Jumping on the MBA bandwagon

Earning an MBA is often regarded as the game-changer when it comes to advancing through the ranks of the corporate world. But what competitive advantages do MBA graduates hold over other degree-holders and what are the heralded programmes of today? HRM investigates

Are MBA programmes losing their allure among working professionals?

Judging by comments made by Paul Danos, dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, they most certainly are not.

“Demand for graduates of top MBA programmes by the great businesses of the world continues to be strong,” Danos was quoted as saying in the 2014/2015 QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report.

He projects “no end to the insatiable demand of top businesses to employ high-quality MBA talent”.

In fact, the 2014/2015 QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report found that the MBA qualification had become “probably the most recession-proof postgraduate degree since the financial crisis in 2008”.

With MBA recruitment levels projected to increase by eight per cent in Asia-Pacific this year, the time has never been more apt for professionals to arm themselves with an MBA qualification.

MBA programmes abound

According to the 2014/2015 QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report, an MBA is rapidly becoming an acknowledged pathway for accelerated career advancement for aspiring business leaders. The research also found that an MBA qualification cultivated entrepreneurs who begin businesses and then come back and hire MBAs into their firms.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) MBA is one programme that seeks well rounded individuals who can benefit from, and contribute to learning within and beyond the classroom, says Marie-Antonie Chua Nan Sze, Director of Graduate Studies Office, NUS Business School.

Chua explains that successful applicants possess a good academic record and career trajectory.

“They would have demonstrated strong leadership capabilities, as well as the desire and drive to achieve academic and management excellence,” she says.

“Many would have had international exposure or dabbled in entrepreneurial ventures.”

Chua explains that while the NUS MBA course equips selected candidates with general management skills to be all rounded business leaders, students can also choose to specialise in finance, marketing, strategy and operations, real estate, or healthcare management. They can also take up double degrees with Peking University, Fudan University, Korea University, HEC Paris, Yale University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The NUS MBA can be completed on a full time basis within 17 months, inclusive of an internship and student exchange.

NUS’ local counterpart, Nanyang Technological University (NTU)- Nanyang Business School, offers the flagship Nanyang MBA programme to students looking for a rigorous MBA with a distinctive global reputation, says Nicole Tee, Director, Graduate Studies, Nanyang Business School.

“Other than providing real world relevance and foremost business management concepts in the curriculum, students get to gain a global perspective on management issues,” elaborates Tee.

“With Asia evolving and taking on a key role in the world’s economy, Nanyang MBA’s strong Asian focus and holistic approach in ‘Nurturing Global Leaders for a Sustainable World’ lays the foundation for future leaders to gain an incredible learning experience.”

The Nanyang MBA can be completed over 12 months for full-time students or 18 months for part-time students, enticing talented participants from around the globe every year.

“The cohort comprises of a diverse group of high calibre participants from varied backgrounds, functional roles and industries, all aspiring to lead and make an impact in society,” explains Tee.

Another potential avenue for MBA hopefuls is the Executive MBA Asia-Pacific programme launched by ESSEC Business School in 2014.

The ESSEC Executive MBA Asia-Pacific programme is based on an innovative academic curriculum with a pan-Asian core that examines new business models and new strategic trends in Asia, says Cédomir Nestorovic, Professor, Management Department, ESSEC Asia-Pacific and Director, ESSEC Executive MBA Asia-Pacific.

“It is a 15-month programme tailored for working professionals and as part of the programme, participants are required to attend residencies at prestigious business schools in the US and China,” explains Nestorovic.

Nestorovic says the ESSEC Executive MBA targets executives in Asia who have at least seven years of working experience with a recognised high performance.

“The current cohort of the ESSEC Asia-Pacific’s EMBA course comprises of participants from 10 nationalities, averaging 40 years of age,” he adds.

“Participants come from a variety of industries including banking, hospitality, IT and infrastructure.”

The Asian pivot

The impact of MBAs in Asia cannot be underestimated. The 2014/2015 QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report cited that in 2014, 83% of Asia-Pacific employers’ MBA recruitment activities were based in the region itself.

Tellingly, the report revealed that Asia-Pacific reported the highest projected increase in MBA recruitment levels for 2014 (11%).

Demand for MBAs in China is also robust and getting stronger.

According to the report, China was ranked as the third largest MBA market in the world in 2014.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise when Chua says NUS Business School’s mission is to “Lead from Asia”.

She explains the NUS MBA offers candidates a global perspective with deep Asian Insights.

