Milestones

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In London last week Booth held a celebration marking our 20 years of our Executive MBA program in Europe. We will have a similar one in Asia next month marking 15 years of our program there. It was an amazing event, with over 300 alumni from every cohort from the beginning. We even had current students (EXP21) and a new admit from Kuwait who will start EXP22 in the summer. Thus at one time we had people from our 22 European cohorts in the same room. It was wonderful to see so many old students and friends! Such great memories.

My first observation from the celebration is that setting up the program was an amazing, bold move for us. At the time all of our classes had always been held in Chicago. The school was contacted by a group that asked if we would consider setting up a program in Andorra (!!). While the Deans were skeptical, we like crazy ideas, so a delegation was sent to Andorra to hear them out. This idea was rejected, but they persisted and eventually a sponsor and building were found for us in Barcelona. That is where the EXP program began and operated for its first 11 years.

Why did Booth start an Executive MBA program in Europe? Part of the answer was probably to plunge into the unknown and see what happens - academics often think that way. If the program did not succeed, it could be shut down quickly. Part of it was no doubt a desire to find a way to spread the influence of our ideas and teaching methods more broadly. Globalization was gaining traction at that time but nowhere near where it is today.

The way the program was implemented was also a bold move. Virtually all schools with cross-border EMBA programs choose local partners. We did not do so, nor do we do so today. Booth elected to fly professors, and PhD students to serve as teaching assistants, to Barcelona to teach classes for a week at a time. We also rented a building and hired a staff, far from our home. Clearly this is not profit maximizing! But we are not maximizing profit. We do not want to dilute the quality and nature of our teaching. Running the program (now in London and Hong Kong) is very hard and very costly, but it is the only way to deliver the same education, professors and quality as at our original campus.

My second observation is that the first students also made a bold, gutsy move. The University of Chicago was then famous in the US, but not very much in Europe. The first program was bootstrapped from nothing. The first students in EXP1 and EXP2 were, along with the professors, pioneers. Collectively they figured out how to make it all work, and set the tone and culture for what has become an incredible, thriving global program.

This is a salute to those bold, crazy, gutsy pioneers: Among many other thanks to Professors Harry Davis and Jack Gould, Associate Dean Bill Kooser, and the students of IXP1 (later EXP) and the other earliest cohorts. Collectively they figured out how to make it all work, and set the tone and culture for what has become an incredible, thriving global program. Thank you so much for taking the chance and creating all of this for us!


Mike Gibbs