UT Arlington’s Executive MBA Program
Kim Carlson, a Global Chamber Advisory Board member and international trade attorney with Gardere in the Dallas Chapter, sat down with Chamber member John Laudenslager to discuss University of Texas, Arlington’s Executive MBA program.
Kim: John, can you first help me understand the difference between a traditional MBA program versus an Executive MBA program?
John: The primary difference is the target audience. If you go into a traditional MBA program, the student profile is going to be more of mid to late twenties on average, typically just a few years of professional experience. Generally they have very little, if any, management experience, maybe some frontline managers. So they’re really still pretty early in their career and they are still developing their technical expertise, whatever functional area that might be in. So in the traditional MBA, it is a lot more of your traditional lecture – note taking – test, lecture – note taking – test. Very academic. And it’s a deep dive into the technical rigors of business analysis and decision making. Really about the tools that are available. You’re going to get a really big toolkit of things to help make smart business decisions even with complex information. So that’s a traditional MBA.
Now if you go to an Executive MBA program, your average class profile is going to be folks in their 30s and 40s. The national average age is 37. Our program is nearly 39 year old average, so a little more mature than the national average. Typically our students have 10 plus years of some type of management or leadership experience and typically over 16 years professional experience. So when you get a group like that into a classroom, it is very different from the traditional academic classroom dynamic where the professor is just spoonfeeding you information. In an Executive MBA program, of course there are faculty and they do present academic theories and the models, but really that is to lay the groundwork for a collaborative discussion with the students. And so what happens in an Executive MBA program is that traditional lecture – note taking format is really bent substantially towards lecture – classroom discussion, and then there is an awful lot of team-based exercises as well.
It is a cohort program. In our program we change the teams for each class. We very intentionally change it up because we want to have everyone work with everybody else in the room at least once. That is part of the professional development. That is learning to work with different types of people … all the different personalities. You get a lot of strong personalities in an Executive MBA. Folks getting an Executive MBA are typically very career-driven. They are there because they want to be there. They’re there to learn and sure, it’s for their career, but it’s much more about the learning.
Kim: So they can take it back and apply it.
John: Exactly. And that’s how it works because you’re learning in the classroom from different people in different industries in different roles. You learn how their business model solution can be applied to a business problem you have that might be a completely different business model, completely different industry. But you can pick and borrow from the other students in the classroom so you really have a classroom of consultants. That’s where the huge value is of an Executive MBA because you go through a cohort with people over a 15 month period, spend two weeks in China with them, you’re going to learn a lot about what everybody’s strengths are and what they do.
Kim: And you have that network when you graduate.
John: You have that network the rest of your life so when you have got a business problem, an IT problem, you go, “Oh man, I remember Rick, he is a real whiz-bang CIO over at XYZ Company, I’ll bet he can give me some recommendations.” And you call him up, maybe take him to lunch, meet him for a couple of drinks, and boom, you know, you may have just saved yourself 60-70 thousand dollars in consulting fees. And so that’s where the value really comes in.
Kim: Once I’ve decided on an Executive MBA program over a traditional program, what are my choices in the area?
John: If you look at the AACSB accredited programs (and that is the gold standard) in the area, you essentially have two public schools and three private schools to choose from. And they are all good programs. They all have the same accreditation. Those programs include UT Arlington, our sister school UT Dallas, Baylor, SMU (Southern Methodist University) and TCU (Texas Christian University).
Kim: What sets UT Arlington apart from these other programs?
John: There are 3 factors that really make us unique: our price point, our schedule, and our China program. Private schools, like SMU, are priced very high. It’s a great school but it’s a $130,000 degree. That’s a mortgage. From our perspective, that begins to make the return on investment equation very challenging. That’s a huge up-front investment. TCU, over in Fort Worth, is right at $100,000, a very similar school. Good reputation. Good academics. Good faculty. Still, six figures about. That’s a hard return on investment equation. Unless you’re looking out 15-20 years, that’s just a really big investment. The others come in at different stages between there and our program pricing. We’re the sort of program that is very focused. We are not trying to be any type of a specialized program, with the exception of our China program. As a 15 month program and being very focused, we were able to shave a semester off what most programs are running so we’re a four semester 15 month program, compared to a typical Executive MBA, which runs 22-24 months.
Kim: Tell me about your schedule.
John: We meet from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and then 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the following Saturday but it’s only two weekends per month, so it’s alternating weekends over a 15 month span. It’s typically straight through. Starting at 1 p.m. is a big deal for students. It means only 8 hours per month out of the workplace. It allows folks to go to the office for Friday morning meetings and still be there for class. It means folks can commute in from other areas. We’ve got folks from Austin, El Paso, and Oklahoma. Sometimes teams will meet on campus in the morning before class. That flexibility is pretty high value.
Kim: I understand that a Graduate Certificate in Asian Business Studies is included in the UT Arlington Executive MBA program. How did that come about?
John: China is probably the most unique aspect of our program. In 2001, the College of Business at UT Arlington was taking a hard look at their budget due to funding cuts. We had a very for-thinking Dean and we actually launched an Executive MBA program in mainland China. He saw the opportunity. They were growing and westernizing at an extremely fast pace. And the demand for western education was very high because the Chinese people, they aspire to be educated by a western institution. It has a much higher value than a Chinese institution. So we were a first mover into that market and we were very successful right off the bat. We established some strong partnerships with some local universities.
Kim: And it has western teachers?
