EMBA Guide: Looking to fast-track your career? An EMBA may be the ticket

Looking to fast-track your career? Earn while you learn? An EMBA may be the ticket. We take you inside the biz world's schools of higher learning

University of Calgary, Haskayne School of
Business/University of Alberta, School of
Business, Calgary
Tuition: $55,000 | Length: 20 Months

Alberta and Haskayne (who offer this EMBA jointly) have resisted recent pressure to decrease class time. Instead, the program continues to sell itself based on the quality of its teaching and the value of face-to-face learning–a winning proposition for many of Calgary's top business minds, as well as a handful of Edmontonians who drive down to the Calgary campus for Friday-Saturday sessions every other week.

The best instructors from both universities are assigned to teach the exec MBAers; students truly get the cream of the crop. The program focuses on finance and marketing, while emphasizing leadership skills and decision-making. In the second year, students complete a consulting project for their own companies, which often results in a higher profile in their daytime jobs. Candidates love having a librarian-researcher dedicated exclusively to the EMBA class, and are big fans of the international study tour, too. On a trip abroad, which comes toward the end of the two-year EMBA slog, students travel together to a distant locale, visit companies there, and analyze challenges facing the local market. (Word has it these trips are rather enjoyable.)

Significantly less expensive than some other EMBAs, this one is excellent for those who want to enhance career opportunities in Alberta–especially in the oil-and-gas sector.

Centre for Innovative Management, Edmonton
Tuition: $40,425 | Length: 24 to 30 Months

More than half of Athabasca's EMBA students show up at the school's campus for their graduation ceremony–a pretty impressive statistic for a program that doesn't require participants to ever step foot inside a traditional classroom.

Enrol with Athabasca's fully interactive online EMBA program and expect to spend 20 to 25 hours a week hitting the books and in front of your computer screen reading comments posted by classmates, completing individual assignments and negotiating group work with teammates spread across Canada. The 13-course program (most take about two and a half years to complete it, although students have up to six) is ideal for individuals who live in geographically remote locations, who travel extensively for work, or who just can't devote weekend time to attending class. The majority of participants actually live in the Greater Toronto Area.

Learning in the online environment depends a lot on the quality of your classmates' participation, and according to Athabasca students, that varies significantly, especially because you only “talk” in-depth with about 10 other students for each course. Jill Bender, a consultant to the credit-card industry, says that “if you want to develop critical thinking and improve your management skills, you get full value for the money here.” Still, she emphasizes that at Athabasca “you're not buying into connections.” Anne Clayton, who lives in Dawson Creek, B.C., and works as a manager for BC Assessment, a Crown property-assessment corporation, is a little more blunt: “I don't care about meeting people,” she says. Perfect for those who put hard skills above networking.

John Molson School of Business, Montreal Tuition: $52,000 | Length: 20 Months

Executives looking to cash in on Molson's strong ties to Montreal's aerospace, biotech and pharmaceutical clusters flock to this well-known EMBA. Delivered on alternate Fridays and Saturdays at Concordia's downtown campus, the program attracts a crowd of mostly thirtysomething professionals looking to kick their careers up a notch. “It almost feels like we're our own small company,” says Serge Harnois, a vice-president with Montreal-based software provider Invidex, referring to the group of about 30 students who gather for a quick breakfast at about 7:15 a.m. each week before launching into their 10-hour day.

“Here, you don't feel like you're paying a whole lot of money to buy a degree–you're earning it,” student Louis Vaugeois says of the program's broad-based management curriculum. Unlike their MBA counterparts, who share Concordia's slightly cramped quarters with biz undergrads, the EMBAs enjoy a dedicated learning space featuring wireless computer access and team breakout rooms. In May, students pack their bags for a 10-day international study trip that typically includes visits to three different cities in up to three different countries. (Past destinations have included India, Australia and the Czech Republic.) Despite the hectic pace of working full-time and completing a degree, most students find time to head out on Thursday nights to McKibbin's Irish Pub, a favourite local watering hole.

