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Second Year EMBA

June 5, 2012

With the solemnity of a papal nuncio, Jonathan Lehrich pronounced our cohort Second Year EMBA’s. I think that he threw in a blessing for good measure. Certainly, many of us could use one, if only to multiply our faith for the months to come.

This seems an appropriate time to pause and reflect upon the impact of the EMBA program thus far. This blog has concentrated on providing prospective students with a carefully descriptive look at the EMBA experience, but I have written only sparingly about the impact that the EMBA has had on me as a manager. Given the significant financial, temporal and occasionally emotional cost of participation, it is entirely fair to ask how has MIT changed my performance as a manager.

For me, the change has not been subtle. I’ll stop short of metaphor and be direct. MIT has, thus far:

1. Provided me with a new set of skills in accounting, economics, strategy, finance, and data analysis. I am now able to build and analyze more robust models of what I’ll collectively call the “dynamics of business”.  It is important to note that these skills are taught from an integrative perspective. I specifically believe that my capacity for business analysis and synthesis is particularly strengthened because I have been taught to consider the economic impacts of strategy, data analysis techniques to support finance calculations, and countless other linkages between core subjects.

2. Transformed me into an integrative manager. Given an integrative education, it should not be surprising that I no longer manage by function. I have long been a general manager, but I tended to manage my direct reports within functional units. I find that I have been knocking holes in the barriers between functional areas of my own company,  creating cross-functional process and encouraging my managers to take on project scopes that exceed the span of responsibility that their title normally implies.

3. Provided me with an incredibly thorough and powerful new model of entrepreneurial management. IDEA Week was truly a fantastic experience, as I’ve previously written. But, I have found that the body of additional recommended readings, the connections into the MIT Ecosystem, and the general MIT philosophy that entrepreneurial management is an entirely different profession than the management of an established company has solidified and reinforced my own theories on entrepreneurship, providing me with an enormous new confidence in carrying out policies and decisions. MIT in this sense has provided me with validation that converts faith and belief into a new confidence to act.

4. Created a new peer group of truly outstanding people. I include as peers both the faculty and fellow EMBA’s, a well as other MBA students within the Sloan School. MIT claims that EMBA students learn as much from each other as they do from the faculty. I think that that is true specifically because MIT recruits such high quality EMBA students. Peers in this class are senior executives in their 30’s and 40’s with 10 or more years of professional experience and a significant business network. This is not the profile of a traditional MBA class.

And finally, I think that John Van Maanen’s Leadership courses deserve special attention. MIT likes to claim that they are hard-nosed about the soft stuff. I believe that the Leadership courses are the real sleepers in this program, by which I mean that they are quite likely to create enormous long term value in the EMBA students, but that that value will be difficult to immediately recognize.

It’s very easy to recognize new learning in well-framed courses like accounting and finance. I knew very little about accounting when I started the EMBA program. Now, I can read and analyze financial statements in my own company and harvest valuable information by reading the annual reports and financial statements of other companies. The value is objectively identified and and readily measured.

This is not the case with less-framed courses like Leadership and Organizational Behavior. It’s harder to know whether you actually have a new skill until you can apply that skill to a real organization and begin to lead change. In my particular case, I am leading a new start-up, where I am the CEO managing a small team of trusted partners with whom I have worked in previous start-up organizations. When I applied to MIT, the whole group supported the initiative, specifically so that we could avoid many of the problems that arose when so-called professional managers were brought in to grow our last company.

Dr. Van Maanen’s courses have enabled me to begin to properly manage the general problem of, “Why aren’t people simply executing the plan?”… At the end of the day, business plans have to be carried out by people, with all of their fallibilities, failings, and personality clashes. John puts a bit of science around this soft stuff that makes it much easier to create an organization (of people) that just flat out performs. It’s a very rubber-hits-the-road course in a topic area that has always seemed a little too touchy-feely to me.

At the beginning of the second year, there is no question that the EMBA is time and money very well spent. My goal in attending this program was to transform myself into a leader capable of building and managing a global robotics organization. My first year’s experience has significantly increased my confidence that the EMBA program will deliver on that goal.

-R.

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