By Patrick Lee
NO DOUBT, there are many schools of thought on the merits of a Master of Business Administration (MBA), let alone an Executive MBA. But having personally benefited from the latter - both as an employee and employer - I believe that getting that EMBA is fully worth the time and effort.
Detractors will beg to differ, citing (among various reasons) the irrelevance of theories taught by professors who lack real- world experience. To them, the degree is overrated; plus, wrong values are taught, where the ultimate goal is getting a fat paycheck.
While contentious, such points may be somewhat justified - thanks to certain leaders from top MBA schools who displayed unrestrained greed and corrupt dreams, and shattered global markets and helped unleash a global catastrophe in the form of the current economic crisis.
But by the same token there are a good many degree holders who do not succumb to the temptation of quick riches, but instead hold fast to ethics and business integrity. Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, is one example of someone who appears to be uncorrupted by the extraordinary wealth he amassed over the years.
Milk the real ROI
Forbes recently did a study of the common attributes of the super-wealthy. And it turns out that nearly 90 per cent of billionaires who derived fortunes from finance obtained MBAs from one of three Ivy League schools: Harvard, Columbia, or University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.
That's obviously not the fate of every MBA graduate. But there's no denying the financially rewarding prospect of an MBA education. As a 2008 general survey of EMBA alumni by Georgia Tech College of Management would have it, around 75 per cent of their students either received a new job or promotion as well as attained significant salary increases not long after graduating from the programme.
A good education helps you see beyond the bottom line. And the real return on investment (ROI) from an EMBA is actually better thinking. You will learn to think through complex problems in a more disciplined and confident way. These skills, combined with an outstanding education and the respect of your peers, will prove invaluable throughout your career.
Walk the talk
According to Professor Philip Perry, a programme director for SIM-University at Buffalo's EMBA programme: 'An employee with an EMBA education would no longer be restricted to focusing on his or her particular expertise.
'The employee is now able to design and implement strategic plans more efficiently because he or she now has a broader understanding of the organisation as a whole, and this helps add value to the employer.'
Value-adding in this way wasn't something that occurred to me when I was a sales director, responsible for sales and marketing. But when I became managing director of my company, I became the 'chief fireman' as I was called into action whenever there was an emergency to attend to.
And I was now responsible for engineering, operations, finance and human resources. Before long, I realised I would need to acquire new skills to help me manage areas new to me, in order to enhance my performance and be an effective leader.
The modules I studied in my EMBA education greatly helped in my day-to-day 'firefighting' as there were many case studies in the classroom which served as a guide in tackling poor performance and conflict issues at work. My eyes were opened, as a result, to a whole new perspective of leadership.
One of my biggest takeaways from the programme, for instance, was a better understanding of the place of strategic planning in leadership, which has helped me better negotiate agreements.
And I also learnt that talent should not be controlled as it stifles the growth, creativity and innovativeness of subordinates, while 'influencing' brings out the best in them.
Invest in talent
An educational investment is something to consider not only for yourself but also for your employees. Talent retention is the biggest challenge in Singapore, especially in good years. The pressure has eased due to the recession but I'm sure it'll be back once the economy recovers. And so it's imperative to develop active plans, in which further education plays an integral role in employee retention.
Upon completion of their education, employees will have more skills and are more likely to be promoted. And, of course, they will become more desirable to competitors - which is always a good position to be in, as it's better to work on retaining desirable employees than on getting rid of undesirable employees.
Also, employees who sense that their company values them enough to invest in them tend to be loyal and psychologically committed to the organisation.
The goodwill in such investments goes a long way, as shown in the Georgia Tech survey mentioned earlier where 40 per cent of company-sponsored alumni stayed with the organisation more than five years and 65 per cent reported an increased loyalty to the company as a result of its sponsorship.
Choose the right option - EMBA vs MBA
Harvard Business School was the first business school to offer the MBA degree programme in 1910. But since then the MBA is now offered along with the EMBA at b-schools the world over. The difference between the two will tell you which one is the way to go for you.
According to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, academically, the EMBA and full-time MBA programmes are the same. However, the delivery of the curriculum, the experience profile and near- term career aspirations of students, and the nature of the student experience, are substantially different.
Prof Perry puts it like this: The MBA degree programme is typically designed for someone with minimal experience. It offers people the choice to start a career, switch careers or even specialise in a particular area like finance, marketing, accounting and human resources.
The EMBA degree programme, however, is designed to help mid-career professionals with considerable work experience (10-15 years) to have a better understanding and a broader focus on how the entire organisation works. These individuals have moved up in their career and hence bring to the classroom a significant amount of work experience.
So, if you're at the crossroads of your business journey, maybe it's time to take a walk on the EMBA side. If you maximise your experience, you won't be distracted by the dollar signs along the way and lose sight of the real success awaiting you at the end of the road.
The writer is managing director of Kohler Power Systems Asia Pacific. He graduated from the SIM-University at Buffalo EMBA programme, which is accredited by AACSB International.
This article was first published in The Business Times on 1 Jan 2009.