The Flavors of Exec Ed

FRAMINGHAM (07/03/2000) - What can talented information technology professionals do to improve their chances of making it into senior management?

How do growing companies retain and develop key IT professionals?

The answer to both questions can be the same: executive education. This special type of training comes in so many flavors, there's bound to be one to suit everyone's taste. Beginning with this issue, Computerworld will take a monthly look at the different types of programs available. Here's the scoop:

The term executive education is used to describe everything from a rigorous MBA program requiring years of commitment to a one-day course in leadership skills.

Material covered is traditional management fare and is nontechnical in nature.

A Choice of Providers

Providers of executive education programs include universities, executive-training companies, industry organizations, consulting firms, corporate training departments and in-house "universities" and private career coaches. Their fees for imparting executive-level wisdom range from several hundred to several million dollars.

Most executive education is delivered in a traditional classroom style, and attendance is expected. Distance learning over the Internet and computer-based training are rare in executive programs.

Which Students Succeed?

IT professionals' ambitions for the executive suite aren't limited to one path, according to David Kinley, managing director of Canadian operations and a principal at Christian & Timbers, an executive recruitment firm in Cleveland that specializes in IT placements. "It's not the courses they've taken, but the fact that they continue to take courses," he says.

"The best executives show a thirst for knowledge and the ability to keep learning. Taking courses to upgrade skills will show up in their performance.

The really good job candidates typically have executive education courses every year or two on their résumés," Kinley says.

The Flavors of MBA and University-Based ProgramsThe most rigorous route to an executive education is an MBA program. But even within this category, there are flavor variations.

Boston University, for example, has announced an MS/MBA program that combines a traditional MBA with a master's of science in information systems. The dual degree can be earned in the usual 21-month period required for a full-time MBA.

The program is the first to offer a dual degree aimed at grooming technically savvy future CEOs. University officials say they expect 100 students to enroll for the first semester in the autumn of next year.

The typical full-time MBA student is approximately 28 years old, with a bachelor's degree and several years of experience in the business world, says Brandt Allen, dean of executive education at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Not many are IT professionals.

"Often, IT professionals don't get the word that they have the potential to broaden themselves until they are in their late 30s - not the best time for people to take off for two years to earn an MBA," says Allen. Those who can't commit to a full-time MBA program may opt instead for a part-time program offered at night or on weekends. Usually, these programs duplicate the full-time program and take twice as much time to complete.

"Part-time MBA programs vary quite a bit in terms of quality," Allen warns.

Look for a part-time program that has the same faculty and curriculum as the school's full-time MBA program.

Then there are executive MBA programs designed for older, more experienced people who work full time. These programs usually have less classroom time and content than a standard MBA. They are generally favored by IT professionals determined to get an MBA and by companies that support them with generous funding and time off to attend classes.

Controlling Content and Cost

"The war for talent is fierce - company secrets walk out the door daily," says Kinley. Companies that offer executive education to IT professionals demonstrate their commitment to developing their careers, which may increase loyalty, he says. Or maybe not.

In open-enrollment programs, students meet other like-minded individuals from many other companies. While this can stimulate ideas and lead to sharing best practices, another outcome is that IT professionals "might get swiped" by competitors, says Anthony Fresina, president of Executive KnowledgeWorks in Palatine, Illinois. His company advises corporations on creating and managing their own in-house "universities" and provides custom executive education "interventions."

Industry organizations are another source of executive education.

"Most of our executives take advantage of seminars offered by the industry analyst firms," says Michael Caggiano, president of FutureNext Inc., an electronic-business solutions company in McLean, Virginia. "In a couple of days, we can learn what is going on real-time in the market."

Vitiello is a freelance writer in East Brunswick, New Jersey.

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