential threats and opportunities that are outside your home boundaries,” Guillot explains.

Accordingly, he notes, every manager needs to be equipped with the relevant skill set and knowledge to be able to “read” the external environment and adjust the company’s structure, processes and culture. Guillot says this requires openness to new ideas, and a high level of cross-cultural literacy to appreciate different contributions and sources of innovation. “They also have to be able to train their workforce to this new reality,” says Guillot.

The OneMBA is a 21-month programme divided into three terms. Each term starts with a global residency structured around a one-week programme of keynote speeches by academics, business leaders, entrepreneurs, government officials and other relevant individuals. “We also arrange company visits to help our students understand the reality of doing business in different parts of the world,” Guillot says.

The first residency takes place in the US, and the second in Europe – in Amsterdam and Istanbul – at the beginning of term two. “The third global residency takes our students to Latin America in Mexico and Brazil, and the final residency is in India and China,” Guillot says.

In between the global residencies, students meet on the CUHK Business School campus for blocks of classes every five to six weeks to attend their global and regional courses. “We believe we deliver the right mix of theory and practice for our students to understand the reality of doing business, of creating and managing organisations in the major developed and emerging economies of the world,” says Guillot, adding that the EMBA experience also helps participants to build a strong global network with business leaders across the globe.

The Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA, ranked number one in the world by the Financial Times Global EMBA Rankings 2012, has gained a reputation for bringing together the best and brightest students and faculty members in key global locations. The programme is jointly offered by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Business School and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois.

The programme is ranked the world’s No. 1 in terms of “Aims Achieved”, which measures the extent to which the alumni fulfilled their most important goals for taking the programme.

“Our Kellogg-HKUST Executive MBA is a powerful collaborative programme,” says Professor Vidhan Goyal, HKUST Business School academic director. “Most of our students have more than 10 years’ management experience and contribute a wealth of business knowledge.”

Each intake admits about 50 students who take roughly 18 months to complete the programme, which is delivered over two consecutive weekends every month. There are also three additional live-in weeks which take place in Hong Kong and the US.

Goyal says a major aim of the programme is to equip business leaders with effective functional and managerial skills and a global understanding of issues. It also aims to introduce them to an international network of business thinkers who are in positions of leadership in their organisations.

Like many business education professionals, Goyal says business leaders face new challenges. “In addition to market uncertainty, Asian economies are becoming stronger as a big shift of business and finance moves into Asia,” he says, adding that in the future, business leaders will need improved understanding of global management, change management and functional management.

“When the current environment of uncertainty turns around, we can expect to see a growth spurt, and it is those business leaders who are prepared who will be in the best position to take advantage,” says Goyal. “The experience and insights students can gain from the programme will prepare them for challenges and opportunities in an ever-increasingly complex and globally connected world.”

Commenting on the major difference between an EMBA and an MBA, Goyal says the differentiation lies in the delivery. “EMBA students tend to be more experienced, they can look at a problem and bring their own experience to focus on it, which generates a highly stimulating learning environment,” Goyal says.

He says cross-cultural collaboration, teamwork and different industry backgrounds also add to the learning experience. To ensure business leaders from all sectors have access to the programme, a scholarship fund is available to sponsor suitable candidates from non-government and nonprofit organsiations. “We believe the rich mix of students brings wider strategic thinking, critical analysis, and a ‘bigger picture’ of understanding,” says Goyal.

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