Developing Executive Education: Think twice!


“Executive Education that delivers true thought leadership has indeed become a key priority for many business schools. Many schools, however, fall short of the challenge to meet today’s executive education needs. Classical organisational structures-often based on functional disciplines; hierarchy and the tenure tradition-can impede a business school’s ability to adapt quickly to the new and emerging requirements of leading corporations. (Peter Lorange, Preface, When thought leadership meets business, Cambridge 2008)


In the last thirty years Business Schools went through main strategic moves.


Qualification of the faculty, including research outputs, and internationalisation of all the institution are among the most important. Some schools started by the faculty, some by the internationalisation and some tried both at once. The accreditation pressure was a strong motivation for such moves. There was still another important change to deploy: the shift in the client perspective. Were students the only clients, or were corporations also relevant? Some schools did stick to their traditional knitting, and kept a more academic positioning and an organisation focused on teaching and students. Some started to move and offered services to corporations and in the process had to deal with a change in faculty profile and in the school organisation.

In these hard times of budget balancing, how comes that Business Schools do not think more about developing complementary revenues through new activities like executive Education? Many rankings or accreditation processes considerably value this activity, and the best ranked schools (see FT Rankings) are strong in Executive Education. This is a clear-cut differentiation factor with schools not engaged in Executive Education.

In fact, many schools are trying to do so, and most encounter difficulties. Not only because clients are difficult to convince or competition is tough, but because going Exec Ed calls for a systemic approach, somehow a true organisational development, hard to implement in rather conservative academic institutions.

Business models vary with a mix ranging from “mostly integrated Exec Ed” (IMD, Insead, Duke, Cranfield, Ashridge) to “marginally Exec Ed” (most schools). Each model has a specific strategy, portfolio, organisation, faculty profile and faculty management.

Level of integration of Executive Education in the institution Portfolio Organisation and staffing Key success factors
Marginal (15% of revenues) Catalogue short programmes

MBA full time

Programme managers

Department within the Business School

Quality/price ratio
Developed ( 30% of revenues) Catalogue short and long programmes

Degree programmes (part-time)

Executive MBA

Customised degree programmes

Strong Exec Ed division, Key Account Management and Programme Managers Quality of Marketing and relationship with clients

Image of the institution

Commitment of the faculty

Mostly Executive Education (60% of revenues and over) Executive MBA

Highly customised

Sectorial or cross functional open programmes

Consulting services

Corporate Universities

On line services

Main division of the Business School

Most faculty are experienced in corporate life

Dedicated research

Faculty are working cross functional

Partnership with corporations.

Dean implication



  1. The real benefits: learning from the clients

Aside the supposed increased revenues or a better ranking position, the real benefits of Exec Ed for a school are manifolds:

  • It brings in the school a new type of client and forces the institution to think differently:  what added value can the school bring to corporations? Is it pure axiomatic knowledge, new expertises, some kind of consulting services, plain technical qualification, leadership or organisational development
  • What does the school bring back from this activity: revenues, or image? Or is it beneficial also for the faculty in terms of understanding corporate preoccupations and objectives, and does the faculty develop and bring back new learning material?
  • Will it give the institution a new positioning and a new research agenda, more focused on corporate problems and not on pure academic issues?
  • Will it change academic posture, publications and careers? Will it change degree programmes design and content?
  • What are the benefits from the traditional student body in terms of skills, knowledge, recruitment and career opportunities?
  • How corporations can be more associated to the school strategy, programme design, research agenda, lecturing, internships and governance?

The economic dimension is often not the only one, and certainly not the more important, as the necessary partnership with client corporations brings a lot more.


  1. What are corporations looking for in Executive Education

Corporations are not only looking for pure professional qualification when looking for Executive Education. They are willing to invest to develop performance, solve problems, grow leaders, implement strategy, create new business models, be innovative, exchange good practices, share common vision and culture, help transversal networking, create communities of knowledge. If qualification comes with it   “Tant mieux”! If not, who cares! Training, as such, might be dead but real learning is well and alive.


  1. Changing the target

The primary market of schools is the student market, with a “B to C marketing”.

When one tries to attract students the marketing mix is made of web sites, brochures, fairs, rankings and accreditations, a good selection process, open  days, strong alumni association, and interviews of Deans and of famous successful alumni in Business papers or Education journals.

Marketing to corporations is pure B to B, and does not require the same marketing ingredients. The image of the school is dominant, unless the school looks for a commodity market of basic open programmes. B to B means a much focused marketing on potential clients that know the institution and needs its expertises. Brochures are less important than a deep knowledge of the corporate client, its organisation, its decision process and actors, its learning culture, its main preoccupations, its competitors and their strategy.  The main marketing investment is made of knowing and understanding the client. Mass marketing is of little use. Dedicate meetings with small numbers of clients, invitation to top conferences with school experts, long term commitment and exclusive dedicated services create loyalty and “intuitu personae”. Trust is a key word. Marketing is relationship based. An organisation sells to another organisation, and it is complex.

