John Hollansworth is not concerned about finding a job when he completes work for his MBA degree this spring.
After two grueling years of case studies, papers, reports and team projects, he's giving little thought to the classic concerns of the graduate in a few weeks: starting salary, company benefits, location and the fastest route to the executive suite. That's because Hollansworth already sits in the executive suite. As Vice President and general manager of Western Union's Government Systems Division, he oversees the operation of a division with $70 million in annual revenues. An MBA degree wouldn't open any new doors to him.
Like any executives in Upper management, he has dedicated most of his professional career to managing the growth and prosperity of the company he works for. With each new promotion he received, his responsibilities increased. But a heavy travel schedule and unpredictable hours made it impossible for Hollansworth to enter a full-time, or even part-time graduate business education program. And yet, like many other executives at the top, he wants to get a broader perspective as he makes decisions that affect thousands of people and involve millions of dollars.
Over the last two years, Hollansworth and 34 other top-level executives from the Washington area have met on the Potomac campus of Loyola College to continue their education. They are enrolled in the only executive masters of business administration program (XMBA) in the Washington area.
In one sense, XMBA is similar to the traditional curriculum for graduate business education. The executives study marketing management and the other subject areas that the recent MBA graduate can discuss with authority on cue. But there the similarity stops.
Students in the XMBA program evaluate the theory of the course work against their cumulative personal experiences of decision making at the top. All of the students are in middle or upper management and have positions of significant authority in their organization. Most of the executives have been out of school for 15 years or more but have a track record of success in their chosen careers.
XMBA is not a new idea. The first program was begun at the University of Chicago in 1942. Nineteen schools in the United States now offer the XMBA program, including Wharton, the University of Pittsburgh, Columbia and the University of Rochester. Loyola offers two programs in this area: one on the main campus in Baltimore and one at the Potomac center.
The XMBA programs have been tailored for executives who have risen through the ranks and now find themselves in positions of significant authority in their organizations. The program extends over four semesters. Sessions are held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on alternating Fridays and Saturdays from September through December and February through May.
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The scheduling of classes has been one key to the sucess of the program; the selection of students is another. Rather than attend evening classes with students whose experience is far less than theirs, the XMBA students go through the program with a small group of people who have comparable high level experience.
"The association with other students is one of the most important benefits of the program," said Jack O'Malley, vice president of shipboard and defense systems of IBM's Federal Systems Division and a student in the program. "We lean on the expertise of other class members. A person without a background in finance could not have survived on some of the group projects without help from the financial people in the class. And the financial people turned to marketing people when a project called for a sophisticated market analysis. This was a key part of our learning experience and I think it's what separates this program from the typical MBA program."
Dan Altobello, vice president for administrative services at Georgetown University, found the team research projects are significant part of the learning process. "One of the biggest values of the program is the interaction and exchange among the participants," he said. "When the presidents and vice presidents of organizations with operating budgets of $50 million and above sit down to develop a research project, you learn things you could never pull out of a text or lecture."
For one of the courses in the second year, the class breaks up into teams at the beginning of the semester and designs a business research project on a specific company. The teams collect public data and interview principals of the company. (When the president of another an interview, the access and the response is a little different than it would be for the fresh-out-of-college MBA student.)
Once the project is completed, the team presents it to the class for evaluation. Finally the chief executive officer of the company analyzed is invited to the Potomac center, and the team presents its findings. Here again, the world of the theory and principle takes back seat to the world of reality, for the CEO responds to the findings based not on stochastic and econometric models but rather on first-hand experience of what works and what does not work in management and decision making at the top.
"I don't know of any other program where you can have this type of learning experience" said Atobello. "in 15 weeks, the various teams have taken an in-depth look at five major companies in the Washington area. And after studying the companies in depth, we have the opportunity to present our findings to the CEO of the companies studied."
