Will those in the new Executive MBA program at AUB benefit from their investment? Who are we talking about?
We are talking about executives who hold managerial positions, have people who report to them and have budgets to run, often from tens of millions of dollar to over $100 million. Most executives in the Arab world do not necessarily have business degrees. They are technically qualified in their industries, but does the best engineer have skills in managing human resources? We are the first to know in this country that we have a huge deficiency in Lebanon in the area of human resources management. Most of the HR departments are run by people who are trained to deal with payroll issues, sick leaves, this kind of thing –rather than to manage the human capital resources in the company.
The corporate Middle East is a very peculiar business environment. How will you capture the region’s special characteristics and challenges in the program?
Most Arab companies whether in Lebanon or other countries, are family-based. This is factored into our courses through the cases that we are going to discuss. On one hand we are going to describe current practices, seeking to understand them. Then we aim to show the pros and cons of current business practices and current forms of organizations in the Arab world and try to identify the weaknesses and improve on them.
How fast do you foresee the results of the EMBA program percolating into the regional business culture?
I think of universities as kitchens for new ideas that will not necessarily be applied at the moment but hopefully in the future. Even in the West, where decisions on how to optimize your investment decisions were born, these were not practiced. It took 20 to 25 years of generating graduates at business schools and sending them to the job market so that they would convince their ‘boss with a hat’ of the methods they learned. We think that we will be able to convince the executives in our program to go to their boards of directors and present a case for the value of growth by extending beyond the traditional ways of Arab practices in business management. This is not going to be a push-button thing. Spreading this culture through our executive MBAs and our regular MBAs as well, we hope that in the next 10 or 20 years the culture of business in the area will evolve. Otherwise we will keep stagnant and not go anywhere.
How can you help the person applying for an EMBA convince their boss or board of directors to let him or her join the program and perhaps pay for it?
I stand yet to be corrected here but I doubt that any of the batch of executives already admitted to the program, got any sponsorship from any of their employers. This is really unfortunate. Trying to invest heavily into their people is still strange to the culture of many companies here. I would be happy to see companies pay their employees’ tuition on a loan basis, repayable after graduation, or share in the cost, or paying with the condition that they stay with the employer for a certain number of years after graduation. I haven’t seen that yet and I would like to help developing this.
You are substantially more expensive than other EMBA programs in Lebanon? Does your program quality justify this?
We did not at all look at current prices in other institutions when we priced our program. We didn’t look at this in the way of pricing. We looked at our MBA, how much it costs, and how much additional costs this program involves. We are talking a whole set of arrangements and different expenses, from data base costs to receiving scholars from outside. In fact, we think that this program may not break even in the beginning, and we don’t guarantee that the price will not be higher in the future.
And you want to transfer the good name recognition of AUB and the high image of your traditional MBA to your standing in executive education.
We are adding a new brand to this institution, but we are not branding ourselves against the local education market; we are branding ourselves on the international scene. If you look at EMBAs at the London School of Economics or Columbia Business School, all of the high-quality programs are above $100,000. So if you compare numbers on quality EMBAs, I think ours is at the moment among the cheapest. We priced our program as a good product at an affordable price, and we are trying to penetrate the market of quality EMBAs.
Does that mean that in the long run executives from major industrialized countries will see your EMBA as a viable option?
Given the image of Lebanon as the link between East and West, this program might fly internationally and we hope it does. Many executives in Europe, Japan and North America have business interests in the Arab world and perhaps want to know more about businesses in the Arab world. Perhaps it would appeal to them to acquire an EMBA here, mingle with people, establish contacts, business prospects for the future.
Would this also reflect positively on Lebanon’s role in the region?
Many people say today that Arab countries developed enough and know what to do, so they don’t need Lebanese anymore to link them to the West. On the surface, this is true. But when you go to the heart of things, you will find that in any business in the Gulf, there will be the Lebanese in the hierarchy, just below the Gulf person who is heading the division. There is value for this Lebanese brand.
Do you regard the wave of new universities in Lebanon as a problem?
People talk of turning Lebanon into the educational center of the Arab world. Turning Lebanon into the educational center of the region is one way to come up with a new market for Lebanon and this needs to be worked out. In this context, we don’t see the new universities as a challenge for AUB. We see them as an attraction to bring students to Lebanon. I will be more than happy to see 50 universities in this country, bringing tens of thousands of new students into the country. The School of Business at AUB is strong and wants to do its job well. We want the rest of the country to also do their jobs well and institutions to be qualified to build a reputation for Lebanon as a center for excellence in education.
MORE ABOUT THE NEW MBA PROGRAM
EXECUTIVE talked to Nadia Shuayto, the program’s coordinator, about its goals in building upon business culture in the Middle East
How did you structure the program?
The program uses a theme-based approach. For instance Fundamentals and Analytics is the theme for the first semester. Participants will earn credits but we decided to deliver the content in a modular format. Rather than giving separate courses on financial management or financial accounting, we decided to have two modules within the theme, and called them ‘soft skills’ and ‘hard skills.’
How long is the program?
The participant is expected to finish the entire Executive MBA program within 18 months. Courses will be given every three weeks for three days, and on very rare occasions, four days. Our target is not just the Lebanese executive; it is the executive from any country in the region. Thus we decided to organize our courses for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, because Thursday and Friday mark the weekend in many countries in the region.
What corporate experience is required for the Executive MBA?
A quality program begins with the participants. We are being very selective and strict on admission. You must have a minimum of seven to eight years of management experience to enter the program. Were equally scrupulous in your selection of faculty?
We are also very selective in our faculty about who will be teaching in the program and we will have many guest speakers from the industry who will talk about their experiences. Some of our keynote speakers are world-renowned authors, coming from Ivy League schools.
What do you expect graduates to take home from this program?
We want to train people to focus on the human aspect of management rather than just focusing on the financial bottom line. With our program we are going to create a well-rounded leader that will become a change agent. As change agents, the graduates of our program will go back to their companies and develop their employees as well. A lot of Middle Eastern executives fear delegating, they fear empowerment. We want to take that fear away from them. We don’t just want leadership at the top – we want an environment of leadership throughout the organization. Our focus is really on human development. Once the human develops, the corporation develops.
The Executive MBA program at AUB is available to participants who qualify by their academic and managerial background. Class size is restricted to 24 persons and the courses for the first class started on February 26, 2004. Cost of the 44-credit program is $600 per credit, or approximately $30,000 for tuition, books and materials. English proficiency is a must.