Niche and Nobility: EMBA Program Specializations |

Niche and Nobility: EMBA Program Specializations

By Tim Dhoul

Updated July 23, 2019 Updated July 23, 2019

The past year has seen the launch of a number of what we might regard as niche executive MBA programs - ones that are tied to a particular industry or profession and that have invariably been developed in partnership with the employers themselves. Examples over the past year include a family business EMBA, ice hockey and even a program designed specifically for those with a background in the NFL.  

The merits of this approach are clear – managers get the exact training and insight they need to add to their existing knowledge and capabilities, without losing any sleep over whether a particular class within a program is a valuable use of their time or not. For the industry employers, well, partnering with a business school to run a new executive MBA program provides reassurance that graduates will have the skillsets they believe to be essential to success.

In many ways, the format resembles the approach taken by bespoke executive education courses that are developed by business schools on behalf of particular organizations – albeit, in the case of the specialized EMBA more will be demanded of the student – it is a full degree program after all – and hypothetically, it should have a wider appeal among prospective students.

Final call for a railway industry executive MBA?

But, can a specialized EMBA program be so targeted in its appeal that it becomes too niche to sustain? This month, the UIC (International Union of Railways or Union Internationale des Chemins de fer) admitted that the EMBA it established in conjunction with EMLYON - The Railway Global Executive MBA – was in danger of becoming derailed.

“Only 15 people have signed up so far but we need 25, and we have already postponed the start of the course once,” UIC secretary general, Jean-Pierre Loubinoux told the International Railway Journal, adding that they would be forced to scrap the course altogether if there wasn’t an improvement in uptake. However, Loubinoux also reiterated why the railway industry had sought to collaborate with a top business school, such as EMLYON: “We have already missed training one generation of railway experts because other industries seemed more attractive, but now we have the chance to catch the next generation.”

NFL-focused EMBA program up and running at Miami School of Business

One new EMBA program that has launched on schedule is the University of Miami School of Business qualification, aimed largely at former and current (American) football players from the NFL. Indeed, of the inaugural cohort’s 43 students, 40 have NFL backgrounds – from which the Miami School of Business has an even split between current and former players.

Nominally, the EMBA program is intended for anybody with a background as a professional athlete or artist, but as Miami School of Business dean, Gene Anderson, explained in an article for WLRN:  “We thought that was the best market for us to start with...” One of these reasons cited is that although roughly one in two NFL players possess an undergraduate degree, a staggering number of former players have been found to struggle financially after their playing careers are over.

Yale SOM plans to expand its medical EMBA

A couple of years in, meanwhile, is a medical EMBA program offered between Yale School of Management (Yale SOM) and Yale-New Haven Hospital that is about to graduate its first student.

The program combines the Yale SOM EMBA – where healthcare is one of three available areas of specialization - with a hospital medical fellowship, usually taken after a doctor in the US finishes their residency.

In three years, only three students have signed up in the field of radiology, the hospital department for which the program was originally developed. However, there is now a student apiece attached to two other departments at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Niche indeed, then. Yet, Yale has seen enough potential in the program’s structure to announce plans to expand the offering to a wider group of students interested in healthcare leadership.

 “The combination of these experiences will position them to go right in rather than wait 10 to 15 years to mature into a leadership role,” Howard Forman, who runs Yale SOM’s healthcare curriculum, said of the joint EMBA and fellowship program.

Far from niche – the executive MBA in healthcare

Of course, Yale SOM’s EMBA concentration in healthcare is much less niche - such is the demand for skilled leaders in the industry, whether a student is looking to work with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies or even for a new technology startup.

Indeed, healthcare is a popular specialization within both the MBA and executive MBA format, with Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management adding to the options available to those considering an EMBA in healthcare as recently as last week. In this case, the new 20-month program is to be run jointly between Weatherhead and Cleveland Clinic and, according to the school, comes in response to the rising number of healthcare professionals it had seen enrolling into its existing EMBA program.

Cleveland Clinic’s president and CEO, Delos M. “Toby” Cosgrove, explained why changes in the healthcare industry necessitate the availability of business-orientated healthcare programs, such as its new offering with Weatherhead:

“The [healthcare] focus has shifted to quality and outcomes for patients, while moving away from the traditional fee-for-service model. In other words, healthcare organizations are expected to produce better outcomes at a lower cost. This is putting a lot of pressure on providers to look at how they’re organized and how they do business.”

This article was originally published in April 2015 . It was last updated in July 2019

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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