Evidence-Based Innovation Blog

MBA Innovation: National Defense Executive MBA Program

Posted on Oct 14, 2010 9:30:00 AM

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George Mason University is expanding its MBA portfolio with a new National Defense Executive Master of Business Administration program. The first cohort entered the program in August 2010. As part of our business school innovation series, Karl von Gunten interviewed Roy Hinton, Associate Dean of Executive Programs.

What prompted the development of the National Defense Executive MBA program?

This program was initiated out of a conversation I had about four years ago with a retired Marine colonel. At the time, I was revamping our EMBA program. He shared his concern regarding a history of business coordination challenges in the defense industry among the military, senior government officials, and defense contractors. He had long thought of the need for an MBA-type program designed specifically for these three sectors to help them understand how each conducts business.

Specifically, he wanted his military personnel to understand that, while General Dynamics, for example, is in business to make a profit for shareholders, the military and government answer to taxpayers, who seek to minimize costs without sacrificing security.

From an economic standpoint, it would help business efficiencies in the defense industry if each group understood the others’ points of view.

Roy Hinton 250pxRoy Hinton, Associate Dean of Executive Programs

What market research did you employ to develop it?

About a year and a half after this “aha” discussion, the colonel arranged for me to learn more by talking with top executives in all three sectors. We visited with admirals, generals, and experts in defense acquisition management. We met with government officials in charge of major DOD facilities and operations and we talked to defense contractors.

While our research wasn’t “formal,” those conversations validated that a national defense EMBA program was long overdue. From there, we began to work on a course design and solicit feedback. It took nearly two years until we finally developed a 54 credit-hour course format.

How is the program structured?

It is a full-time Executive MBA program modeled after our global EMBA degree with a length of 21 months. Courses are delivered over the weekends, plus a residency in Washington, DC. The one exception is the one-week capstone course, which is slanted toward the defense industry.

Students get the core of an MBA, but with a defense focus. For example, when our Global EMBA students go to New York for their Financial Markets course, the defense industry class will go to Capitol Hill instead, and study the government funding process, the budgeting process, how it works, how a lobbyist works, how lobbyists and defense contractors partner together to influence government, what role should the military, and government executives play, etc.

What differentiates this EMBA program?

The DOD industry has a lot of procedural and strategic differences from other non-DOD businesses – even government. Our curriculum is based upon these first-hand requirements from the top people in the industry.

The key advantage and differentiator over other EMBA programs is this very specific slice of intellectual property from within the $750 billion national defense infrastructure.

Clearly, there is unique content – not to mention the opportunity to network with industry colleagues, and learn from each other.

What challenges did you face when designing the curriculum?

Some of the challenges were bringing folks together in an effort to find common ground among so many differences. For example, government civilians at very senior positions can have strong opinions that can be different from the military's or the contractor's point of view. So, if these senior folks are responsible for outfitting all the Navy ships, and all of the money is flowing through there, you can imagine that they have a very different view than a military guy who is going to be on the project two or three years before moving on, or a civilian contractor who just owns one small piece of the program’s puzzle.

I think there is probably more to do to build the context up to a bigger level for civilians in the Senior Executive Service. But, if we can get some of those folks into the program, that is where we will begin to see more of those considerations come into future design. I think we're going to be in kind of a continuous improvement mode, maybe forever. 

Who are your prospective students?

They come from three sectors – government, military, and defense contractors. In fact, we think the real value of the program won't be realized unless we can get and maintain all three groups in the classroom. This enables sharing from their base of experience and understanding in a business setting.

What are the admissions requirements? 

The requirements are similar to our Global EMBA. We are looking for managers with a minimum of 7 years experience and a graduate degree. We require letters of reference, a goal statement, and a GMAT score, although we often waive that requirement if a candidate has a masters degree and undergraduate transcripts. Personal interviews are also part of the admissions process. The ideal student has experience in the right position, manage others, and have P&L responsibilities.

How does this program fit within your other management offerings at GMU?

We already do a fair amount of executive education for the defense sector and the intelligence communities. Some of our faculty have consulted in those areas and know that arena well so that helped us put this together. Then, of course, there are certain core business and management skills, which are fundamental to this type of program. You need to know how to read financial statements.  You need to know something about operations, something about leadership, marketing, etc.  Even though it's very, very different in the defense industry, we can speak to that in those general classes.

Were you concerned about cannibalization with the other MBA programs at GMU?

There was a lot of support for the development of this program. We are, in fact, attracting people to the first cohort who might not otherwise have considered going back for an MBA because they would have questioned the relevance of it. For example, there were two students in our existing cohort that crossed over to defense.

How have you generated awareness about the program?

August 2010 was our first offering with about 10 students, so it’s a new program. We haven't marketed it very aggressively, but there’s been a lot of interest just by word of mouth.

The feedback we've been getting from the government sectors about the design and the positioning has been positive. The contractors really look forward to the idea of spending a couple of years with leaders from the military/government side and positioning everyone to learn from everyone else.

Who benefits from this program?

The program benefits not only the students obtaining a very specialized MBA, but also their employers – and hopefully, ultimately, the taxpayers!

How would you measure success of this new venture?

First of all, we will obtain assessments of the programs and their quality from our students. Other key indicators include the number of enrollments, the referrals they offer us, and the number of executives from the defense industry who are willing to participate in the program as guest speakers or as sponsors of Capstone.

For our students of course, you want to see if they are getting promoted. Are they valued by their organizations?  Were opportunities for other jobs within the industry expanded?  Those are the kinds of things we will stay on top of after students graduate. If there are ways to improve it, we will.

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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