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The Executive MBA Guide
  • Apr 14 2023

There is no concrete, single thing that separates the best business leaders from the rest of the pack, but evidence shows that the continual development of leaders is key to long-term success. 

The Centre for Creative Leadership suggests that leaders should focus 10% of their learning on external coursework and training, with the rest being achieved with on-the-job experiences and from personal interaction with others. 

Despite the evidence being strongly in favor of ‘classroom’ learning, very few leaders dedicate time to stepping outside the business to develop their skills. The major exception to this is a Master of Business Administration (MBA); Financial Times data shows that about a third of the CEOs at the world’s 500 largest companies have an MBA. 

There is a roughly equal mix at Fortune 500 companies between those who started their career with an MBA and those who attained it whilst already in a senior position, but with the increasing availability of distance learning and flexible, part-time study, the number of senior executives starting one is increasing. In this article, we look at the reasons for undertaking an MBA, the departments where there is more or less of an advantage in the qualification, and, ultimately, where you can go to find out more information on the best programs to fit your needs. 

Why do established leaders choose to undertake an MBA?

An MBA is costly, heavily involved and a serious commitment for anyone, especially someone trying to juggle a day job with considerable responsibility, but the data argument for undertaking an MBA is compelling, providing you are in the correct role:

  • FT Data shows that within 3 years graduates of the top 50 programs worldwide, on average, double their salary within 3 years of graduating
  • A study by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) found that 25% of MBA graduates surveyed went on to attain C-Suite positions
  • GMAC also found that four in five students enrolled in a business school report that their graduate management education prepares them for leadership positions
  • Pitchbook data also shows that MBA grads are more likely to attain VC funding if they lead a startup. 

But, what is the correct role?

If the primary reason for choosing an MBA is to accelerate your earning potential and, ultimately, your status within an organization, you may want to take a step back and see if you are in a role that would benefit fully from the commitment. 

Will Brown, Hamlyn Williams Executive Search Lead shares some insight

"MBA qualifications show the most benefit within revenue-generating roles, but outside of these, there will often not be a sizable difference in salary or candidate desirability across the wider back and middle office functions. They will always provide a substantive viewpoint in terms of reinforcing that you see the business in the same viewpoint, but the value of this will vary considerably across different enterprises or departments." 

Choosing an MBA

The fact is, however, not all MBAs are made the same. We have compiled the top 5 resources that can help leaders in making the decision on what program to enroll in:

1.    Financial Times MBA Rankings – The FT compiles a well-researched and extensive ranking of the world’s best MBA programs each year. As the ranking methodology considers factors such as salary increase, research quality, carbon footprint, and international mobility, it gives one of the most complete views available today.
2.    For several years The Economist provided data and information similar to the FT, however, this was shuttered in 2020. Regardless, they have kept the site online which is rich with resources that can help you make a decision, as, even if the rankings are outdated, the articles and expert insight they published in regards to the key factors in choosing a program are all still relevant
3.    Bloomberg offers annual rankings of MBA programs across the world. Alongside in-depth analysis of the schools, you can search by a number of key factors such as graduate salary, diversity and quality of learning. 
4.    QS World University Rankings is a well-established source of global university rankings. Whilst they are not focused on MBA rankings like the previous examples, they have a huge database and respected methodology that means they can become an important part of your decision-making.
5.    USA News also provides a detailed ranking of business schools in the US. Whilst some of their options and filters and behind a paywall, you can view the key data and rankings with ease on their website. 

If you are seriously undertaking research for your own program, then you will want to use the rankings are a first port of call, and nothing more. Whilst one school may rank higher than the other, that does not mean it will be a better choice for you. 

You will need to look deeper into the course type, flexibility on offer, networking opportunities, and, of course, the faculty staff to even begin to understand what program suits you the best. We recommend reaching out to your network, asking round, and uncovering some of the positive or negative experiences that your peers have had, from this you will be able to create a rough scoring system that will allow you to grade programs and institutions on the factors that matter to you. 

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Sam Roberts
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