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Executive courses turn to niche areas

Miki Tanikawa, Nov 22, 2012, IHT :

Graduate schools in international relations, public affairs, law and journalism have begun developing executive education courses, particularly in niche areas that are not covered by traditional business schools.

Business schools have long offered executive education programmes for corporations. Along with a welcome stream of revenue, these courses have also brought a sense of real-world dynamism to campuses, as they encourage working professionals to re-enter the classroom.

In the last decade, graduate schools in other arenas – like international relations, public affairs, law and even journalism – have also begun developing executive education courses, particularly in niche areas that are not covered by traditional business schools.


The London School of Economics and Political Science; the Graduate Institute, Geneva; the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; the Fletcher School at Tufts University; and the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore all have courses for working professionals and managers.

The Graduate Institute, Geneva, which was founded in 1927, trains diplomats in active service as well as those working for corporations and nongovernmental organisations.
UN agencies, as well as governments from nations as varied as Switzerland and North Korea, have sent employees to its courses on diplomatic protocol, multilateral diplomacy and coalition building.

The programme was upgraded to a department of executive education in 2008 in response to growing demand.

Some corporations that send managers for additional education “basically are not satisfied with the degree to which business schools address matters at an international level,” said Professor Cedric Dupont, one of the proprietary faculty in the programme.

“So if you are interested in international regulations of various sorts, they don’t really teach, for instance, how food standards are adopted at the Codex Alimentarius Commission or other technical standards adopted at international standards organisations.”

Dupont used Codex Alimentarius – a set of international standards that are critical for companies exporting food across borders – as an example of the sort of very specific information that some employers want.

The London School of Economics and Political Science provides much of its professional training via LSE Enterprise, a specialised unit with one of the biggest programmes of its kind in the world.

Yury Bikbaev, director of LSE Enterprise, said that his division was introduced in 1993 as a way to share the benefits of its social science research. Today, a major focus is providing consulting to public organisations and corporations. LSE Enterprise brings in 2 million pounds in net profit to the university annually.

Since the LSE is a social science university and is interdisciplinary in its approach, “We therefore have a more acute appreciation of how government policy intertwines with corporate strategy and vice versa,” Bikbaev said.


Julius Sen, associate director and senior programme adviser at LSE Enterprise, teaches political economy and trade policy to government officials, notably from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as from Hong Kong, Indonesia and Kazakhstan.

“Let’s say the current government has a foreign minister who wants to promote exports into new markets but no one knows how to do this because this is not what diplomats do,” Sen said. “So they are trying to understand what is it that business needs for them to say to other governments so that this happens. Or what is it that those governments need to know about you which will help this process along.”

Bhaskar Chakravorti, senior associate dean at the Fletcher School, said that its executive classes were interdisciplinary.

“Here at the Institute for Business in the Global Context at Fletcher, we are creating cross-linkages between business and the broader contextual factors that affect business and vice versa,” he said, adding that subjects could include “geography, history, cross-border issues, security questions, diplomacy and cultural issues.”

“We call this the ability to develop your contextual intelligence as opposed to content intelligence,” he said.

For example, Chakravorti saw the European financial crisis as a problem that touched many other areas.

“It is a political crisis and it is a historical crisis,” he said. “A lot of people say Germany benefited from the last 10 years of the euro. It turns out that history matters, so Germans are extremely skittish about issues such as inflation because it hurt them in the past and there are all kinds of memories associated with the period between the first and second world wars.”

“Europe could potentially be helped by Chinese money coming in. Then what does that mean?” he said. “Europeans are historically very suspicious about the Chinese. We are going into domains that, for an executive, require a huge amount of perspective and knowledge about context.”

Douglas Planeta, the chief investment officer at Sageworth, a wealth management firm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, earned an executive degree in 2004 from the Fletcher School and has attended additional sessions for alumni in recent years.

He said that its courses helped him to look beyond facts and figures, and that a key was “thinking differently from what everybody else thinks, because if you are thinking the same way, you do the same thing, and eventually you would be wrong.”

Some public policy considerations are not addressed properly by business schools, academics say. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard offers classes with titles commonly found in business schools, like “leadership” and “negotiation.” But the way such topics are addressed are different for public sector leaders, said Debra Iles, associate dean at the Kennedy School.

“In a democratic country like the US, where we have to worry about electoral politics, the stakeholder analysis is much more complex,” she said. “We always start with leadership framework of who your stakeholders are and what you are trying to achieve, whether it is upholding the Constitution, and being conscious of the underlying rules of the government and how to stay alive in an environment when you are also subject to a lot of media scrutiny.”

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