Reason Nº. 2
Because you can do it online
Michael Murphy, a theatre director by training, had always been interested in the dynamics of leadership. But in order to qualify for professional development assistance offered by his employer, a Toronto hospital foundation, he had to sign up with an accredited institution—without disappearing for weeks at a time. So Murphy enrolled in an executive program at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana (whose EMBA offerings were recently ranked No. 15 in the world by The Economist). The hook: The program, which involved three courses stretched over a year, was delivered entirely online.
Notre Dame is far from the only school offering online executive education. Ivy League schools like Harvard and Columbia have jumped onto the virtual bandwagon, catering to students who want accreditation from a top-flight school but can’t afford to miss a week of work. As Murphy discovered, however, there are drawbacks: The Notre Dame course’s laid-back design didn’t stretch him the way he’d hoped. “It was a series of video lectures with no real reading required,” he says. As for networking, Murphy could chat with his classmates through web forums, but it wasn’t a mandatory, or even necessary, part of the coursework, and it meant Murphy didn’t connect with his classmates. (He ended up writing his GMAT and applying for the MBA program at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.)
Not all online courses are delivered the same way, so it’s worth investigating whether students must sign in at set times for live, online lectures (which promise a more dynamic experience) or view pre-recorded ones (which offer greater flexibility). Some schools host mandatory discussions, which can bring out voices that might stay silent in the classroom, while others let the students decide how much they want to interact. Some require coursework and presentations to be prepared in advance of a live, virtual class; others leave the assessments to tests and assignments. There’s a wide range of options to suit learners of all styles.
Reason Nº. 3
Because you can study just about anything you’re interested in
Businesses aren’t generic and, increasingly, neither is business education. Instead of one-size-fits-all packages, a growing number of advanced business programs are blending management smarts with industry-specific skills.
A few examples: The University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business runs a program for agribusiness execs. UBC’s Sauder School of Business offers an EMBA focused entirely on health care management, sending students to places like the U.K. to study their systems up close. Meanwhile, the Schulich School of Business at York University offers a Master of Finance geared specifically to regulatory affairs.
Schulich also offers a newly launched Master of Science in Business Analytics that looks to teach technicians how to better communicate with managers and executives. Tapping into the current interest in so-called Big Data, the program offers a split of 60% quantitative skills—statistics, optimization, right down to SQL programming—and 40% management training. “We created it to meet the needs of the industry,” says Murat Kristal, the program’s director. Graduates of the program, launched in 2012, have gone on to take jobs at Scotiabank and Deloitte.
Reason Nº. 4
Because chances are you can get a program tailored to you and your co-workers
Most schools offer executive education courses in two flavours: public courses and custom content developed in partnership with corporate clients. In a custom course, the university works with an organization to create not only a specific program of learning, but also to help it choose from the school’s faculty roster to best suit its needs.
At Ivey, custom programs make up about 60% of the executive education offerings. It partnered with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan to provide OTPP employees an intensive leadership regimen in three-day chunks, once every three months. “By the time they’re finished that third day, they’re almost a little shell-shocked,” says David Loree, Ivey’s faculty director of executive education, who works closely with client CEOs to develop and review each program.
Most bespoke programs combine functional experience in the company’s core business with leadership skills. And taking an executive cohort through a program that’s customized to a company’s needs can offer a bonding experience once reserved for the corporate retreat. “The kickoff of the program was not only done by the CEO, but all the employees got together and had a fireside chat,” says Loree of the OTPP group. “And to be honest, it wasn’t a glowing 360. There was some incredible transparency there.”
Reason Nº. 5
Because you’ll make more money
The California-based Executive MBA Council, which represents more than 200 global business schools, tracks the annual salaries and bonuses of EMBA students before and after graduation. In 2012, the average compensation of graduates increased by 17%. The EMBA bump has been shrinking, however:
In 2003, it was 30%, and in 2010, during the throes of the financial crisis, grads saw just an 11% increase.
