Booth's Impact on the Executive MBA Industry

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From Chicago to the World
In this post, we ask Michael Desiderio, Executive Director of the EMBA Council (EMBAC), for his thoughts on the 75th anniversary of Chicago Booth’s Executive MBA Program and the future of Executive MBA Programs globally. Desiderio was hired as the first full-time Executive Director of EMBAC in 2007. Before transitioning to academia, he spent 18 years in industry in various positions ranging from engineering to executive management. Since assuming leadership of EMBAC, Desiderio has helped institute a focus on EMBA industry advocacy, thought leadership and a broader research agenda.

The University of Chicago established the world’s first Executive MBA Program in 1943, and other schools followed suit around 20 years later. Why do you think a program for senior leaders resonated in the marketplace, then and now?

Whether in 1943 or 2018, the need for leaders who understand business, culture, strategy, and all aspects in-between is paramount to increasing the odds for success in all types of enterprises. Today, many senior leaders reach high-level positions only to discover they don’t know enough about all aspects of their business to lead with confidence. They look to an EMBA program as a way to fill those gaps and be exposed to other ways of thinking. The world is much more competitive than it ever was. If you want to advance your career, you can’t just count on the knowledge you have and who you are. You have to advance your development. The biggest advantage that EMBA programs give senior leaders is the diversity of who is sitting in that classroom with you and the insights you gain from them.

What is the mission of the EMBA Council?

EMBAC’s mission is to advance the cause of EMBA Programs by providing necessary thought leadership, serving as a facilitator of best practice sharing and knowledge dissemination, and fostering a community among high-quality programs. Our vision is to be the preeminent global voice of the Executive MBA industry by increasing the scope of influence of EMBAC, its members, and the EMBA industry by offering relevant content and thinking that serves key constituents and stakeholders. One of those stakeholder segments is prospective students. As a result, EMBAC created a separate prospective student website with the goal of providing valuable information to this stakeholder group, from advice about admissions to a search and compare tool.

University of Chicago Professor Bud Fackler served as Program Director for many years and played an important role in creating the EMBA Council. How would you characterize his legacy in the industry?

Bud Fackler’s impact is evident in so many ways. When he was making a difference at the Chicago program, I doubt he consciously realized that decades later the tenets of service he outlined for programmatic success would become embedded in the industry. His legacy transcends any one program and has set a benchmark for the community of programs that is EMBAC.

To acknowledge and honor this impact, EMBAC’s highest award, The Bud Fackler Award, is given every year to a program director who exhibits service to our organization AND to the industry overall. The significance of receiving that award today is worldwide and continues to inspire others to give back to our community with an attitude of ‘paying it forward.’

Author’s Note: Chicago Booth Executive MBA Associate Dean Patty Keegan received the Bud Fackler award in 2010.

The 1990s brought rapid growth to the EMBA space. The industry became much more global, as evidenced by our move to open a campus in Barcelona in 1994. What have been the benefits of global expansion to the industry?

EMBAC now has over 200 member schools offering more than 300 EMBA programs in nearly 40 countries. While clearly “local” markets benefit by their leaders engaging in the EMBA experience, the global nature of EMBA programs has broader implications. The world of business is so interconnected that exposing leaders to more than just their market, their culture, enables them to function at a higher level. It’s an opportunity to give people the global exposure that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Career paths are changing, and Executive MBA students are entering the program for different reasons than in years past. How would you characterize this shift, and what are programs doing to adapt? 

The EMBA space is seeing an even more diverse set of individuals in programs. I’m referring to the types of industries and backgrounds represented. For example, more entrepreneurs are coming to EMBA programs. Now more than ever, individuals are realizing that taking ownership for their professional development is not optional if they want to advance their careers in significant ways. EMBA programs continue to respond in variety of ways to aid them. For example, career services, which was non-existent in EMBA programs 15 years ago, is now front and center. Additionally, EMBA programs are constantly looking for ways to improve their respective curriculum to align with the needs of businesses. Finally, programs are looking to technology not as a way to make programs necessarily faster and less expensive, but instead focusing on how technology can improve the learning and further enhance the EMBA experience.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our program, we would like to know – what do you see in the future for Executive MBA Programs? What challenges are on the horizon in terms of continuing to prepare our students to be industry leaders?

I do think technology-enabled learning will expand in our space. I’m not predicting a move to fully online EMBA programs as the norm, but instead see an expansion of the hybrid format to allow for the best of both worlds. I think the EMBA industry will be faced with wrestling with the question of the lock-step cohort as the hallmark of the experience. Over time, adaptations will need to be explored, as those in the pipeline appear to place high value on flexibility. As business becomes ever more interconnected globally, geo-political factors will take on more and more significance. This, coupled with helping leaders to consume and make sense of large pools of data becomes more important than ever. The good news is that EMBA programs, regardless of how they morph and change to meet the needs of businesses in a changing world, are a place where leaders can learn from leaders. The EMBA experience, whether it be virtual or face-to-face, creates an environment for learning that is nearly impossible to duplicate elsewhere.

To read more about the 75th anniversary of Chicago Booth Executive MBA Program and our influence on the EMBA industry, please visit our website.