School of Management, Ottawa
Tuition: $58,000 | Length: 20 Months

Denis Coderre, a member of Parliament who, during the Chrétien era, was the minister of citizenship and immigration, is the most famous, but there are plenty of high-powered politicos currently enrolled in Ottawa's EMBA program, as well as folks from the region's tech sector. Gathering every week (alternating Fridays and Saturdays), students appreciate the program's high-tech flavour, as well as the emphasis on business-government relations–two themes extremely relevant to Ottawa. International trips–one to California's Silicon Valley and another further afield, often to Asia–are also an attractive part of the EMBA package, since they expose students to international firms and organizations, and help bring to life lessons on strategic alliances and market entry strategies.

Students spend at least one evening a week doing group work, often getting together with other team members in the dedicated classroom and meeting space available 24/7 on the third floor of downtown Ottawa's World Exchange Plaza. (Nearly the entire class lives in the Ottawa region, so co-ordinating face-to-face meetings isn't much of a hassle.) Commitment to the EMBA becomes especially key during the second year, when the focus shifts from theory and skill-building to hands-on consulting projects, including pitching a new product to venture capitalists. Make sure your family and friends are on-board before plunging into this program (read: they shouldn't expect ever to see you).

Faculty of Management, Montreal
Tuition: $4,200 | Length: 24 Months

The EMBA at the University of Quebec's Montreal campus is a lot like a chameleon–constantly changing to adapt to its environment. By taking its cue from Montreal's business community, the 25-year-old program offers approximately eight different specializations–including financial services, real estate and biotech–based on demand in the local marketplace. Nicknamed the “subway university” because of its convenient links to Montreal's Metro, the campus–located in the city's Latin Quarter–has a decidedly underground feel because of its windowless classrooms and dark, narrow hallways. Although classes are taught in French, students routinely chime in in their native tongues, including Russian, Spanish, Italian and, of course, English. Classes are held on one weekend each month for two years, making the program particularly attractive for those who find it difficult to skip work. And at $4,200, the tuition is a bargain compared to other executive MBA programs that typically start around the $50,000 range. The option to transfer to one of the university's several other Quebec campuses is also a huge draw for students who are forced to relocate because of work. “Our philosophy is that we move our campus to the students,” says program professor Léon-Michel Serruya.

School of Business, Kingston, Ont.
Tuition: $70,000 to $80,000 | Length: 12 to 17 Months

Executives looking for a watered-down version of a regular MBA will not find it at Queen's. With classes scheduled every second Friday and Saturday, almost 90 assignments due over a 15-month period and at least 25 hours of additional study time a week, this EMBA is not for wimps. “In order to get the full value out of this, you really need to have your life in order,” says John Marchello, 39, controller of Canadian operations for Valspar, a global paint and coatings manufacturer. Using real-time video-conference technology, students have the option of “plugging in” to one of 25 executive learning centres scattered across the country–a bonus for busy executives whose jobs require lots of travel or relocation. Despite the “technology factor,” professors deliver a surprisingly intimate classroom experience, complete with simulated fireside chats, multimedia video presentations and case-based presentations. Students work in teams of up to eight and meet regularly outside of class to complete assignments. “Today, you have to have a portable skill set, and we're looking to punch that up in this program,” says Asim Iqbal, a senior manager in advisory services at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Although there is limited face time with professors and other teams, three residential sessions (of two weeks, one week, and 10 days) held at the university's Kingston, Ont., campus offer a chance to network. Despite the program's wallet-busting $70,000-plus tuition, most agree the Queen's EMBA provides a fantastic return on investment. “We're an above-average team in an above-average course in an above-average program,” boasts Patrick De Meester, a senior manager with the Yellow Pages Group.

