Why ever more experienced, successful managers are going back to school?

Why do busy managers with 10 or 20 years of experience and solid career prospects make time to go back to the classroom? They typically join an international Executive MBA like BMI’s. Even more are doing so since the Covid-19 pandemic started. How do you explain that? Here Jurgita Bendikaitė-Ursavas, the Director General of BMI, shares her insights. She guided hundreds of managers on high-powered international upgrades in the BMI EMBA.

Q: What leads busy, successful managers to join an Executive MBA programme?

Jurga: Building your know-how like that first of all strengthens your position on the job market. The vast majority view these studies as a trampoline to a better future. And such expectations are well founded. While still studying at BMI, EMBA participants see an average 31% increase in earnings and 40% experience career progress. About 25% go on to start their own businesses. Just from projects done in the EMBA, at least 10 have become successful real businesses and initiatives.

But career advancement and earnings, while important, are not the only motivators. The average age of our students is 37, and when one’s 40th birthday appears on the horizon, people increasingly ask themselves “what’s next?”. If you’ve already achieved a good financial position, made a career, and established a family, where do you turn your energy? Managers start thinking more about what they can give, not just take, what they will leave behind, what their purpose is. They also think about whether to stay in the corporate world or seize the day to bring a business idea of their own to life. In the EMBA, participants grow in confidence and get other participants’ feedback on their ideas.

There is an aspect here of contributing to society. A few years ago, people were surprised to see that the EMBA includes a module on socially responsible operations. Today that is a given. Everyone realizes that as a manager you have a certain responsibility to the society you operate in.

Q: How do managers see the pandemic? Has it distracted them from personal growth?

Jurga: The pandemic has shaken things up. It has forced people to rethink their work, making some change areas and others seek ways to quickly adapt and innovate. The crisis has brought not just losses, but many successful projects have also been born. In fact, it has encouraged even more managers to go back to school to get new tools, structures, models… Applications to study at the world’s leading business schools (Harvard, Stanford, MIT, etc.) are up 20-25%.

Q: What competencies do managers most need to strengthen today?

Jurga: Amid the pandemic, the importance of leadership has come to the fore. How to focus employees, calm them, give them a sense of security, boost their effectiveness – these have all become vital questions at present. But it has always been key for a manager to be able to motivate and enthuse their team, and to identify and ‘leverage’ peoples’ strengths.

In any case, the so-called ‘hard skills’ are no longer enough to succeed as a manager. You have to know the core principles of the many different disciplines and be able to integrate them, connect the dots, see the opportunities. They say a good manager can solve at least five problems at one time.

Even if some are thought to be “born a leader,” many of the traits of a leader are consciously developed, by acquiring knowledge and mastering certain techniques. Practice shows it is not necessarily the colourful, charismatic manager who gets great results. You have to realize that without a well performing team, you are just one lonely soldier on the battlefield.

Beyond that, digital competencies remain very relevant. Currently the issue of digital transformation is extremely important, as are methods of innovation and big data skills. We’re enhancing that part of our EMBA this year together with Microsoft, giving managers access to the latest tools and platforms for data analysis and so on and developing personalised training solutions for executives.

Q: Do you see other current trends on the European EMBA scene?

Jurga: Rankings that Ivey Exed published last fall placed us among the 16 best joint Executive MBAs in the world, rating us No. 3 for both career progress and study content (see here). Our professors come from some of the world’s top universities. They are lecturer-practitioners – managers themselves. Faculty from our founding partners HEC Paris and Louvain School of Management don’t just teach at BMI, but also help develop the programme.

All of that lets us feel the pulse of the market and offer participants studies of top quality and relevance, so they develop the know-how not just to operate successfully today, bet to meet tomorrow’s demands and retain their leadership wherever they work in the world.

We monitor trends by industry, which vary from place to place. In the heart of Europe, Brussels, the service sector, pharmaceutical companies and consulting firms are the ones investing most actively in executive education. In the Baltics, the IT, manufacturing, and financial sectors are the leaders.

During the pandemic, the share of women undertaking executive studies has risen. Still, very few business schools around the world can say they have an equal number of men and women in the classroom. BMI has also seen a moderate increase in its EMBA, where women this year make up 35%.