width=250Each year, hundreds of managers and aspiring leaders enrol in an MBA degree with the goal of progressing their career up the corporate ladder. Top business schools around the world report increasing student numbers year on year, of those pursuing this postgraduate business management qualification.

As an Executive MBA (EMBA) candidate, you're one of many applying for a place on such a program, but come graduation how do you ensure you stand out from the crowd against your fellow colleagues who have similar skills and attributes acquired through an EMBA qualification?

The answer comes in the form of EMBA electives - specific programs you choose throughout your EMBA studies that will enable you to create your very own specialized EMBA degree. The advantage of EMBA electives is the feedback you gain in each class - EMBA electives classes are made up of 20-30 people, compared to the 30-100+ enrolled in your EMBA program. They predominantly focus on a range of soft skills including leadership, personal development and presentation skills.

Hannelore Forssbohm, Program Manager of the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA Program, says there are three key ways electives add value to a student's EMBA program. Global electives provide a network which spans continents, connecting experts in local markets, she says. Students also learn how each local market plays a vital role in the global economy and each elective bridges the gap between theory
and practice. Kellogg-WHU is a joint EMBA degree program offered by Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, USA, and the WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management, Germany.

Heather Pelant, Head of iShares Canada, Barclays Global Investors graduated with her EMBA in 1997. One elective in particular gave Pelant insight into issues outside of the US. As part of a company with a global footprint, the European Elective module was a very valuable choice, she says. It's challenging to think about western issues and not to take North American issues as centric of the world.

So what then are the differences between electives on offer in North American schools and those on offer across Europe and the UK? QS TopExecEd takes a look at the range of EMBA elective programs on offer at top business schools around the world that will give you and your EMBA a winning edge.


INSEAD is recognised as one of the world's top-tier business schools and is the only business school with fully-fledged campuses in Asia (Singapore) and Europe (France). Spanning two unique, yet equally important, business environments, INSEAD's electives program is made up of offerings in accounting, Asian business, entrepreneurial leadership, brand management, international finance management, and industry and competitive analysis. INSEAD EMBA candidates have a choice of three electives from a list of 12.

Kerem Girgin, a current student on the INSEAD Global EMBA said the school's elective program provided the opportunity to look into other fields. I chose one [elective] because it directly touched something I knew and I could get deeper into the topic. Another one because I wanted a better understanding of a subject I had briefly touched on, but wished to know more, and the third in order to widen my horizon. The best thing is probably that the electives are really applied and investigate the field, while the core courses are more theory-oriented.

Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University, says its EMBA curriculum, in particular the specializations on offer, are adapted and modified continuously to reflect the latest global trends. Our electives allow students to follow up on areas of interest, either related to their present company or industry, or one on which they might aspire to work, says Ken Robertson, Director of MBA Marketing and Admissions.

RSM's elective program includes negotiating and contracting, leadership, international investment management, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship as well as an international elective, but Robertson says it is not so much the electives themselves that have changed, rather the content and context. In a general management-oriented program, a wide variety has always been necessary, he says.

Spread across five European cities (Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid and Turin) the ESCP Europe Executive MBA divides its elective courses into three major categories: leadership and management, strategy and marketing, finance/control. Under each category is a range of electives that allow candidates to gain a deeper understanding in a specialized area of their choice. Electives include: corporate responsibilities and ethics, personal impact in communication, international contract law, sustainable development and corporate strategies, financial planning and corporate hedging strategies. ESCP EMBA candidates have a choice of 12 electives from a list of 36.


Across the Atlantic, Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, offers the most electives of any business school. EMBA students can choose from a list of electives that include accounting/finance, health care, insurance and risk management, legal studies and negotiations, management and strategy, marketing, operations and information management and real estate. There is also the option of designing an independent study project in the second year of the EMBA program, which provides students with an opportunity to engage in further in-depth research. Wharton EMBA candidates can choose from a list of 200+ electives which they study in the second half of the second year.

In contrast, Fordham Graduate School of Business in New York only offers 4.5 credits of electives for its EMBA program, but this in no way disadvantages students. We do have the flexibility to get some of these electives crosslisted with other disciplines, just in case students would like to pursue a dual concentration in another field such as finance or marketing, says Francis Petit, Assistant Dean and Director of Executive Programs and Adjunct Associate Professor Marketing.

The electives program at Fordham has also changed over time. Initially we have offered Emotional Intelligence and Entrepreneurship as electives, says Petit. Now students seem to want Turnaround Management, Merger and Acquisition Strategy, Value Innovation and other types of innovation classes. I see these electives continuing to evolve, he says.


In the UK, the range of electives on offer from some of the top business schools has EMBA students spoilt for choice. Henley Business School's EMBA degree includes a program of electives on topics such as brand and reputation management, competitor intelligence, creative problem solving, customer relationship management systems, entrepreneurship, and intercultural analysis. London Business School's electives cover a range of business skills and soft skills including accounting: securities analysis and financial modelling, venture capit al and private equity; entrepreneurship: managing the growing business, new venture development; marketing: brand management, pricing strategies; and organisational behaviour: managing change, negotiating and bargaining, paths to power. Students choose six to eight electives in the final two terms of the program.

Maarten Van den Broeck, a graduate of London Business School's EMBA program says: My choice of electives thoroughly strengthened my knowledge in finance, entrepreneurship and strategy. Some of the elective courses represent a mini-MBA in themselves as all management areas are addressed - strategy, marketing, accounting, finance, operations, and processes and the organization. The iterative nature of the process is a key differentiator of the program, says Van den Broeck.

Meanwhile, Shawn Murphy identified an area of finance he may not have otherwise discovered during his Executive MBA program at London Business School - microfinance. As a result, I tailored my elective choices to develop my knowledge and understanding of the microfinance industry and I chose to work with a start-up microfinance organization in Tanzania for my management report. It was an amazingly rewarding experience, he says. My experience and education on the Executive MBA provided me with the skills to take advantage of an internal opportunity to help launch a newly formed division focused exclusively on providing capital markets services to the microfinance industry. This is an exciting career move for me, which I was well positioned to exploit post-London Business School.

A unique degree

If you ever thought your EMBA degree would be similar to that of your colleagues, think again. With the range of electives on offer from business schools around the globe, you can be assured your Executive MBA degree will be unique. The specializations you choose, the skills you acquire and the network you are able to tap into as a result, will mean your EMBA is yours and yours alone. What's more, the nature of elective programs means you can continue to study and learn in your specialization long after you've graduated. Schools such as ESCP Europe have responded to the call for life-long learning and invite their MBA graduates to attend current European Executive MBA elective courses. Perhaps that will be another thing to consider when choosing your Executive MBA degree.