Joseph L. Rotman School of Management
Tuition: $75,000 | Length: 13 months

Rotman's executive MBA program lasts just 13 months, but the connections made–and the lessons learned–are anything but fleeting. Perhaps that's why students are willing to shell out the whopping $75,000 in tuition to attend the internationally recognized biz school. “You get what you pay for,” says 34-year-old Michael Tedesco, an audit manager with RBC Financial Group. “If you want to drive the BMW, then you've got to be willing to pay for it.”

About one-third of the program's late-thirtysomething students hail from Toronto's financial services sector, with the rest coming from industries as diverse as health care and pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and consulting. Perks include access to individual executive coaches and lectures by some of Canada's top execs and scholars–including corporate governance guru David Beatty and the school's high-profile and outspoken dean, Roger Martin. Similar to Rotman's full-time MBA, the program focuses on integrative thinking and gives students the chance to solve real-time corporate challenges during four one-week residential sessions, each centred around a specific theme. Classes are held on alternate weekends at Rotman's sleek downtown Toronto campus, and most candidates spend “at least” 20 additional hours a week hammering out assignments or studying for exams.

Faculty of Management, Victoria
Tuition: $33,000 | Length: 24 Months

The most unique aspect of the Royal Roads EMBA is its structure: a two-year program that kicks off with a three-week residency at the oceanside campus and continues with 23 months of Internet-based classwork, broken up by two additional three-week on-campus sessions. The timeline means the EMBA appeals to those who want the flexibility to work according to their own schedule from wherever they can plug in their computer but still like the traditional idea of having a group of 50 peers moving through the program at the same pace.

Distance learning doesn't rule out group work. Faced with team members in a variety of time zones, students are forced to get creative. Learners (as they are referred to by the administration) say they spend about 20 to 30 hours a week on their EMBA, logging into class discussions almost every single day.

The philosophy here is that professors are facilitators, not instructors. Fair enough, especially considering the average student is 38 and has 18 years of work experience under her belt. But, because teachers are generally hired on a per-course basis rather than long-term, students sometimes complain that instructors are unprepared or disinterested.

Sobey School of Business, Halifax
Tuition: $38,000 | Length: 16 months

A quick glance at the graduating class of Sobey's EMBA program reveals some interesting faces. There's a plastic surgeon, a naval combat engineer and the former president of a cookie company. There's also a lot of women–another unique quality, given the difficulty many EMBA programs have attracting female executives. In the Atlantic region, where small and medium-size businesses handily outweigh the number of larger corporations, the opportunity to hone one's entrepreneurial skills during this program is a huge draw. Small classes, individual attention from profs and the chance to network with other local execs are just some of the features students rave about. “I played at a pretty high level corporately beforehand without having the academic credential of an MBA,” says student John Herron, a telecom project manager and former New Brunswick MLA. “Now with an academic credential, should I choose to make a move within my organization, I'll have that in my back pocket.” Because of the program's residential requirements, the Sobey EMBA attracts a mostly regional crowd that attends lectures on alternating Fridays and Saturdays at the school's satellite campus in downtown Halifax. A 10-day international trade mission–past destinations have included Hong Kong, Vietnam, Brazil and Sydney–also provides students with the chance to represent local companies, such as Clearwater Seafoods and wood-products supplier Marwood Ltd., abroad.

York University, Schulich School of Business, Toronto
Tuition: $90,000 | Length: 15 Months

Rather than spend years building the reputation of its program, Schulich, the most recent entrant into Central Canada's competitive executive MBA market, decided it would partner with one of the best biz-school brands around–the Kellogg School of Management at Illinois's Northwestern University–and let the name work its wonders. The plan seems to be succeeding. Just four years after its inception, the Joint Kellogg-Schulich EMBA is attracting an array of business professionals, many of whom admit to signing on because of the Kellogg name.

The program is based at Schulich, but half of the classes are taught by Kellogg professors who fly up to Toronto to teach courses in-person (including legendary marketer Lakshman Krishnamurthi). What's more, students participate in a two-week residency at Kellogg, during which they team up on group projects with Kellogg students.

