Business as usual

Michael Desiderio, executive director, Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), ponders Covid-19’s impact on business schools

When someone asks me, “Has your industry been impacted by the pandemic?” I usually reply, “Is there an industry that hasn’t?”

When we hear “impact” and a life-altering event coupled together, our minds almost always equate impact to negative fallout. And while there is no question that the space we represent, Executive MBA (EMBA) programmes, has had to deal with tough implications resulting from Covid-19, there have been some positive ramifications as well.

First let’s deal with the ‘tough stuff’.

While our own research data over the past several years has shown increasing uses of technology to enhance the learning experience, the face-to-face component of EMBA programmes has been a hallmark of the overall EMBA journey.

As Covid emerged, our member programmes were, of course, forced to transform quickly to a fully remote experience. And while the massive effort to modify course design in a very short time frame is not the optimal approach to change, managing the expectations of a student body whose journey had been altered presented its own set of challenges. Face-to-face learning was something students signed up for and now Covid had made this untenable… at least in the short term. Of course, the challenges to face-to-face learning didn’t end there.

The majority of EMBA programmes integrate an experiential component which involves immersing students in a geography other than their own to study business with a view towards developing a global mindset. With travel being shut down then, at the very least, restricted, another piece of the journey was jeopardised.

The challenges described above are real, and are issues even today. However, as difficult as it has been for programmes and students, both have adapted well.

Of course, given the choice, it’s likely all of us in society would want to go back to the way things were pre-Covid, before masks, before social distancing, and before the term ‘self-isolate’ became common vernacular.

“Now more than ever, we need more leaders who do understand finance, who do understand marketing, who do understand operations”

However, there is no denying some positive impacts have come out of the challenges.

For example, programmes are now more adept at leveraging technology to further enhance learning. Even if things were to go back to ‘the way it used to be’, our eyes have been opened to new ways of expanding the journey through technology.

There’s something else that’s good for the EMBA industry that’s come out of 2020. One of the core value components of EMBA programmes is that they are building and growing leaders. They are providing managers, executives and those who aspire to these ranks to see things through a more strategic lens; to think critically and holistically about the enterprise. EMBA programmes are not training individuals to be finance people, to be marketing people, to be operations people; instead they are fostering, nurturing and growing leadership. Now more than ever, it seems, the world is facing problems where we need more leaders who do understand finance, who do understand marketing, who do understand operations. We need leaders who get all of the necessary components of running the enterprise while simultaneously understanding the importance of how their decisions impact more than just their P&L statement. Who embrace the responsibility that goes beyond the short-term implications of their decisions.

In times of crises, leadership – real leadership – is necessary. EMBA programmes were founded under this premise and have continued to expand the EMBA journey with an ever-deepening focus on leadership. The pandemic has reminded our industry that the delivery may change, the curriculum may even change but staying true to developing leaders with global strategic mindsets is something that’s needed now more than ever in our history. I firmly believe EMBA programmes will continue to deliver on that promise.


Find out more about Executive MBA Council here. 

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