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Business School in Three Countries

Leading executives with a global focus now have the unique opportunity to study in the world’s three major financial centers – Hong Kong, New York and London - while pursuing Columbia Business School’s much sought after executive MBA program.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   22-09-2011
Hanabury, has spent over 20 years at Columbia Business School, first as an MBA student between 1983-1985 and then as an integral part of the school’s leadership team. He has grown enrollments significantly.

The Financial Times has consistently ranked EMBA-Global, the executive MBA program run jointly by Columbia Business School and London Business School, as a top global program. The two big schools have now partnered with the Hong Kong University Business School to offer a joint MBA degree to working mangers primarily based in Asia.

“Launched in May 2009, the EMBA Global Asia program is designed for globally focused managers and executives and offers the unique opportunity to study in the three financial centers of the world -– Hong Kong, New York and London,” said Ethan Hanbury, the School's Associate Dean of Executive MBA Programs.

Hanabury spoke to Uttara Choudhury at Warren Hall in Columbia University’s Morningside campus about the relevance of B-school, what the admissions office looks for in essays and interviews, and what applicants can do to set themselves apart. Here are excerpts from their discussion.

What is the enduring value of an MBA especially during an economic downturn?

There are many aspects to an MBA. One is the education itself, and the lifetime value of what you’ve learned. There is also the network -- which in our programs is quite extensive and global, and one that you can drop on as you progress through your career. I think in this downturn, you can hear from everyone to network. It’s very important to be networked in, to have various support systems. So I think it’s a particularly good time to be getting your MBA and being exposed to people from other industries, other companies as well as other backgrounds. We hear students who get great job opportunities through their fellow classmates that they are exposed to in the program.

Can you talk about the EMBA Global Asia program?

“Our students will have the choice of taking electives in Hong Kong, New York or London, and they’ll have the choice of taking electives with students from our other executive MBA programs”

The EMBA Global Asia program launched in 2009 May. It’s a program designed for globally focused managers and executives. It offers the unique opportunities to study in the three financial centers of the world -- Hong Kong, New York and London. How does it work? How can you possibly do an MBA program while traveling to these three institutions? Well the program is designed in block periods. Once a month there’d be a four-day block period where you’d either be in Hong Kong, New York or London. During that period you’d be taking four courses throughout the term and they would be interspersed throughout those four blocks per term.

The program is 20 months in length and it is five terms. In the initial two or three terms, it is mainly core courses and in the latter part of the program it’s mainly electives. And there comes the real excitement because our students will have the choice of taking electives in Hong Kong, New York or London, and they’ll have the choice of taking electives with students from our other executive MBA programs -- our flagship New York program, our Berkeley-Columbia program.

How does the EMBA Global Asia program provide access to Columbia’s network and alumni association?

“We are the business school for the rapidly changing world”

One of the really appealing aspects of this is that you get three networks, three global schools with international reputations. In Columbia we have over 37,000 alumni and really right from the go, they’ll be exposed to that network. Senior alums will come in to speak in the classroom. There will be guest speakers that really showcase Columbia’s network. Wherever they travel to, whether it is New York, London, Hong Kong or even other places, they will be able to immediately get involved and attend some of the alumni events.

How do you look at candidates who have come from failed companies or investment banks? How do you weigh their application? Is it held against them?

It is not held against them. We are very sympathetic to what’s happening in the economy and in fact our philosophy at Columbia is that we are the business school for the rapidly changing world.We’ve certainly seen it change quite rapidly and we’re adapting. And, of course, one of the things people have a concern about before they apply to an executive MBA program is “Will I be at that company for the next 20 months?” and that’s something that we look to reassure them -- that we’ll help them through whatever transition they might be going through or any unanticipated transition they might encounter.

At Columbia Business School, the selection process is through admissions and not through coursework. When somebody is admitted, if they are engaged and put the effort into the program we’re there to support them, whatever work or life circumstances might occur. We’ve had female students have babies during the program; so, whatever the situation is, we are happy to try to accommodate the situation.

Do most candidates who are eventually admitted for an executive MBA program at Columbia, interview? And, does the EMBA-Global Asia program also interview applicants?

“We want to learn fundamentally about what that individual would be like in the classroom”

For each of our programs an interview is required and we require an interview with an admissions officer. And, for the global Asia program what that means is you could interview with an admissions officer in Hong Kong, in London or in New York. If there were issues or problems in travel, we would try to accommodate somebody who wasn’t able to do a face to face interview.

What does the admissions team want to learn from an interview?

We want to learn fundamentally about what that individual would be like in the classroom. And, what they would bring to the classroom, in terms of their professional background, in terms of what their professional aspirations are. It’s very important that we ensure that prospective students have the desire to collaborate and learn from each other because at least half the learning in the program is through the incredible peer network of fellow students.

What advice would you give today’s applicants?

I don’t think the answer is any different today than it was six months ago. I think it’s putting together a profile of yourself that is genuine, that reflects your professional promise, reveals something about your personality, and what you are like in situations where you’re asked to lead or to work in teams.  So I think putting your best foot forward definitely. I would always advise somebody before they submit an application to have somebody who knows them well, read the application through, and try to answer the question – “does the application reflect this person’s strengths?”

Often students feel they’re not as well integrated into the full time MBA recruitment process. Does Columbia organize recruiting events, especially for executive MBA students?

We have invested in a very strong career management department dedicated to executive MBA students. The recruitment apparatus at most companies that come on campus is tailored for people who are looking for entry level, fast track jobs. For some of our students who want to take a step back before they move forward, there is the opportunity to do on campus recruiting along with the full time students. But for the vast majority, our career management office will work with them to come up with a tailored plan that will help them figure out the best route for them. Additionally, we reach out to organizations that are interested in speaking to executive MBA students who are experienced hires. But they do not come on campus in the same way that they do in a full time program.

Simply because Columbia University is in New York, which is the financial capital of the world, do you get a very large portion of banks, hedge funds, consultancy firms and financial service companies that actually come to campus for recruiting events?

We sure do. Our location in New York City and our reputation for really producing the most talented young executives and leaders makes this a very attractive place for banks, consultancy firms, hedge funds and others to recruit at.

How important is it to go to a big brand school such as Columbia or Harvard?

Well, I myself am a graduate of Columbia Business School’s MBA program so I guess I’m a bit biased. But I think graduates have benefitted from not only the education that they received, the world-renowned faculty, but are also continuing to benefit from the Columbia network. Columbia puts a lot of effort into selecting the best possible students so they become talented and successful alumni. So being able to tap into that is an extraordinary opportunity.

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