UB Executive MBA Program Helps Groom Top Managers

Release Date: March 2, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As chief financial officer of a growing Blasdell-based environmental-consulting firm, Thomas Elsinghorst felt the need to "expand his corporate toolbox" in order to help his company expand its market niche.

So in 1996, he, along with 38 other Western New York executives with similar goals, enrolled in the Executive MBA (EMBA) program in the University at Buffalo School of Management -- an intensive, 22-month program designed for executives with the potential to assume top managerial positions within their organizations.

Today, Elsinghorst is three months from completing his MBA degree, and his employer, Niagara Frontier Consulting Services, has developed new strategies for marketing its services to the residential-home market, in addition to its traditional industrial and municipal clientele.

"As CFO, I have expertise in a certain set of skills, but I needed a larger set of skills to be of greater value to my company," Elsinghorst says. "The Executive MBA program helped me become far more analytical and understand issues outside of my comfort zone. I was able to apply marketing models I learned in the program to the goals of my company."

Like Elsinghorst, more executives today are feeling the need to upgrade or develop new skills so that they can have a greater impact on the success of their organizations and move up the corporate ladder.

And with the economy in good health, more companies are willing to foot the bill for executive training programs, like the UB EMBA program, because they now feel compelled to restock with top talent after years of downsizing. It's more cost-efficient to groom existing executives for the top positions than to seek out and hire new talent.

In a recent Business Week magazine survey of corporate human-resource executives, for instance, 42 percent said they were sending more people to business-school executive programs than five years ago, with 33 percent sending the same number. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed cited a new emphasis on management development as a main reason.

In Western New York, this trend has resulted in more than 100 executives enrolling in the UB program since it was established in 1994. Praxair, Allied Signal, American Brass, Rich Products, Marine Midland, Fisher-Price and M&T Bank are just some of the area firms that have enrolled their best managers in the UB program at a tuition cost of $30,000 per student, which includes books, tutoring and meals.

But it's not just executives from the big-name companies that have participated in the program; execs from smaller organizations like Rosina Food Products, Tzetzo Bros., Mills Welding Supply, Fiberite, Bennett Electrical Contractors and the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County have enrolled.

"The average student has 13 years of management experience and earns an annual salary of between $50,000 and $150,000," says Courtney Walsh, executive director of the program. "The vast majority of the students have their tuition paid for by their employer."

Given the expertise of the students, the cost of the program and the expectations of both student and employer, the curriculum is designed to go beyond theory and into strategic business applications and complex management issues that confront executives and their employers daily. As a result, faculty members with the highest level of real-world management expertise are assigned to teach the courses.

"Our students expect to be challenged and they expect to add substantial value to their employers as a result of their coursework," says EMBA Faculty Director Frank Krzystofiak, an associate professor of organization and human resources at the management school. "Our success is determined by how well we meet those expectations."

For marketing manager Mary Jean Bush, the commitment of her employer, Fisher-Price, to the program was evident right from the start. Bush was a "winner" of the company's annual competition to determine which employee would be sponsored for the program. Fisher-Price has even paid for flights to and from out-of-town meetings so that Bush would not miss classes, which are held once a week on alternating Fridays and Saturdays.

"The program has mirrored very closely some important issues within my workplace," says Bush. "When Fisher-Price was setting its strategic plan for the year 2000, I was able to lead strategy-decision seminars because of my experience in the program's managerial-strategy course. When Fisher-Price instituted a team-structure work environment, I was able to communicate more effectively with my colleagues in operations because of the program's emphasis on team-building and its courses in operations management and organizational behavior."

But classroom instruction isn't the only benefit of the EMBA program, says David Mittlefehldt, president of Prior Aviation Service. The knowledge gained and shared among classmates, who come from a variety of professions and businesses, is an added value of the program.

"The networking benefit is something you don't fully realize until you enroll," says Mittlefehldt. "Whenever there is a unique problem or issue within your business that comes up, someone in the program has the experience to help you address it. Many times I've made strategic decisions based on class input."

As the only Executive MBA program in Western New York, and one of just 110 accredited programs nationwide, the UB EMBA program is developing plans to more aggressively market itself to a greater number of Western New York firms and expand into the Rochester market.

According to Walsh, the program has begun to work more closely with CEOs and upper management to offer tuition packages for firms that wish to enroll groups of executives in the EMBA. The program also will invite more input from area firms to ensure that the curriculum remains timely and relevant.

"The challenge of the best EMBA programs is to keep pace with changes in the business world and offer a curriculum that arms executives with the tools to handle not only the issues that confront them today, but also those that will confront them 10 years from now," Walsh says.

"After all," she adds, "these are some of the best and brightest managers in the area. Their goal is to maintain and enhance their leadership positions within their organizations."

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