“Classes are taught by world class international faculty members who have been educated in top schools in North America but have researched, taught and consulted extensively in Asia,” says Chua.

“Equipped with the latest business knowledge coupled with real-life experiences, they are constantly innovating to apply industry relevance and academic rigour to the modules that they teach, transforming ‘potential’ into outstanding performance and grooming leaders in the world of business.”

In recent years, Chua says NUS MBA has implemented a management communications module which aims to sensitise students to the importance of communicating in complex situations and devising effective strategies to achieve desired outcomes.

“We have instituted live projects as a graduating requirement, encouraging the application of concepts and theories acquired in the classroom to real-life business dilemmas,” she elaborates.

“Candidates in the NUS MBA hone leadership skills by serving in the students’ council and taking the lead in organising events including ‘Cerebration’ – one of the largest business case competitions of its kind.”

In addition, Chua says NUS MBA students also study and write about the corporate social responsibility strategies adopted by selected Asian companies, thus acquiring an understanding about the importance of the broader environment and aspects other than profits.

According to Tee, future leaders in Nanyang MBA programme are exposed to an “exceptional and enriching” education, which is designed to not just help them adapt, but also succeed in an ever-changing business landscape.

Asia-Pacific was also deemed to be a central pivot for ESSEC Business School, says Nestorovic.

“ESSEC made the strategic decision to build an Asian campus in Singapore, invest in an experienced team of faculty, predominantly from Asia, to carry out research and deliver executive education in Asia with the end goal of developing a new breed of Asia-focused business leaders with a global outlook,” he explains.

He says, MBAs have evolved over the years to stay relevant to market needs. As such, he believes an Executive MBA with ESSEC will “undoubtedly place future leaders in an advantageous position for future growth”.

“ESSEC Asia-Pacific not only provides a curriculum that has high relevancy in today’s business landscape, participants in its EMBA also get immediate access to an influential network of more than 46,00 alumni worldwide and over 700 corporate partners across a wide spectrum of industries,” elaborates Nestorovic.

In addition, he adds businesses are increasingly operating in highly diverse environments – economically, culturally and politically. Future leaders need to be armed with both hard skills and soft skills.

“ESSEC Executive MBA has a discerning focus on developing leadership skills and business communications skills,” says Nestorovic.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are also key focuses in its curriculum.”

Employers’ take on MBAs

While all the clamour has been about undertaking MBAs from an employees’ perspective, do organisations view them as worthwhile investments?

Professor Peter Giulioni, Assistant Dean of Career Services, Nanyang Business School, says for companies, the return on investment in supporting an MBA experience for senior leadership is twofold.

“First and foremost, as a part of an NTU MBA experience, high potential members of a company’s senior leadership team(s) are exposed to a balanced understanding of all major functions of a business: strategy, operations, finance, technology, marketing and talent management. This allows the manager to draw on a deeper and broader knowledge base for solving day-to-day challenges on the job,” he explains.

“And secondly, what better way for a company or firm to signal a commitment to the career growth and success of key talent, than to invest in their education and development?”

According to Nestorovic, good talent is hard to come by and retain in the highly competitive economies of today, especially in Asia.

Hence, he argues that employers who endorse their high performers in their professional growth will surely witness the benefits of the new knowledge and skills brought into the organisations by these valued talents.

“Investment in human capital is a positive long term business strategy for sustained growth and profitability,” says Nestorovic.

Furthermore, he cites that many senior executives are paying for MBA and EMBA programmes out of their own pockets, a rarity in the past.

“Executives are aware that in order for them to advance in their career and get to the next level, they need to upgrade and update their knowledge and skills,” adds Nestorovic.

“Topics such as ‘social media marketing’, ‘big data’, and ‘family businesses’ are high in demand today and of extreme relevance to the region’s highly dynamic market.”

Nevertheless, according to the results of the 2014 Membership Program Survey of the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), for the first time in five years, the percentage of students who fully fund their Executive MBA (EMBA) education has dropped slightly (see: boxout).

Changing curricula

The 2014/2015 QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report revealed that notable changes have been witnessed in the functions offered to MBAs in 2014.

Business development and marketing were the two most popular specialisations on offer, usurping general management, finance (other) and consulting.

The favourite MBA study specialisation among employers was “strategy and leadership” while “business innovation” has been steadily growing in popularity in recent years and has now caught up with finance.

Chua says the NUS MBA aims “to bridge the theories that are learnt in a classroom with practical, hands-on experience.”

In recent years, NUS MBA launched its Experiential Learning initiatives which are imperative to offering an immersive and authentic experience for business leaders.

