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Customers look at tailored options

Debate continues on best value

By Ian Grayson for CNN

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Customized courses can be run for a company's multiple groups of executives in different cities around the world.

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Kellogg, U.S.
3. Chicago GSB, U.S.
4. Stern, NY, U.S.
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Hong Kong UST, China
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
9. London Business School, UK
10. Tanaka, Imperial College, UK
Source: Financial Times 2005

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EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

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(CNN) -- With time and commercial pressures pushing demand for short executive education courses, debate continues about whether open or customized versions deliver the best value for participants.

For years business schools have offered selections of executive courses, running from two days to six weeks in length. These courses used standard modules, often drawn from longer MBA courses, designed to provide a concentrated introduction to a specific area of business.

But increasingly, companies looking to extract as much value as possible from their training investments are commissioning customized courses. Such courses focus on specified areas or challenges faced by an organization and are designed to train executives in how to deal with them.

Faculty members from the business school selected undertake comprehensive research into an organization and the sector in which it operates. From this knowledge a customized course is developed and may be run multiple times for groups of executives in different locations around the world.

While open course class members are drawn from multiple companies and backgrounds, custom classes are almost always drawn from a single company. Experts differ on which approach works best in the longer term.

Sean Bendarkar, director of program development at California-based Stanford Business School, says the decision on open versus custom comes down to what an organization is looking to achieve.

"Companies are looking for ways to stimulate growth through innovation and change," he told CNN. "When you do a custom program you are involved with people from your own company. This is great for providing continuity and making improvements but not so good for change and innovation."

By using open programs, companies benefit through their staff interacting with other companies and getting fresh perspectives on business challenges.

Stanford offers a range of open and custom courses. Its flagship is the six-week Stanford Executive Program which requires participants have at least 15 years' work experience. The course is taught by the same faculty members who teach the school's full-time MBA program.

Others have a different perspective on the question. David Miller, vice president of business development at US-based Duke Corporate Education, believes that while open enrolment programs are great for individuals, they don't deliver such great value to their organizations.

"Also, open programs cannot be as cost effective for a company as having all its key staff in a room and focused on generating a shared understanding and vision," he says.

Duke, which set up Duke Corporate Education as a dedicated company in 2000, is watching demand for customized programs grow at more than 25 per cent a year and is delivering them for clients around the world.

Miller says that having a dedicated company that is separate from Duke University overcomes the potential difficulties that can be faced by faculty members when trying to cope with a rise in demand for custom courses.

Because custom courses require significant amounts of research and preparation, faculty members could find themselves distracted from their core activities of writing papers and teaching the core MBA degree courses. Having a separate team devoted to custom programs overcomes this challenge.

Those in the executive education industry believe the current strong growth rates will continue, and rise even further in developing regions such as Asia. There, companies are seeking cost-effective ways to train large numbers of managers as they grapple with the challenges of fast-growing markets.

While open programs are a natural choice for training in specific skills, such as basics in accounting, marketing and management, it is expected more corporations will embrace the concept of customized courses as a means of ensuring competitive advantage.

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