Higher degree of success

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal – by Becky Bergman

While local business schools and corporate recruiters ramp up efforts to hone entrepreneurial spirits, fluff egos and fatten wallets, somewhere in Silicon Valley there is a newly minted MBA ready to break out the bubbly.

Employers are hiring more MBAs and targeting fewer undergrads this year, according to the Graduate Management Admission council. As B-schools from across the country offer executive MBA (EMBA) programs that come in all different styles and formats, some schools see that kind of tailoring needed in the valley.

For example, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Business Administration teamed up with the Gallup Organization this month for its week-long UNL-Gallup MBA Executive Leadership program in Santa Clara, which focuses on leadership, strategic thinking and ethical decision making courses. And The University of Chicago, which created the first MBA program in 1943, will launch an ambitious campaign geared toward advertising the school’s $120,000 EMBA program.

Director Patricia Keegan has noticed a jump in applications — from five a few years ago to 30 in 2007 — from the West Coast. In addition to the main campus in Chicago, the program is also set up in London and Singapore. On average, companies are recruiting 18 percent more workers with MBAs and other graduate business degrees in 2007 over last year. And employers plan to trim the number of positions aimed at people completing undergraduate degrees this year by more than 7 percent by the end of 2007.

Dave Wilson, president and chief executive at GMAC, says recruiters are putting an emphasis on the specialized skills people develop in graduate business school and are willing to pay more for these abilities: First year MBA students fetched $92,360 in 2006 nationally compared to $88,626 the year before, while two-thirds of the job offers came with a $17,000-plus signing bonus, according to GMAC.

That figure is higher — up to $130,000 — for experienced workers who graduate from an executive MBA program. The University of Pennsylvania’s MBA Program for executives opened the Wharton West campus in San Francisco seven years ago as part of a goal to strengthen ties with local leaders.

“To be effective in our global courses, we needed to get better acquainted with how business is done,” says Leonard Lodish, vice dean of admission at Wharton West. “We needed to be closer to have a good understanding.”

Sam Allen applied and got in at the EMBA program at Wharton West in 2004. The co-founder and chief exec of San Francisco-based photo scanning service ScanCafe.com graduated last year.

Allen initially looked into Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, but a full-time job, family commitments and financial obligations didn’t afford him the luxury — or desire, for that matter — to crank out five days of classes each week for nine months over a two-year period that a traditional MBA requires. “Certainly Stanford is a phenomenal business program, but there was no way I could take two years off to pursue an MBA,” says Allen. “That wasn’t even an option for me.”

EMBA programs typically cater working students who prefer courses taught on weekends, evenings and even via the Internet. Some universities require candidates to have a minimum amount of workforce experience to get. The programs are not cheap either. The $65,000 to $150,000 price tag covers tuition, books, residencies and mini workshops. A few B-schools, including Stanford, have rejected the EMBA concept.

“We have movers and shakers with practical experience running big companies that teach here. That environment is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate elsewhere and can’t be fully appreciated on a part-time basis,” said Helen Chang, media relations manager at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

John Mooney, associate dean of academic programs at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, believes students like the small classroom sizes — which have a max of 25 — that stay together throughout the entire program. The Pepperdine EMBA meets for two-day sessions every third Friday and Saturday at the Techmart Center in Santa Clara.

“There is a real sense of connection with your group,” says Kathleen Grave, an IBM business unit executive. “Each group had six people and we became like family during that time. We still get together today to catch up.”

After she graduated in 2001, Grave promoted from the sales unit at IBM to her current position, which includes management duties. “I have friends who did the executive MBA at Berkeley and they’ve told me about sitting in an auditorium with a hundred other students or more,” says Grave. “The friends I made in school let their children babysit my daughter because we’re so close.”