The EMBA: When C-Suite Leaders Need to Learn and Grow

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Look ahead

Once in an advanced leadership role and willing to learn from and connect to peer executives, the Executive MBA (EMBA) becomes a viable path alongside a successful career. How is an EMBA programme different from an MBA? Who is it suitable for, and would it serve your needs?

Who is an EMBA for?

The Executive MBA is a type of MBA degree programme for professionals with a proven track record in leadership roles. Most programmes expect five years’ experience in high-level management and 10 years’ total work experience, says Didi Valerianova, a former manager at Premier EMBA. Candidates she has worked with have included general managers at large multinational companies and CEOs of small to medium enterprises. Usually they are 35-50 years old and well-established in their professional and personal life.

Being your best self

Why do people put in the hard work to complete an Executive MBA when they have already accomplished so much? “We are all human beings and we need to perfect and fully develop what we have achieved,” Valerianova says. Professionals at the executive level face multiple challenges each day. They have many competing responsibilities, but want to make the most out of every situation.

“They want to excel in how they engage their employees, build and maintain business partnerships, and care for their families; how they balance their busy schedule. And, most importantly, how they successfully lead people, projects, and the company as a whole,” says Valerianova.

EMBA students’ motivation is to be their best self, to give back more, and to lead others to success. Each day, they aim to find a sustainable balance that lets them thrive in the different aspects of their lives.

Gain a holistic perspective on business

EMBA candidates are also motivated to steer their organisation to success, especially at a challenging time like today. To do that, they need to understand the business in all its complexity. They also need to anticipate the holistic impact of economic and geopolitical changes.

Many EMBA students’ career paths have unfolded in a certain field – for instance, in finance or human resources divisions in large companies. Others are entrepreneurs who have founded a successful company in their field, say marketing or tech, and would like to continue developing it, explains graduate admissions expert and career coach Iliana Bobova. Once these professionals have reached a top management or C-level position, they need to make decisions based not on their specific expertise but on a working knowledge of the company as a whole.

Thus, EMBA students are people who need to see the big picture. They are finance specialists who want to understand HR, or vice versa. Many want to master innovation and entrepreneurship to make their businesses more competitive. The foundational training in C-level managerial disciplines offered by an EMBA can help them thrive at the executive level.

Unlike most MBA programmes, the EMBA is designed specifically for this type of professional. The typical MBA can help you unlock new job opportunities and rise to the next level. But if you have already found your ideal role and now want to be your best at it each day, the EMBA is for you. EMBA participants come to their programmes with a high level of self-awareness and with concrete problems they want to solve together with high-ranking peers.

How an EMBA can meet your needs

What can you expect to learn in an EMBA programme? What is the experience like?

The executive MBA is usually designed to fit in with your professional responsibilities. Along with a strong theoretical foundation, it offers practice-oriented learning you can apply in your day-to-day work. Learning is highly interactive: you can expect coaching from faculty as well as regular feedback and input from peers.

Learning in the flow of work

A full-time format is usually considered the most valuable option for an MBA degree. Not so with an EMBA. Many of the best programmes are part-time and specifically meant to integrate with students’ professional responsibilities.

High-ranking executives can hardly set aside their responsibilities for a year or two to complete a degree. Instead, the goal is for them to gain new perspectives on their work as they are doing it. Many programmes offer a hybrid format: in-person sessions are planned every month or two, and cohorts interact remotely the rest of the time as part of their regular schedule. The intense, immersive live sessions lead to deeper insights that students can apply in their work as they benefit from continuous faculty and peer feedback.

The EMBA: When C-Suite Leaders Need to Learn and Grow

Each EMBA participant makes a personal decision about how much travel they would like to do as part of their degree. Some students prefer to limit their EMBA search to neighbouring countries which they can reach within a few hours. Others choose a top programme regardless of location. Professionals who already have an international lifestyle and professional routine because of their jobs may travel more for their degree as well – for example, those based in Europe take part in programmes in the US and vice versa.

Practical insights

EMBA students have a clear goal: to boost their performance and fulfil their potential. That is why EMBA programmes are practice-oriented and each module is designed to add direct value to their current work. For example, executive finance lessons lead students to make better financial decisions in their organisation. Students bring their experiences to class and they apply what they learn in their work. Often, classes resemble coaching rather than passive knowledge acquisition, says Valerianova of Premier EMBA.

Team projects are an important part of the learning experience. Students with expertise in different fields and industries gather to develop business cases. This leads to intense exchanges, as EMBA students are highly ambitious and inclined to give their best, shares admissions expert Iliana Bobova. The projects can take on a life of their own beyond the (virtual) classroom.

Leading programmes also include international components as a way to learn in practice. The CEIBS Global EMBA (China) allows students to take modules in 11 cities worldwide. Students at ESADE (Spain) also travel around the world, including to Cape Town, Mumbai, and Shanghai. And the Trium EMBA, which unites HEC Paris, the London School of Economics (UK), and New York University (US) takes students to Silicon Valley, where they meet tech insiders and gain a vision of impending disruptions in the global economy.

Access to top decision-makers gives participants an up-to-date picture of the latest innovations. They gain a holistic understanding of global business that allows them to leverage opportunities for their own companies.

A strong peer community

For many EMBA students, the most valuable asset is the peer community that they develop while learning and working together over a year or two. These connections lead to feedback, mentorship, and business partnerships, according to Valerianova from Premier EMBA.

High-ranking professionals lead others, but receive comparatively little guidance and feedback themselves. Deep connections with peers at their level can lead to dramatic personal growth. Complementary skills and experience within an EMBA cohort create an ecosystem that unlocks new possibilities.

Many EMBA alumni later tell Valerianova that they were surprised by the “100% transformation” they experienced. As a result of their programmes, they were performing better not only professionally, but in all aspects of their lives. They had started working on a global level; they were gaining more clients and turning setbacks into opportunities. The new knowledge, experience, and personal network had made them a more effective version of themselves.

Why an EMBA now

More leaders now need this kind of transformation, as the world is changing faster than ever. Unprecedented risks and ongoing disruption are reordering the global economy in ways that are not easy to predict. Top EMBA programmes instil the personal qualities needed to thrive in this environment, such as a growth mindset and openness to innovation. If you are a leader who wants to see your company thrive, an EMBA is for you. The knowledge, personal qualities, and peer network you will develop will make you ready for whatever comes next.


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