Gaining The Executive Edge

The push by graduate schools to draw in mid-career baby boomers has created rising enrollments in executive M.B.A. programs. Are they worth it?

Ross, who believes strongly that her degree strengthened her role in the company. “The M.B.A. expanded my portfolio and I know that I can now sit at the table on an equal level with my peers.” For Ross, the mother of an eight-year-old, the degree steered her down a career path that extends beyond human resources. Now vice president at the Dayton, Ohio-based Sheridan Systems, a manufacturer of capital equipment from the post-press segment of the printing industry, Ross works with other departments such as finance and operations to create strategies to improve company revenues. She sits regularly with the executive staff to handle financial as well as labor issues. “Traditionally, human resources was not a strategic business partner with other parts of the company. But downsizing and restructuring have transformed it,” she says.

Still, finding the time to earn an M.B.A. or participate in any other executive skills-building program can be arduous. Individuals with families often don’t have the savings to quit their jobs and enroll in school full-time. On the other hand, going to school part-time takes much more time than many people are willing to spend.

Consider the case of 40-year-old Valerie Sherrer of Sterling, Virginia. After taking several years to complete her bachelor’s, she debated taking more time away from her two children to earn an M.B.A.
Dividing her time between husband, children and school was tough. Yet the accounting consultant for Raytheon E-systems wouldn’t give up her goal to attend business school. “It was something I needed and wanted to do, even though it was difficult,” Sherrer reflects. So she found an alternative: the University of Phoenix offers an accredited M.B.A. degree via the Internet. She can study from the comfort of her home and be with her children. She downloads lectures and types in test responses and homework assignments. “With the support of my husband, I decided to go for it. I’m hoping to remain marketable and reach a certain salary level,” she says.

Those who have labored through an executive program must not look at their degree as the brass ring. It’s merely a link in the long chain of career tools today’s managers must employ in order to succeed. The unwritten rules of the workplace–which include building alliance with key individuals, networking with employees on the rise and adapting to corporate culture–remain essential.

What’s also crucial in the era of cyberspace and corporate downsizing is that professionals begin to look at themselves as individual consultants. Increasingly, companies seek employees with several sets of skills. Information is much more a means of growing wealth than in the past. As a result, professionals in the 21st century have no other choice than to aggressively seek out knowledge and use it to increase their marketability. Executive education programs and other midcareer training can only improve the chances of attaining professional success.

To enroll in an executive M.B.A. program you must sit for the Graduate Management Admissions Test. Offered four times a year, In January, March, June and

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