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  1. While it is encouraging to read employers’ views of the role of an MBA experience in management development, the overwhelming majority of students in full-time and Executive MBA programs are not sponsored by employers. I offer this observation as someone who spent more than 20 years in business school administration responsible for MBA programs. Students attracted to full-time MBA programs are generally early in their careers and career switchers with an interest in leaving the employer and industry where they have been working. Students attracted to Executive MBA programs are generally mid-career managers who feel plateaued and are looking to reinvigorate their career advancement by making the investment in themselves to gain new skills. Without the support of an employer, they are normally looking at leaving their current employers in order to advance their careers.

    Based on my experience, when I read an article like this where employers are speaking about MBA programs, I can’t help feeling that most employers don’t really know what’s going on in their own organizations even with regard to sponsored employees. Let me highlight this with a story. In 2004 I joined Cornell University to launch a new Executive MBA program. The business school had launched its first EMBA in the metro New York City area five years earlier and I was leading the work to launch a second EMBA that would use a technology-enabled learning model to create an international footprint. Looking over the history of the students who had been sponsored by their employers in the NYC-area program, I reached out to these firms to see if they would like to continue this practice with managers based in other cities. I managed to get a call arranged with the senior HR manager at a Fortune 25 company who was responsible for the development of the organization’s top 500 managers globally. In the first 60 seconds of our telephone called she stated, “We don’t sponsor managers in EMBA programs, we don’t encourage managers to earn MBA degrees, and we don’t reward managers for having an MBA.” A bit taken aback, but undaunted, I responded by pointing out that I had done my homework and I had the names of eight of their managers who had been sponsored in our EMBA over the previous five years. I added that if her organization had sponsored eight managers in the Cornell EMBA program then they probably sponsored other managers in other schools too. After a pause, the only response she could offer me was, “I don’t know anything about that.” In other words, all of these sponsorship arrangements were made locally, between managers and their bosses, and bypassed the Management Development team.

    So, to recap, there are more employees in MBA programs in most large organizations than anyone in a central Learning and Development role probably realizes. This, of course, is bad news. First because the managers who organized this on their own have one foot out the door and second because there is a lack of uniformity in dealing with the managers you want to develop.

    You can read my blog, “What Employers Get Wrong About EMBA Sponsorship and How to Fix It” here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141104151612-1540984-use-emba-sponsorship-to-retain-top-talent/


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