Reason Nº. 6
Because it’s not just for Big Business
Sandra Hamilton knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship. The former magazine publisher and Vancouver Islander created a niche for herself managing Canadian Olympians like rowers Silken Laumann and Greg Stevenson who were looking to get in to business after retiring.
Thanks to that experience, Hamilton became something of an evangelist for the notion that social good and business success belong together. With more than 86,000 charities in Canada competing for a limited pool of donations, fundraising is getting increasingly cutthroat. “It costs more now to raise a dollar than it ever has,” says Hamilton. Charities that want to survive are having to come up with innovative ways to fuel their work, she adds, pointing to organizations like the YWCA in Vancouver, which runs a hotel to help subsidize its costs.
When Hamilton decided it was time to pursue her own next act, she went looking for a business program to help formalize her training in the real world of charities. “I knew I wanted an MBA or an EMBA, but to use market forces to do social good,” she says.
Although there are several similar programs in the U.K. and U.S., including schools like Oxford and Stanford, none existed here in Canada. So Hamilton helped forge one herself. After interviewing potential schools, she found an eager partner in the University of Fredericton, a six-year-old private university that is accredited to deliver MBA and EMBA degrees entirely online. “She broached the idea that we create a specialty track,” says David Large, the university’s vice-president of university advancement and dean of its business school. “We did some homework and said, ‘You’re going down a promising path.’”
The result was the Online Executive MBA in Social Enterprise Leadership, a program that builds on the school’s general MBA, with courses taught by an international slate of professors on how to balance customer benefit, shareholder returns and social good, and on the new legal frameworks that governments are creating to promote social enterprises.
It’s not just agile start-ups that are getting into non-profit education: No less than the Harvard Business School offers week-long courses in non-profit management and governance at its Boston campus. Hamilton prefers Fredericton’s online approach, since students aren’t forced to leave their communities to participate, and the school can attract teaching experts from around the globe. Currently enrolled in Fredericton’s EMBA program, Hamilton has helped shape the curriculum for her own education. Social change, as ever, starts small.
Reason Nº. 7
Because you might end up sitting beside—or learning from—a legend
Networking has always been a hallmark of executive education, and you never know who you’ll meet. Porter Airlines CEO Bob Deluce and astronaut Roberta Bondar (now a director at Com Dev International) took executive programs at Rotman. Craig MacTavish, GM of the Edmonton Oilers, has a Queen's EMBA. Stephen Jarislowsky and Paul Desmarais Jr. are executives-in-residence at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management. You get the idea.
Reason Nº. 8
Because it doesn’t have to cost $150,000 and take two years
Or even two weeks, for that matter. The recession has put the crunch on exorbitantly priced executive programs (as you’ll see on page 42, they can cost as much as $110,000) that take students away for weeks at a time.
“Five years ago, you’d see programs that would be residency-intensive, and seek to take the leader away for a period of reflection,” says Michele Milan, CEO of executive programs at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. No more. The buzzword now is “blended learning”: Business schools are offering courses that blend short intensives with online follow-ups and on-the-job coaching. Rotman’s course in executive leadership, for instance, is a trim eight-month program that kicks off with a five-day intensive residency, followed up with webinars, consultations with an advisory committee, and coaching sessions with a personal adviser that take place in the workplace, not the classroom. At $10,900, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s a far cry from the kind of advanced management programs that take a much bigger bite out of budgets—and calendars.
Reason Nº. 9
Because it could help you save the planet
A 2012 survey by Corporate Knights magazine found that more than two-thirds of Canadian business schools make at least some mention of environmental sustainability in their curriculum. York University’s Schulich School of Business has taken top place in the CK survey for the past decade, thanks to endowed positions in ethics, and business and sustainability. Second place went to the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, which offers an online Master’s in Environment and Business. Teaching future leaders to embrace sustainability seems to be good for the planet and the bottom line: A 2013 study by the MIT Sloan Management Review found that 37% of companies reported a hike in profits thanks to sustainability initiatives, and 48% have changed their business models to take advantage of sustainability opportunities.