EMBA Program: New Needs and Expectations

 

Originally posted by The Wall Street Journal

September 30, 2010

 

Farrokh Langdana has been director of the Executive M.B.A. program at Rutgers Business School for 13 years, but it's only in the last two to three years that he has seen a dramatic shift in the E.M.B.A. landscape. As students foot more of their tuition bill and their jobs become increasingly demanding, the pressures on E.M.B.A. programs to accommodate those changing needs are high. Reporter Jane Porter talked with Mr. Langdana about how students needs and demands are changing and what he is doing to address those challenges. Edited excerpts follow.

How has the E.M.B.A. landscape changed most drastically for both students and programs in recent years?

The biggest change is funding. Back in the day, 85% of [students] were funded. Now the typical student is using his or her life savings. It's become a family decision. I often have to speak to applicant's spouses who say, "My husband wants to spend our life savings on the E.M.B.A. program." It's $83,000. Since they are paying from their pockets the whole tone has changed. The students need value in every minute. Now I have to choreograph three hour presentations for presenters minute-by-minute. That has put a huge pressure on programs, certainly on ours. But we have to change the program as the world changes.

What new pressures are students facing as they start their E.M.B.A. experience?

In our program they have to be away every other Friday from work. … Corporations have become so anorexic during the subprime crisis, that you have four people doing what seven once did.

Now, every coffee break, the cell phones and the blackberries are out. [In the past] executive M.B.A.s could pretty much forget about work in class.

What are you hearing from companies and how have you responded?

What I am hearing from executives is: "Send us people who can stand up and make a real presentation. We are tired of PowerPoint junkies." I have stressed to professors that PowerPoint is not the go-to. We have an amazing presentation skills guru who comes in. This is a very big change in focus. All the technical skills are important, but they need to also make great old fashioned presentations.

How do you facilitate that sense of community so many students say is important?

If morale is low, everything else does not work. When I interview candidates, I make sure I am talking to somebody who has his or her feet on the ground. There is no attitude here. Even the staff, they are like brothers and sisters to the students. Some executive M.B.A. programs are intensely competitive. I say, "If you try to do it solo you're not going to make it. You have to lean on each other." And they do.

What needs do students have when it comes to the job search and how are you responding?

We have a career coach and she works one-on-one with the students who are in transition. Having said that, we need more. The students spent the summer doing research and they have three different options regarding placement agencies for me. I'm going to let the students vote and choose. They are in a better position to choose because they are living it. [When]I get a note from a student that says I'm going to lose my job in three weeks, I pick up my phone and start emailing my contacts.

Where do you see the greatest room for improvement at Rutgers and across E.M.B.A. programs?

I think it's in the area of leadership. What I have seen is that middle-senior executives have lost the ability to make independent decisions. It's all about groups. You ask them to make a decision and they say, "Let me discuss this with my team." Individual leadership in this country is not what it used to be. What I am focusing on is small projects in the program. I'm calling it Cycle of One. I give them situations, and walk around the room with the microphone. You cannot talk to your teammates, you cannot have an emergency conference call on Skype. This is your decision. We have enough team work — we have learning teams and group organizations. But at the end of the day, I want to see our executives making quick rapid fire leadership decisions.