Internationalizing the EMBA

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The second major challenge facing executive MBA programs these days is how to provide students with a least a rudimentary understanding of international business. As we have clearly seen during the current economic crisis, the economies of the world are linked in ways that we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. Trade flows, financial linkages, outsourcing of labor, and competition from across the globe are everyday issues that businesses everywhere must deal with. EMBA graduates need to have some exposure to these ideas and need to develop an understanding of how the global economy might affect them and their companies.

Schools have tried many different approaches to “internationalizing” their programs. These attempts range from adding new courses, to expanding the number of international students, to international projects and visits abroad. Some schools have even undertaken international partnerships or created entirely new campuses abroad to provide students with this international exposure.

The challenge in creating any of these programs is coming up with an approach that is both cost effective and provides a real lesson in international business. Too often, these programs are little more than extended vacations or simply skim the surface of international issues. While it’s nearly impossible for any program to create fully functioning global managers from scratch, they should at least meet some basic criteria:

1) EMBA students should recognize that their own culture isn’t the only way of doing things

2) They should understand some of the key questions to ask when doing business internationally

3) They should develop some facility in handling cultural differences

4) They should have the opportunity to develop international relationships

5) They should have a basic understanding of important institutional, regulatory and policy differences around the globe

Of course, it would be ideal if every one of our students could spend a significant time working abroad. This would certainly drive home the need to develop a global mindset. Given that few of our programs can provide or require such an in-depth experience, we’ll continue to struggle with the “right” way to globalize. At Chicago Booth, our 3-campus model allows us to create a program in which all of our students spend a significant time working and studying with students from other cultures. It works well for us, but clearly isn’t an option for many other programs.

One interesting thought, however - will the continued expansion of study abroad programs at the undergrad level and the increasing number of EMBA students with some international work experience eliminate or reduce the need for EMBA programs to provide an international experience? It’s entirely possible that international experience will be so woven into the fabric of our everyday lives that it no longer seems reasonable or necessary to create something special. But I suppose that until that time comes, we’ll all continue to try new approaches and argue about what’s most effective.