At the beginning of 2009 things looked decidedly grim for executive education providers. The global financial crisis meant that businesses of all shapes and sizes were looking for ways of keeping costs under control, and many believed that this would lead to substantial cuts in budgets devoted to management development and training.
However, while many business schools experienced pain last year and had to devote resources to smarter, more effective marketing, the prophesied collapse of the executive education market stubbornly refused to take place. And now demand seems to be back on the rise across the board. A recent report, Executive Education Futures by Carrington Crisp and the EFMD, reveals that almost 60% of purchasers expect spending to grow in the next 24 months. The level of applications for executive MBA programmes, for example, has increased slightly this year, up from an average of 92.6 per programme in 2009 to 93.3 in 2010.
The world has, of course, changed a lot since the beginning of the credit crunch. So what are today’s managers and companies looking for from corporate trainers and what is likely to be the next big thing in executive education?
One of the key trends in the executive education sector that looks set to influence the next few years is the emphasis on operating in world, as opposed to domestic, markets and all the cultural and logistical challenges that can pose. MIT Sloan in Cambridge, Massachusetts will launch a two-day programme, Dynamics of Globalisation, aimed at firms expanding into new and emerging markets.
This is not in itself brand new. Schools have been delivering programmes and courses around this theme for well over a decade, and executive MBA programmes have become increasingly international in scope, the most prominent example being the OneMBA, which teaches participants at the campuses of partner schools on four continents.
What does appear to be new, however, is the local delivery of executive education in countries that want to play a major part in global trade but are no longer willing to simply export managers and professionals overseas to be trained. These are not just the usual BRIC subjects but a raft of potential new hubs for executive education programmes.
Qatar, having set up a National Vision 2030 programme to shift its economic dependency on oil and gas during the next 20 years, has encouraged the leading European school HEC Paris to establish a full-time base in Doha to develop the country’s next generation of business leaders. Its first programme, targeted at the talent management of local firms, kicks off this month.
Programmes that cover how to cope with the rapid pace of technological change are becoming increasingly popular too. The ESMT school in Germany, for example, has developed one in conjunction with Darden in the US and Cheung Kong in China, focused on how to bring technology to market. It’s also introducing a course for junior and middle managers in industries that will be facing up to major technological issues over the next few years, such as automotive, pharmaceuticals and the press.
Given the apparent lack of control exhibited by many companies in the run-up to the economic crisis, it’s not surprising that corporate governance features heavily among new executive education programs for 2010 and 2011. The New Board programme at Nyenrode in the Netherlands, aimed at directors of large corporations, has a specific corporate governance element covering, among other things, corporate policies, legislation, accountability and ethics. Across the border in Belgium, the Vlerick Leuven Gent school is taking a similar approach, aiming to move business leaders away from the obsession with shareholder value to consider other, more sustainable models, and at the University of North Carolina in the US, a new programme is tackling corporate governance issues by bringing legal and financial services experts on to campus to work with participants.
That said, it’s not just course content that’s changing at schools around the world. So is the way that content is delivered. While both open and tailored programs have traditionally been delivered face-to-face in the classroom, more and more schools are working to convert clients to the potential benefits of online delivery. “Multimedia content enables learning on the go,” says David Yoffie of Harvard Business School. “Delivering programme materials through mobile devices is a highly effective way of meeting the needs of busy executives.”
But getting this message across to businesses used to the more intimate approach is sometimes not easy. “In the beginning, this was a very delicate initiative,” says Joaquin Uribarri of Spain’s IE school, “but now we’re further down the line we’re finding this mixed approach is noticeably improving the satisfaction scores we get from clients.”
To steal a phrase from Mark Twain, it appears that reports of the death of executive education have been well and truly exaggerated.