The marketing of Open Programmes needs a good CRM( with a large base of hundreds of thousands of names) allowing for a relevant segmentation of clients, as one does not sell the same marketing programme to finance officers or marketing staff. It requires brochures, but trying to market too many programmes through a huge catalog appears to be costly and less successful to-day than before. The drop in registration forces programmes to open with fewer participants, to cancel or to postpone openings, generating dissatisfaction of clients and bad image, not mentioning that price competition is tough in this business. One way to avoid the commoditisation effect is to develop cross-functional programmes, sectorial or problematized topics as IMD, or other Schools like Cranfield does (Orchestrating Wining Performance; Growing Businesses; Project, Programme and Change Management) .

In some cases marketing approaches have to mix B to C and B to B as for instance Executive degree programmes whose clients may be both individual and corporations.

This ends often with a tough encounter with the Purchasing officers in a tender like situation, where expertises and sophisticated content or faculty have not much to say.


  1. Marketing expertises or marketing programmes

Marketing expertises is different from marketing programmes. In the first case, it is often the marketing of the expert by the expert himself, in the second case it is the marketing of the whole institution.

Usually experts do their own marketing, through books, publications, conferences, articles, interviews…but the institution can help and offer the substratum to facilitate and promote. When the number of experts in a domain is large enough, the expertise will stick to the image of the school and stay even if some experts leave or are not full time.

For a medium size institution, to start an executive education activity, it is sometimes easier to promote a few differentiating expertises than a full range of open programmes with an oversized catalog.


  1. New faculty and Dean profiles: Deciding or not for an academic career in a Business school.

The choice of an academic career versus a corporate one is not an innocent one. Both careers require efforts and personal investments, but not identical. Rewards and risks are also different, not only financial, but also in terms of recognition, life style, and professional development. Experts are seldom good managers except for themselves. Notorious cases of   good researchers becoming poor managers of research are common academic literature. The Dean and Heads of Department in a Business School are often rotating position because the job is not always considered as a real promotion or a way to enhance its own academic career. It usually distracts from publishing and researching, as well as lecturing, and the academic career may suffer.

Often when accepting a Deanship, applicants know that they end up their academic career and opt definitely for a management one. Very few can go (back) to industry as corporations do not think that their academic experience in school is relevant for a managerial . This means that few individuals within schools are bound to have a natural corporate mindset and experience.

Frequently schools have a hard time recruiting Executive Education Officers within the faculty. And if they recruit externally the new comer will have difficulty working with the faculty as he/she will not be considered by them as legitimate (unless full PhD) to understand and sell their own expertises.

Deans have also to be exemplary to demonstrate salesmanship and marketing skills in front of corporate clients. Not all of them are ready to do it, while it should be around 25 to 30% of their time that should be spent with senior executives of corporations either to gather funding resources or promote their institution. When some faculty members are ready to go for Executive Education the next step is to make sure they understand the required posture in front of executive participants. The role expectations are more on facilitating learning or even consulting/ counseling than lecturing.

Corporate clients seldom care for theory. They like sharing with peers,   importing solutions, quick wins, performance enhancement, results, sometimes just recipes. When dealing with Executive Officers from the school they expect “draft propositions” during the first meeting, like those they would get from consultants. Executive Education officers should be good at designing and architecting proposals on spot.


  1. Dedicating the organisation, changing the rewards and the “main stream” effect

All these shifts in profiles, not mentioning rewards calls for a change in the organisational setting. First when recruiting new faculty the profile must be screened not only on academic criteria but also on corporate knowledge and experience. The different teaching/learning posture, the consulting skills must be assessed, the will to cooperate in Executive Education as well. Recognition and benefits must come with. The fit with the rest of the faculty is important to avoid a two-tier faculty situation.

When managing their department schedule and working load, lecturing, research outputs, programme management, Heads of Department must take into account time spent for Executive Education and value it .

At the institution level the division of Executive Education has to be staffed properly. If possible the Dean for Exec Ed must have full recognition, and should sit on the board, participate and give his/her voice in the decision making process, including recruitment, as the outcome of his/her activity is of importance for the school positioning, and budget.


Chart from Bill Shedden , Presentation to ABS November 2011 with the author authorisation



Often observed the first move towards Executive Education, is the launch of an Executive MBA programme. This is a good way to test the capacity of the faculty to adapt to a more senior level of participants. Those who succeed there in front of participants might be ready for the next move in customised programmes.

Some corporate traditional training centers and their staff have difficulties in dealing with issues that are more strategic than purely training. They are internal course providers while they should be internal consultants and business partners. Qualifying the staff of corporate training officers and coaching them to deal with company challenges is often the first obstacle to overcome before providing programmes or seminars. Helping them to sell the school proposal to their boss or internal clients is the next step, as they are not usually client minded.

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