Evidence-Based Innovation Blog

MBA Innovation: Sustainable EMBA Program for Aspirational Executives

Posted on Jul 20, 2010 11:15:00 AM

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San Francisco State University is expanding its MBA portfolio with a new accelerated Executive Master of Business Administration program with a sustainable business emphasis. The first cohort will enter the program in January 2011. As part of our business school innovation series, Karl von Gunten interviewed Aaron Anderson, Director of the new Sustainable EMBA program. 


Tell us about your new program.

The sustainable business program is a new concept for executive programs, although it’s not a novel concept for MBA's in particular.  Our definition of sustainability moves beyond simply a company that sustains growth toward a model for socially responsible business behavior and practice.  What companies should be doing is not just what is good for the company and the shareholders, but that you measure value and success on a triple bottom line.  In other words, you’re profitable when your shareholder’s value grows as the company grows, but you treat your employees really well, and you give back to the community and you’re not damaging but minimizing the footprint your organization may have on the environment. Sustainable means you’re paying attention to all elements and not just the bottom line, which is money. 

What should prospective students expect with regard to program format?

It’s a little bit different than a traditional part-time executive MBA program. First and foremost, you will see that it is a full-time rather than a part-time program. It’s designed specifically for people who are not working full time. Students will attend three courses per semester for four semesters year round. So you see, it compresses the usual 12-course format and allows a student to finish in 16 rather than 22 months. 

What have been the driving factors for creating the program?

Well, there are three primary reasons of why we are doing this: First of all, our part-time program by law is not accessible to students from abroad.  If you come to the US on an F-1 student Visa, simply jumping into the executive program is really against the rules. International students are not allowed to take the part-time programs.  So the full time nature of this program allows international students to come in on a student visa and fully qualify as full-time students.  Secondly, sustainable business at least here at San Francisco State is a direction that we think all businesses are headed and we would like to lead industry rather than simply follow it. And lastly, our faculty is very well known and has an established reputation recognized by the Aspen Institute, and we thought we would capitalize on that strength and bring them into the mix and have them deliver all of the sustainable business courses.

Aaron Anderson SFSU 300px

Aaron Anderson, Director, SFSU Executive MBA Program

What steps did you take to develop the program?

Well, we are always on top of what the market is doing, especially in the San Francisco area. We’re always scanning the area to see what’s new and innovative.  We worked with the College of Business graduate curriculum committee to make sure that the curriculum was feasible and acceptable to the University community. We don’t operate in isolation.  We are part of San Francisco State University.  So, the whole process took about a year to get the new emphasis off the ground and I'm happy to report, we are now accepting applications for the first cohort in sustainable business. 

Who are the ideal candidates for the program?

The ideal candidates tend to have 8-10 years work experience, who are not yet at the senior level, but who are hungry for those types of executive positions.  I call them “aspirational executives.” We do have some students who are CEO's and founders of their own companies, but most are at a director to mid-management level who need new skills to become an effective manager.

How are you different from other MBA programs?

Our approach is to focus on the general application of business principals.  We offer all of the elements that it takes to deliver an outstanding MBA including Accounting, Marketing, Economics, Decision Sciences, Information Systems, etc. But our mission is to train high-quality industry leaders who can go out and work in old and new world businesses and help them transform, to augment what they’re doing, to apply sustainable business skills learned in the classroom in a very real and strong way.  Essentially, we fully load a student’s toolkit and sharpen all areas as opposed to just one.

What are the top three things that perspective students need to know about the program?

First of all, one of the things you should know is that truly any MBA program, but ours in particular is a transformative experience.  If you’re the same person that you are today at the far end, we would have failed you miserably.  You come out at the far end extremely different and a much more nuanced individual. 

Secondly, the program is not “MBA-lite” not by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s an MBA, super concentrated and jacked up.  It’s really challenging because that’s how we’re able to squeeze the program into 16 months. It’s a daunting challenge for any student.

The third thing you should know is that if you can make it through the first semester I almost guarantee you that you will, barring any unforeseen wackiness, finish this program with flying colors. That first semester will test you in terms of time management as well as building back your academic skill set. When you finish that first semester, you should be confident that you will complete the program. 

How do you plan to measure the success of the program?

Well, I always do it by the numbers.  Our target is 30 students per cohort in the executive program.  It’s a very healthy size, optimal for learning and teaching.  So, to answer your question, if we were to start 30 high quality people and they were to succeed and finish, that would be the short-term measure for success.  Long range though; success would have to be if these 30 alumni in say 5-10 years make an indelible imprint on whatever company they go to work for.  More critically for those in the sustainable business emphasis, our main hope is that they are able to accelerate the movement in industry towards sustainable operations, green and otherwise, promote and boost socially responsible behavior.  If that happens, we all win. 

One of my firm beliefs as director of the program is that every one of our courses is teaching something that you can apply tomorrow at work.  And as a matter of fact, if we teach you something tonight at class from 6-9:30, don’t be shocked when you are able to apply it tomorrow at work.  Truly, an education at San Francisco State is where, I like to say, the theoretical rubber meets the practice road. 

More information about the business school can be found here.

Karl von Gunten, guest writer for this article, works with Percept Research as a Strategic Communications Consultant. Karl assists our clients with marketing strategy and integrated communications programs. Karl welcomes your questions and comments.

Topics: Executive MBA, Karl von Gunten, Business School Innovation