“We have also seen a significant increase of practitioners teaching in NUS Business School as well, reinforcing the importance of bridging academic and industry so that the curriculum is rigorous, relevant and rewarding,” explains Chua.

Examples of such practitioners include Professor Kim Sun Bae, the ex-Chief Economist and Managing Director of Goldman Sachs; Professor Robert Tan who teaches the Promotional Management module and has worked his way up the ranks of major creative companies such as Ogilvy & Mather and Futurebrand; and Veronica Eng, who started a successful private equity company in London.

Chua adds the NUS MBA programme offers students the opportunities to interact with industry leaders through seminars and networking events.

“In summary, the NUS MBA aims to develop ethical graduates who not only possess the analytical skills to solve complex problems but also the communication and persuasion skills to become effective global leaders,” she affirms.

Nanyang MBA also offers several innovative courses under its flagship programme, one of which is “Strategy Projects @ Nanyang”, says Tee.

This allows teams of MBA participants to work with companies on mutually–agreed projects.

Working in cross-functional groups of four to six members, MBA participants spend 30 weeks (from conceptualisation to execution) under the guidance of an academic professor, developing innovative and practical solutions to management challenges and also creating new opportunities.

“The result is a comprehensive report for the host company that reflects extensive study inputs and cutting edge management ideas,” explains Tee.

Another course, known as the Business Study Mission, is an immersion programme that provides a platform for the practical applications of the knowledge gained from the core courses and electives. This takes place through visits to local or overseas companies, and through meeting and engaging with the top executives of said firms, elaborates Tee.

“Nanyang MBA nurtures leaders who are able to embrace uncertainly, accept ambiguity and acknowledge the various natures of organisations and markets,” says Tee.

The curriculum of ESSEC’s Executive MBA is a result of extensive research and study by the faculty, says Nestorovic.

He explains the course offers an innovative curriculum with a pan-Asian core that allows executives to acquire new expertise while reinforcing their soft skills to navigate the ever-evolving environment.

“Topics covered include hard and soft skills to manage new trends and evolving new business models for developing competent and entrepreneurial business leaders in Asia,” adds Nestorovic.

In addition, Professor Yan Li, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty at ESSEC Asia-Pacific, says the school has crafted a programme to address the notion of Big Data.

“Companies all over the world have started to realise the business value of Big Data,” says Li.

“However, very few initiatives have been taken to understand how big data is linked to the poor population in Asia. With the course ‘Targeting masses in Asia: Big Data and the Bottom of the Pyramid’, we will be the first to explore this exciting territory.”

Crucial MBA numbers

  • International study experience is wanted by 67% of MBA employers
  • There was a big increase in demand for MBA graduates with over five years of work experience in 2014, with 29% of employers preferring this group, compared to 24% in 2013
  • Business school graduates are still not meeting expectations in terms of their soft skills including communication, interpersonal and strategic thinking skills.

Source: The 2014/2015 QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report

 

Percentage Increase in MBA Jobs by Region

World Region

Projected Change 014/2013

Projected Change 2015/2014

Africa & Middle East

2 %

12%

Asia-Pacific

11%

8%

Eastern Europe

10%

5%

Latin America

7%

8%

US & Canada

10%

9%

Western Europe

0%

3%

Source: QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2014/15 (www.topmba.com)

 

MBA Asian rankings

2014 Rank

2013 Rank

Institution

Country

Employer Score

Academic Score

Overall Score

Avg GMAT Score

Avg Years Work

% Intern’l

1

1

INSEAD - Singapore

Singapore

76.9

99.6

80.3

702

6

70

2

4

NUS Business School, National University of Singapore

Singapore

34.1

99.9

44.0

672

5

97

3

12

The HKUST Business School

Hong Kong

18.0

98.0

30.0

669

6

95

4

19

Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

18.0

94.8

29.5

664

5

86

5

10

Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University

Singapore

18.0

89.2

28.7

650

5

38

6

7

Beijing International MBA Programs-BiMBA, Peking University

China

17.4

84.9

27.5

550

6

70

7

3

Melbourne Business School, The University of Melbourne

Australia

12.5

97.6

25.3

600

5

14

8

2

Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

India

20.2

48.8

24.5

711

10

67

9

8

AGSM MBA Programs, University of New South Wales

Australia

12.0

93.6

24.2

630

7

25

10

20

Graduate School of Business, Seoul National University

Korea, South

10.4

85.3

21.6

510

5

70

Source: QS Global 200 Business Schools Report 2014/15

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