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Q-and-A: The case for an executive-education program

5 min read


The value of an MBA is a hotly debated topic, but there are other avenues of business education, particularly for people who are further along in their career. I asked Kriss Craig, director of programs and marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business Executive Education, about the benefits of an executive-education program and what, in particular, Stanford University offers. This interview has been edited and condensed.

People who enroll in a business school’s executive offerings have already found success in their career. What drives them to seek further education? The corner office, a new career, feeling stagnant, etc.?

Many of the executives who apply to the Stanford Executive Program are senior-level managers who have set aggressive goals for themselves for the years to come. They might be preparing to transition from a country- or functional-level management position to a top-level general management position; they might be experiencing great disruption in their industry (or organization); or they might want to expand their perspectives and retool to invigorate their positions.

Additionally, the opportunity to network with so many other senior executives while away from their job responsibilities is frequently a significant benefit cited by our participants.

What strengths does a school such as Stanford see in executives it serves? What are often weaknesses or untapped strengths they need to work on?

At Stanford, we benefit from having very senior executives attend our programs, especially the Stanford Executive Program. Our program content and the faculty-participant discussions are elevated by the level of experience the participants bring to the program.

The executives who come to Stanford are generally very intelligent senior-level managers, but they often have not had the recent opportunity in their careers to step back and really focus on their own personal/professional development due to their organizational responsibilities. We see participants who, once they are able to step away and immerse themselves in our programs, are able to return to their jobs refreshed, with new perspectives and tools, along with a new network to tap into when facing challenges.

In your experience, do most executives in executive programs such as yours have MBAs? Is the learning curve of a program such as Stanford’s different for non-MBAs?

We see a wide range of educational achievements in the executives who join our programs. Some earned MBAs many years ago and want to refresh their knowledge; some have Ph.D.s and come from specialized positions. Some have not earned advanced degrees and wish to augment their years of experience with the tools and frameworks to put some structure into their strategy.

Certainly, the learning curve differs for everyone participating in the Stanford Executive Program. For someone with a finance background (or a strong education in finance), the finance portions of the program will likely be more comfortable for that person; others who have come from a sales or marketing background and little formal finance education might find the concepts more challenging to grasp in the finance sessions. …

The emphasis in the Stanford Executive Program around building a personal road map, for each participant to create and utilize upon returning to his or her organization, helps focus the participants’ individual takeaways on what are most important to them and their organizations, at this place in their career or industry. Ultimately, the results of the program are unique to every participant, and the Stanford faculty and staff are in place to ensure that each participant has the tools and resources to get out of the program precisely what the person needs.

Jay Bhatti recently sparked discussion with his article “If you can’t get into a top-five MBA program, don’t even bother,” on top of reports about salaries declining for new MBAs. What do you say to candidates who have concerns about the value add — monetary or otherwise — of participating in an executive program?

The benefits of the Stanford Executive Program for senior executives are far different from the benefits of an MBA program for a newly minted college graduate. The executives who come to our programs are generally in very senior positions in their organizations and are looking to prepare/retool/re-energize themselves for specific, aggressive professional goals they have identified for themselves and their organizations.

While the program is a big commitment in cost and time spent away from home, the learning, the access to the top thought leaders in the world, the lifelong networks that are created and the status as Stanford Graduate School of Business alumni are clear benefits for the participants — and their sponsoring organizations.

How does an executive program help executives in multinational companies, especially if they manage international accounts or staff?

The Stanford Executive Program participant group has grown to comprise many multinational companies, and there is an understanding and focus on these by the faculty and the staff. We see a wide range of countries represented in the Stanford Executive Program, and the international focus and representation by multinational companies, combined with the expertise of world thought leaders in the faculty and speaker rosters, lead to an understanding of the challenges faced by multinational organizations and the leaders within those.