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Business School Executive MBA Explained

What differentiates a business school executive MBA from any other kind of MBA?

Deciding to study for any such course is a big decision, requiring an even bigger investment and commitment. So it’s important to make sure you choose the right one.

In this article we discuss how an executive MBA (sometimes called EMBA) differs from a traditional MBA, and how you can make sure you get the best from the executive program.

We start with an explanation of who the executive MBA is for, considering these programs by participant group. Then we look at the delivery model for executive MBAs, including their focus and content, before finishing with some final comments on their value.

Who are business school executive MBAs for?

Business School Executive MBA

The major difference between an executive MBA and other MBAs is that the executive programs are for experienced managers and senior professionals.

Many managers and leaders have gained their know-how either from management and leadership training courses, or from experience gained whilst doing the job. This initial development can take a manager so far, but management potential is often only fully realized when that practical experience is combined with theory, intellectual challenge and insights. This can be the real key to developing a management career.

The opportunity to study at masters level often helps managers to build on what many already do intuitively. This level of study can develop expertise and provide a foundation for good practice, whilst encouraging students to recognize and challenge where things can be improved. The best business school executive MBA programs provide a structured environment to enable managers to do that.

Business School Executive MBA Delivery Model

Although some executive MBAs are delivered as full-time programs, most tend to have more flexible delivery models. This allows students to continue their employment whilst studying part time. Such a delivery model can provide the best of both worlds: the opportunity to study at an advanced level, whilst enabling students to use existing work issues as a context to explore theory. Business School Executive MBAs are usually delivered in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Evening sessions, or a combination of afternoon/early evening classes.
  • Block delivery, where modules are delivered on a series of consecutive days, often at regular intervals such as once or twice a term/semester, or as a summer school.
  • Weekend delivery.

These delivery patterns tend to involve more intensive study sessions than might be the case with full-time programs. They will typically require employers to provide some release from work to enable full attendance. These flexible delivery patterns are generally designed to enable managers to fit course attendance around their working schedules. When considering delivery models you may want to think about:

  • Whether work-release is required, how much and at which times.
  • Some attendance patterns (such as regular evening sessions) assume that you can get to the venue easily. What effect will this have on your work and life over the full duration of the course?
  • If the program you wish to attend is some distance away from your place of work, then an the intensive block delivery or weekend delivery may be more suitable.


Renowned management thinker Henry Mintzberg had several criticisms of business school executive MBAs. Perhaps his main issue was that they do the same as conventional MBAs in a key area. Mintzberg felt that both MBAs provide, what he terms the experience of other people, in the form of lectures and case studies, “whilst mostly ignoring the manager’s own natural experience.”

So when deciding which course is for you, pay particular attention to the program’s focus. The best business school executive MBAs have a strong experiential emphasis, allowing you and your fellow students to draw on each other’s experience. Some indicators to this focus can be gleaned by asking some basic questions, such as:

  • Is there a strong experiential emphasis on the program?
  • Is group work a prominent feature of the course?
  • How is the course assessed?
  • How much project work features in the course?
  • To what extent do assessments allow you to use your working situation or experience, and (if desired) apply what you have learned to your workplace?


MBAs are different to most other masters programs because they usually cover a wide range of subject areas. Often these in themselves can be subjects for whole masters qualifications but when studying for a Business School Executive MBA it’s likely that you will cover a greaterbreadth of management topics than on any other masters program.

Whilst most business school executive MBA programs provide this broad range of similar topics, there are often differences between programs to think about. Some may emphasize topics such as leadership or entrepreneurship. Others may be more flexible in allowing you to choose your emphasis, depending on your experience or intentions. So when choosing your program, make sure you consider the subject areas covered, to ensure the degree fits in with your own needs and preferences.

In doing this, think about the topics and areas that might help you in the next stage of your career, not just where you are now. When you’re investing so much time and money in your own development, you should think about your future needs, and the opportunities you want to create from the areas you choose to study.


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A business school executive MBA can be a great experience and an excellent investment. Some executive MBAs are targeted at managers from senior levels, others at middle managers. Regardless, many managers comment on how valuable they find the experience of meeting with other managers from different levels, backgrounds and organizations.

This sharing of experience, and reflection on practice, is one of the most powerful ways to learn. Although there are numerous benefits to be had in studying for any MBA, perhaps this sharing of the learning experience is the one element which differentiates an executive MBA from any other. You’ll find some helpful links for executive MBA comparisons here.

Whether you’re already studying for a Business School Executive MBA, or thinking about enroling, one way to keep yourself up-to-date is to use the extensive free articles on this site. See our Ideas, Tips and Tools page, for some great tips on how to use the site.

If you are looking for ways to implement these ideas in your organization then see our: Services to Business page and use the contact us form to send us your enquiry. Then there’s our on-line store which contains a wide range of resources to help you with your career development.

Some final thoughts about your management and leadership development training. Getting the content right is important but don’t overlook the need for a robust learning process.

Read our article: Business Management Education: Re-thinking our Approach for a view that challenges conventional thinking about management education and development. Then in our article: Leadership Management Training we discuss one approach to providing that robust learning process. One that ensures stretching and stimulating content, which leads to a positive impact.


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