Are Executive MBAs Valuable To Product Mangers?

Product Managers Should Consider Getting An Executive MBA
Product Managers Should Consider Getting An Executive MBA

As the world’s economy continues to shudder, everyone is scrambling to find ways to make themselves more valuable to both their current employer as well as to their next employer (if needed). For a long time, getting an MBA has been an option that many product managers have considered. The big drawback has always been the amount of time that this degree requires – on top of all of your other responsibilities. It turns out that there is another option: the executive MBA.

I guess a good question to start off with is how does an executive MBA differ from a “regular” MBA? An executive MBA generally meets every other weekend for two full days – Friday and Saturday. Students generally travel to campus to participate in classes. While not in class, remotely located students collaborate to complete class assignments.

There’s also the issue of time: an executive MBA generally takes two years from start to finish. If you are working and choose to participate in a regular MBA, there’s a good chance that it will end up taking you longer to complete your degree as you take one or two classes a semester.

Where to go is the big question if you choose to pursue an executive MBA. There are a lot of executive MBA programs out there and because they are such a profit center for universities, they are all marketed heavily. Thankfully the folks over at the Wall Street Journal have taken the time to conduct a survey and they’ve found the best places for a product manager to go.

Just how do you go about ranking executive MBA programs? Well over at the WSJ they decided to go about doing it based on multiple criteria. The most important factor that they chose was how corporations viewed the programs – I mean you’re really getting the degree to boost your marketability, right? Next came how students in the program actually felt about the program. Finally, the value of what they were being taught was factored in.

So who won? Here’s the ranking of the top 10 executive MBA programs as computed by the Wall Street Journal:

  1. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
  2. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  3. Thunderbird School of Global Management
  4. University of Southern California (Marshall)
  5. University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)
  6. University of Michigan (Ross)
  7. Cornell University (Johnson)
  8. Columbia University (NY Program)
  9. University of Chicago
  10. Duke University (Fuqua)

So what do YOU need to consider if you are thinking about enrolling in an executive MBA program above and beyond which program ranks the highest? One interesting point is just how much this is going to cost.

The executive MBA programs that were reviewed by the Wall Street Journal cost between $65,000 and $160,000 just in tuition (books, travel, etc. would all be extra). Since lots of students work for firms that pay all/part of the cost of the program, the median out-of-pocket cost turned out to be something like $45,000. Of course then there’s the issue of travel…

In the survey, 64% of the executive MBA students traveled less than 50 miles to go to school which means most of them are local to the school. However 7% traveled up to 200 miles and 9% traveled more than 1,000 miles.

In the end, the big question is if this is all worth it? Once again we can go back to the survey to find out. 24% of those students surveyed said that they had been given a both a raise and a promotion since they started executive MBA classes. Another 30% said that they expect both in the next year.

So what do you think: is an executive MBA the way to go or is a regular MBA better? Do you think that getting an MBA would be worth $45,000+? Could you stay at your current company or would you have to leave once you got your degree? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

11 thoughts on “Are Executive MBAs Valuable To Product Mangers?”

  1. Here are my two cents. I should probably post this to a blog somewhere, but I don’t have one and I’m afraid of commitment.

    Don’t get an Executive MBA if your only goal is a raise or promotion. Doing this is like having a baby so you can make your marriage better. There are much better ways to achieve these goals that don’t cost you as much money and that are not as intrusive on your life.

    Get an Executive MBA if you are truely interested in learning more about business management. Raises and promotions are a side benefit of an MBA, and they don’t always come as a result. If you don’t go into an MBA program with true enthusiasm for the topic then you won’t be successful in your MBA and you won’t get the benefits in your career. In most organizations, many of your peers will have MBA’s and so it isn’t such a strong differentiator. If you want to differentiate, you can aim for one of the top schools that are listed. This can take even bigger sacrifices such as relocation, regular travel on weekends, and much higher tuition costs (which is still a concern if your company is paying, because you will usually have to pay it back if you leave).

    Or you can choose the best school for your area and personally drive yourself to get the most out of it. Don’t just stick to the lessen plans and course materials. For each topic, do some external research to learn alternative perspectives. Keep these materials handy for later in life, when you’re using what you’ve learned in the real world. Find some good discussions online about the topics you’re studying.