The program begins in January with a one-week residency and continues over 18 months, with classes running from Friday afternoon to mid-Sunday every other weekend. Most students work in the Greater Toronto Area, which means they sleep at home during the weekend blitzes, but a sizable number fly in from across Canada and the northeastern U.S., shacking up in the luxurious five-star hotel adjacent to the classroom facilities. (One 2005 student flew in from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, every two weeks.)

Faculty of Administration, Sherbrooke, Que.
Tuition: $25,000 | Length: 20 to 29 Months

Sherbrooke's program was the only francophone EMBA in the world when it launched in 1987. For 11 years, it was offered at the school's Longueuil, Que., campus, which meant easy access for Montreal execs. In recent years, the program has expanded to become much more international. Besides the Longueuil location, Sherbrooke has offered its EMBA in Morocco since 1998 and in France since 2001. But execs studying abroad aren't getting an Internet education-in fact, none of the courses are offered over the web. Canadian profs who travel to the satellites teach between 40% and 60% of the classes, while accredited Moroccan and French profs teach the rest. The group from France finishes the program back in Sherbrooke with a three-week course on strategic management.

Sherbrooke's EMBA is made up of eight sessions that span 29 months, with all-day classes alternating between Fridays and Saturdays. Incoming execs are divided into two groups. Currently, people with undergraduate degrees in business bypass the first nine-month session, which consists of introductory courses, and go directly into the more intensive 20-month round. The school is considering changing its format, though: to ensure everyone is on equal footing, execs may have to take the intro classes in the future.

SFU Business, Burnaby, B.C.
Tuition: $45,000 | Length: 24 Months

SFU fights with other western universities for regular MBA students, but when it comes to the executive MBA, it's in a league of its own. The downtown Vancouver-based program attracts professionals from across the province: 80% come from B.C.'s Lower Mainland, 10% from Vancouver Island, and 5% from the B.C. Interior. “We're a regional program,” explains EMBA executive director Diane Cross. “We don't have networks to Ontario, but if you want to advance your career in the West, you come here.”

The class consists of about 30 students, with an average age of 38. Every other Friday to Saturday, for two years, the cohort attends classes, spending the night at the adjacent Delta hotel (room fees are covered by tuition). The first year consists of nailing down business fundamentals, while Year 2 focuses on strategy and decision-making, including a major consulting project. The intimate classroom setting makes for intense discussion and solid friendships. If you're west of the Rockies and don't want Internet learning or substantial travel, this is the EMBA for you.

Richard Ivey School of Business, London, Ont.
Tuition: $75,000 | Length: 17 Months

Not surprisingly, the first school in Canada to offer an MBA program was also one of the first to provide executive training. Since 1991, Ivey has been schooling budding corporate bigwigs, using its trademark case-based teaching approach to mete out lessons in general management and leadership to rising corporate stars. In the past few years, however, as competition between EMBA programs in the southern Ontario region heated up, Ivey has needed to tweak its offering, in hopes of retaining top-dog status.

Originally offered as a 16-month course with classes every other weekend, Ivey's first change was moving from its London campus to the J. J. Wettlaufer Executive Centre in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. Then, two years ago, Ivey introduced the Continental, a format that requires students to attend class in once-a-month, four-day, Thursday-to-Sunday chunks. The Continental, “named to portray its ease of access for people across the continent,” according to EMBA director Michael Pearce, ran at the Ivey Conference Centre in London, while the Weekender continued on in the GTA.

Ivey now says it's abandoning the Weekender format altogether, as well as the London campus, for its EMBA. Its next group of students will start in February 2006 and enjoy the once-a-month, Thursday-to-Sunday routine in the GTA, helping the program truly live up to its easy-access boast.

Despite all the logistical changes, the 18-member faculty team remains largely unchanged. The international study trips and the mandatory field project, during which students analyze a business, develop a strategic plan to move it forward and present their ideas to senior management, remain key parts of the EMBA. The program will undergo some upheaval, though, adapting to Ivey's newly advertised focus on cross-enterprise leadership.