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business education MBA, Cambridge - Judge, CNBC Business, Executive MBA, HEC Paris, OneMBA, UCLA - Anderson, Women and the MBA

A smart investment?

(published in CNBC Business, Mar 2011)

After the Ferrari and the Rolex, is an Executive MBA (EMBA) the final accessory for the person who has everything? While a standard MBA has always called for students to have deep pockets, a sympathetic bank manager or even more supportive families, the cost of the executive version has traditionally been covered by a candidate’s employer. But over the past few years, more and more EMBA participants have chosen to take on the financial burden themselves, either because of corporate cost-cutting or the career freedom that paying direct gives them once the programme is over.

Most of these individuals still fit the standard EMBA profile – experienced managers and professionals looking for a leg-up to the board or partnership. However, with others the reasons for deciding to stump up fees well in excess of €40,000 are altogether less clear. Which prompts questions about whether the EMBA has become yet another accessory for the wealthy, alongside the cars, the baubles and the apartment in Mayfair or the 16th Arrondissement.

At first sight one might wonder why Rena Sindi, for example, should bother investing a sizeable chunk of time and cash in studying for an Executive MBA at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. As the daughter of Nemir Kirdar, the billionaire founder of investment firm Investcorp, she used to be one of Manhattan’s ‘beautiful people’, later assuming a similar role at the heart of London’s social scene.

As someone who is certainly no stranger to the finer things in life, and with a thriving business promoting the launches of luxury goods, what could possibly motivate Sindi to return to long hours poring over books and sitting in lecture theatres? Never content to be a ‘lady who lunches’, she has always run her own businesses, first in New York and now in London. But while confident about her softer skills, Sindi felt that she needed to sharpen her grasp of the numbers if she wanted to take a business to the next level. “The Judge EMBA allowed me to do this, even though I have no real background in accounting and finance,” she explains.“And its one-weekend-per-month approach works much better for me than having to commit to large blocks of time, as I have two children that I want to be around as much as possible.”

Given that Kathy Magliato is one of the world’s top female heart surgeons and a published author, the casual observer might also ask what possible reason she might have for taking on the extra commitment of an EMBA programme. But this is exactly what she did when she joined the class at UCLA Anderson in California while pregnant with her second child. For Magliato, the motivation was to add a business perspective to her skillset. “It’s been like a springboard for the mind,” she says.” I approach problems differently now and I honestly think it’s changed my life.”

It’s a view mirrored by Alan Cohen, who was mayor of Ithaca in New York state before opting for the discipline of formal business training and international exposure, taking an Executive MBA at one of the highly rated schools, HEC Paris.

“The programme has opened my eyes to new possibilities, and given me the broader perspective to be able to operate on a truly global stage,” he says.

Of course, the quality of life isn’t just measured by financial considerations or professional achievement. For Jim Perry – vice president of Affordable Care, a nationwide dental practice based in North Carolina – it’s family, and particularly his three young daughters, who come first. But that hasn’t stopped him taking the OneMBA executive programme run jointly by schools in the USA, Mexico, Brazil, the Netherlands and Hong Kong.

“I’m up at four every morning to study before going to the office, which means I’m pretty tired all the time and just don’t have the time that I used to have to spend with the girls,” he says. “In effect I’ve had to put my life on hold for a couple of years, but I’m convinced that it’s the right decision. If I’m going to achieve what I think I’m capable of, then I need the knowledge, experience and contacts this programme will give me. And that’s not for me, it’s for my family, so the long-term gain is worth the short-term pain.”

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About symondsgsb

Matt is chief editor of MBA50.com, a website dedicated to the world's outstanding business schools. He is an internationally recognised business and graduate school expert, consulting to the world’s top business schools, and has written for many of the world’s leading publications including : Forbes, The Economist, BusinessWeek, BBC, Newsweek, CNBC, America Economia, Washington Post, The Independent, Boston Globe, Handelsblatt, 21st Century Herald, South China Morning Post, Vedomosti, San Francisco Chronicle, Expansion, Beijing Daily. Matt was Co-Founder of the QS World MBA Tour Matt is co-author of Getting the M.B.A. Admissions Edge, a B-school admissions bestseller sponsored by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. His new individual school guides will be available in the fall.

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