    For product managers, the best focus areas for your MBA would be marketing, business strategy, and new product development. Doing an executive MBA while you are working on the job enriches both experiences. You will use what you learn in school while you’re at work, and you will use what you are doing at work to help you understand what you learn at school. The result – WHILE you are getting your MBA you will be performing better at work. You might just get that promotion and pay raise before you’re done with the MBA.

    And if that promotion and pay raise doesn’t come? Well then you have a pretty nice network of alumni that you met along the way to help you figure out something better. Plus, you’ll have the confidence and credentials to go find something that fits exactly what you are looking for in your career. Even if you aren’t going into it thinking of a career change, you might find some new area that you really love and will want to start looking around if that big change doesn’t come in your current job. Most schools have good career placement centers with advisors that can help you out. Many executive programs are lighter in this area, because typically employers are footing the bill and they don’t want to pay for their employees to go job hunting.

    • Mike: wow! I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head – getting an MBA / Executive MBA can’t be all about your current job. I read an article awhile back that recommended that product mangers start to think of themselves as contractors – not permanent employees. With that mindset, getting an MBA of any flavor is one more way that a product manger can make himself / herself more valuable to their current assignment as well as for all future assignment.

      I guess getting an MBA is a little like getting a tattoo – it hurts a bit get it, but once you do it’ll be with you for the rest of your life…

      • great post and discussion. the tattoo example is perfect.

        to add, it takes several years to finish that tattoo so get used to the pain. and once you start, there is no credit for only getting part of the tattoo. it is all or nothing!

  2. So the numbers show a ~10K USD differential between MBA vs. non-MBA. If the out of pocket cost is 45K USD then
    the payout will be 4.5 years. After that, then the MBA will pay financial dividends for the rest of the career. Not bad.

    But what about self selection bias? Maybe there is a correlation between high earners and their likelihood to go out and get an MBA. If pay follows performance then there is likely some bias here.

    I always wonder what kind of pay I would be making if I stayed in my career as a chemical engineer. Last yeat, engineers in Houston saw huge pay increases because the oil market was so hot.

    For me, it is all about job satisfaction and potential for career growth. I find product management to be highly rewarding in both areas. I could probably make more as an engineer, but money isn’t everything. If it was, then I would have chosen a career in finance. Looking at the current situation on Wall Street, I’m glad I didn’t.

    • Mike: Ah yes, the question about the career path that we didn’t take! I seem to recall that just a few years ago, Chem E’s couldn’t find a job to save their lives so it’s sorta a boom/bust deal.

      Your math is just a bit off – you’ve got to put a price on the time (and maybe travel) that a 2-4 year MBA will require. Sure it might be after work, but that’s really your most valuable time!

      With all that being said, I think that you make a good point that go-getters will be the ones who get an MBA and they might have been successful anyway. I guess the one big advantage that I got out of getting an MBA was that I learned the lingo of business – suddenly I was able to talk to the non-IT side of the house in their own language.

      Finally, yes – it’s great (and Scary) to be CIO of your own product, eh?

  3. As someone who did the EMBA I can provide a view. I attended the local university (not top 10 but top 20). I had always intended to get an MBA since being an undergraduate engineer, but it took me 20 years to eventually get it.

    I had 4 major reasons for getting it when I did:
    1. I worked in a large company at Director level and the competition at that level and above were all MBAs, so I felt disadvantaged.
    2. While I had been doing fairly strategic product management work up until then, I felt my overall knowledge had holes that I probably was not going to fill through work experience.
    3. I did have the plan of eventually becoming a consultant (which I am now) and felt it was worth the paper it was printed on from a marketing perspective.
    4. My company paid for it.

    I can say that I honestly enjoyed the experience and I got out of it what I expected, which was knowledge, more stature, and more confidence in my job. I can’t say whether it helped my pay or not, but it clearly didn’t hurt.

    If you’re considering it, you need to really have to passion to learn or you won’t make it through between the studies and work. If you’re just doing it to get a raise or because you’ve got nothing better to do (like you’re not working now), you should be able to do self studies that are less intense and can enhance your career beyond where are now. The MBA has no guarantees and takes a lot of commitment.


    • Don: I fully agree with what you say. I really enjoyed getting my MBA: the material was different from anything that I had ever seen before, working in teams was a blast, the math was easy, and there were girls in class (a change from hard-core engineering classes). All in all, I came away from the experience feeling that it had been time well spent.


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