Although it is designed for a person with a tight schedule, the XMBA program isn't a short cut to a degree. Students must spend 15 to 20 hours preparing for each class, and usually meet one evening a week outside of class. Robert Milch, former principal with Peat, Marwick, Mitchell, & Co., graduated from Loyola's XMBA program two years ago. "Compared to the XMBA program, medical school was duck soup," Mitch said. "You have to learn as much and do as much as in the normal MBA program. But you have much less time to do it in."
Time is the scarcest commodity during the two-year program. Jim Branson, vice president and treasurer at Garfinkels has five children ranging in age from 9 to 19, and he says he spent less time with his family during the last two years than he would like to. "I do all the course work but I think my wife makes the biggest sacrifice" he said. "During the 14 in the fall and spring that I'm in the program, we don't get out and do as many things as we normally would. But it teaches you to organize you time better."
"You think you're too busy to take on the program when you start," said O'Malley. "But somehow you sort out your time and make room for everything. We used to sit around Sunday mornings and then go to 11 o'clock mass. Now we go to 7:30 mass and I study from 9 in the morning to 1 that afternoon."
Hollansworth says that he can do a lot reading while he is travelling. "You'd be surprised how much down time there is when you travel. Waiting for planes or buses or cabs can eat aways hours on a trip. So I always carry one of my books or a few articles I want to read."
The grind of school and work isn't new to Hollansworth. When he got out of the Army in the mid-Fifties, he enrolled in night school and got an undergraduate degree in five years while working for Western Union. "I could never go back to night school," said Hollansworth. "But I can live with a class schedule of alternating Fridays and Saturdays."
Most of the executives' employers pay all or part of the tuition. Currently the tuition is $4,000 a year, which includes books and all miscellaneous fees.
"It's an investment on our part an investment on the part of the executives," said John Dealy, president of Fairchild Industries. Fairchild has sent three executives through the program over the last three years. "I think when a person makes a commitment of their own time to a program like this, they get much more out of it," Dealy said.
Fairchild executives have been involved in various training programs, including 16-week development programs. Dealy prefers the Loyola model for a number of reasons.
- We've found that when you take executives away from the job for a year or even a few consecutive months, there's a loss in continutiy," he said. "By having one class a week an alternating Fridays and Saturdays, executives start to apply the principles them with the realities of our organization. And since it's here in Potomac, there's very little extra travel involved."
In terms of return on this investment, Dealy sees some very tangible results when people have completed the program. "Some of the people who we sent over there have been operational managers. They have come up through a technical chain for a manufacturing chain. These are typically hard-driving, results-oriented people, and it's just these characteristics that allowed them to rise to where they are today. But as they move up, they need a broader perspective. Thee program gives them an understanding of what it takes to move into general management."
There are no such things as electives in the program. The curriculum has been designed to give students a rigorous foundation in the basic disciplines of accounting, finance, management, marketing and economics. Most of the professors hold full-time faculty positions at Loyola. But according to John Moran, who began the Loyola program, the school can draw on the top talent in the country to take part in the program.
- We can fly in somebody from any one of the nation's business schools for a day or a half day," Moran said. - Since half of our classes are on Saturday and we meet for a full day, it makes it worth while for everybody involved."
In setting up the program, Moran placed a lot of emphasis on the facilities where the executives would take their courses.
- We didn't want to put the executives in the basement of one of our buildings with a lot of undergraduate student activity going on all day. Eight hours of class is an intense experience and the less distractions there are, the easier it is to learn," he said.
On the Potomac campus, classes are held in a refurbished suite of rooms once used by a religious order. Baltimore classes are held in a posh Croggan Development Center that has all of the trappings as a modern corporate conference center.
Admission to the program is based on a high level of experience and a strong academic background. But Moran stresses that past grades are not the only factor.
- We hold a personal interview with every candidate," he said. - Some of the most talented executives in the country never made the dean's list in college. But they have determination and drive and a unique set of interpersonal skills that make them successful as executives."
Moran stressed that, in some cases, executives with no undergraduate degree have been admitted to the program.
- We have MDs and Ph. Ds together with people who never completed college in the same program and they all do very well," Moran said. - The important thing is the level of experience. If you bring together the right mix of people with high-level experience, they learn as much from one another as they do from the text books."