John: Absolutely. Our teachers fly over there and they teach an entire 3 credit hour class in four straight days. It’s a pretty brutal schedule for the faculty - they teach a class in China, and they’ll come back here and pick up their regular teaching schedule here. Having been there for that long, it’s the largest program of its kind of any U.S. institution and it’s really a best kept secret in the DFW area. There is no other school in the country that can deliver the immersion experience we offer our students as part of the program. Our students, in their fourth semester, spend two weeks doing a China immersion. It’s included as part of the program. We absolutely leverage our network on the ground. We have thousands of very well placed Chinese alumni. The Chinese are a very different culture than us. Educators are revered. So when our faculty go over there, they’re treated like rock stars. Students will come up at the end of class and ask the professor to sign their book literally. So it’s very different. And they’re honored and thrilled when we show up every year and bring our students.
Kim: Where do you go in China?
John: We typically go through at least three cities. The program has been delivered in several cities throughout China for years and Taiwan at one point. We go through the main Chinese functional areas, business areas, of Shanghai being the financial capital, Beijing being the cultural and governmental capital, and Shenzhen down in south China which is across from Hong Kong, and that’s the manufacturing capital. So in each of those cities we have an alumni network that hosts us and our class gets to network with them and gets to meet a lot of the students and alumni.
But even more importantly, our alumni give us access to their businesses and the companies they run. We see everything from independently owned entrepreneurs that have pretty small manufacturing companies to major manufacturers. Last year we went to the company that makes TCL TVs, which is a Chinese smart flat screen TV that just came to the market a couple years ago. I’ve noticed it in the market because it’s the only one that has Roku built into it, the streaming service. So I had noticed it because I was kind of shopping for TVs and I was like yeah I just don’t know the brand so I’m not sure but then we go to Shenzhen and go to their manufacturing plant. It’s extremely high tech, very high tech manufacturing, and they’re a major operation so that’s a very interesting thing to see. It very much puts things into perspective on how far reaching the tentacles of impact are that China has.
In the world economic dynamic, there is no more influential power right now than what is happening in China. Just the simple demographics of China are creating markets that never existed. Huge markets. A lot of U.S. companies want to get a piece of that pie. But if they go in thinking they can do what they’ve done here and be successful, they typically come home with their tails between their legs. It can be a pretty expensive failure. So our students get this incredible immersion. They see these different business models. They learn the business culture. They learn the culture itself, the interpersonal culture. They see everything from these entrepreneurships to major manufacturing all the way up to state owned enterprises.
The state owned enterprises are probably the most interesting because they’re, as you might imagine, very conservative. When you walk in, it’s like walking into the UN or the politburo. It’s a 30 foot conference table with name placards at each seating and microphones and they’re all on one side and we’re all on the other side and they’re all in dark blue suits and ties. Once everyone is seated, these young women come around and serve you green tea. That’s part of their tradition. A lot of these aren’t fully state owned anymore. The government has divested quite a bit of the ownership of many of these major organizations. It’s kind of like a quasi-state owned enterprise because they can be publicly traded yet still majority owned by the government. It’s very interesting to see these business models because it’s completely unlike anything we know in the U.S.
Kim: This focus on China makes your program unique.
John: Having that as a feature, an asset, of our program, it’s unrivaled. No other school can duplicate that so it’s a very strong competitive advantage. There are some other schools in the area that used to go to China and they all pretty much gave up. We own it. They ceded China to us and they are in different places now because if somebody really wants to understand the Chinese market and culture and how to do business there, there’s no better program than ours. Our students, when they graduate, they not only graduate with an Executive MBA diploma, they get a Graduate Certificate in Asian Business Studies. That validates the competitive advantage and the learning that goes on. The program curriculum is based on three pillars. Leadership – leadership development. How to build high productive work groups. Innovation – tying into leadership. How do you create and foster a positive environment for innovation because there’s risk that goes along with innovation so you have to accept a certain amount of risk and encourage your employees to do that. It doesn’t just happen automatically. It’s really something you have to work for and an environment you have to create. That last pillar is globalization and the globalized business environment. Other schools will touch on leadership, probably almost all of them. Innovation is very commonly discussed now in business circles.
Kim – And does innovation tie into the strategic thinking?
John – Absolutely. The globalization component, when you accept the fact that the biggest dynamic impacting the world economy is China, which it is, by many measures the Chinese economy has already outgrown the U.S. economy and there’s no way that it won’t continue to do so simply because of demographics. Even slowing down to a relatively slow growth rate for them of 6% after years of 15%, which just was unsustainable. The 6-7% growth rate is probably a sustainable growth rate for them and we’re growing, if we’re lucky, at 3%. We’re a very mature economy. They’re very adolescent and have lots of headroom for growth and a burgeoning middle class. Our middle class is actually shrinking. Theirs is exploding. When you think about all that buying power that’s going to go along with that where you have city populations of 24 million. I think New York City is 8 million. Then you look at Shanghai, it’s three times New York. 24 million people and it’s not as compressed as you might think. You walk down streets in Shanghai and if there weren’t the mandarin Chinese letters, and all the Chinese people walking around, you’d think it could be New York or London or any other major metropolitan city.
Kim: What do you like about being a member of the Global Chamber?
John: I came across the Global Chamber earlier this year and it was actually in conversations with a prospective student who had just joined the Global Chamber. I explained to this young woman about our program and what makes us unique and she’s like, “Have you heard of the Global Chamber of Commerce?” Once we learned about the unique aspects of our programs, it only made sense for us to partner together in some specific areas. They’re focused on global business. We’re focused on the global business environment. We’re in the DFW metroplex, which is one of the hottest places in the country right now for job growth. I think it’s probably the best place in the country to live right now. With the Global Chamber coming here and us being established here, and globalization being a focus of both of us, it only made sense to partner.