Flying across borders for an MBA

EXECUTIVE MBA

Flying across borders for an MBA

A new programme is helping give flexibility to executives who want to upgrade their skills

On a Thursday evening, Shuhei Otsuka boarded a flight at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. He arrived in Singapore about seven hours later, got a couple of hours of rest at the student residences at Insead business school and then spent the next three days in class.

On Sunday night, he boarded a plane for home, and by Monday morning, he was back in the office.

Otsuka, a 38-year-old lawyer at the consulting firm Protiviti, is among 17 students, out of a class of 47, who commute every month to attend Insead’s first Singapore-based Global Executive MBA programme. It takes about 17 months to complete, with students spending 10 weekends in Singapore, plus five weeks split among the school’s campuses in Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Fontainebleau, France.

Executive MBA programmes, which are generally for professionals older than 30, have evolved to suit the needs of their increasingly multinational students.

Columbia Business School in New York has a 20-month EMBA programme aimed at executives in North and South America that requires them to fly in for a full week every month.

The National University of Singapore’s business school works with the Anderson School at the University of California, Los Angeles, on an EMBA course in which students take six classes, each two weeks long, in Singapore, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Bangalore.
According to the programme’s administrators, about 50 per cent of its students fly in from other continents.

Insead is one of only a few schools that run an EMBA programme with weekend sessions, as well as students who commute regularly across international borders. The school says that the programme was designed for Singapore, where conditions are different than those in Europe.

Insead’s Fontainebleau campus, about an hour outside Paris, does not have the transportation links to accommodate students regularly arriving during the weekends.
The residential programme there operates on weeklong sessions because of the more generous vacation leave allowance in France, said Kristen Lynas, Insead’s director of executive degrees.

The format in Singapore attracts students who can use a day of vacation leave to attend three days of classes. While it had originally planned to take in 35 students, the course was oversubscribed.

“Taking a full week off every one or two months wasn’t really an option for me,” said Garrett Smith, a 28-year-old American working in Jakarta for GSM Systems, a telecommunications services provider. “It’s a bit more demanding, but taking a long weekend once every three weeks fits my schedule better.”

To accommodate such students, Insead has had to adopt a more intense schedule. Pascal Maenhout, who teaches courses on corporate financial policy, typically moves directly from lecturing to focusing on practical case studies when teaching EMBA.
students. Regular MBA students, whom he sees more regularly, get time in between to do theory work.

“It may look like we cut up the programme,” he said. “But there’s more continuity than that, because there are projects and essays and group work in between the modules.”
Otsuka, the Japanese lawyer, said he had initially been concerned that the EMBA, which costs 145,000 Singapore dollars, would be just a watered-down version of a full-time MBA. He took up the course only after consulting the programme administrators and EMBA alumni, who assured him that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the material would be covered. “After going to class, that’s my impression,” he said.

Dr Maenhout said that more experienced students made it easier for him to teach courses in a shorter time. “They learn at least as much from their peers,” he said. “That’s probably more powerful in an EMBA programme because of the depth and breadth of experience they have.” EMBA students at Insead have an average of 12 years’ professional experience.

There is also a significant amount of coursework to be done outside of class to prevent the equivalent of a “summer slump.” Dr Maenhout does not deny that the Global Executive course, also known as Gemba, is challenging. “It’s probably more intensive than an MBA,” he said. “When they’re on campus, they don’t sleep much and they work a lot.”

The biggest difficulty, however, may be switching gears — from corporate deal-making to being a student. “I focus a lot on the issues of my job as lawyer and consultant,” Otsuka said. “At Insead, I have to consciously take a different mind-set and think about my own self-discovery and development. I can’t just try, I have to.”

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