The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

It was Albert Einstein who declared, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” And when a world-renowned genius underlines the importance of ongoing education—even for those who are already perceived as being at the top of their game—it is worth taking note.

Recognizing the importance of providing executives and business leaders with the latest know-how, as well as the need to regularly brush up existing skills, a number of educational institutions have developed programs specifically tailored to help corporate managers cope with today’s rapidly evolving business world.

“Continuous learning, lifelong education, and skills improve­ment are critical in any profession to remain up-to-date, competitive, and portable in the human-capital context,” said Joe Cherian, director of the Centre for Asset Management Research and Investments (CAMRI) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

“And the same thing applies to corporates,” he said. “Executive education is a more ‘rapid deployment’ way of acquiring such learning and knowledge, as opposed to full-time graduate programs, such as the traditional MBA.”

Given that an executive will already be, inevitably, occupied by his or her corporate duties, the trick is often to balance the learning with existing commitments, said Jai Arya, head of Executive Education at the NUS Business School.

“The most valuable—and perishable—asset for executives is time,” he told The ACCJ Journal. “We have limited executive time in a year to invest, and we must invest it well to keep and sharpen the management team’s edge.

“Executive education provides leaders with the tools, best practices, and solutions that can speed and enhance perfor­mance,” he continued. “It also provides a platform to learn from peers through their successes and mistakes.”

The university introduced its executive education programs in Singapore in 1981, with three of those initial courses still proving popular with leaders and senior managers across the Asia–Pacific region.

The two-week General Management Program remains a mainstay, along with its sister course offered in Mandarin, which will be having its 100th run in May 2019.

Launched in 1983, the Stanford–NUS Executive Program in International Management is one of the longest-running joint executive education courses in the world.

The NUS offerings were immediately popular. There was strong demand for management talent as the four Asian Tigers— Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan—began to emerge in the 1980s. Although there is greater competition today from the growing number of institutions offering education, companies in the region are also becoming more sophisticated in their requirements, Arya said.

One example of a new, tailored program is the Graduate Certificate in Applied Portfolio Management (g-CAPM), which started in late 2013 as a customized course for one of the largest pension funds in Southeast Asia. Since then, the once-a-year-course has evolved into an open enrollment program that has seen about 150 participants attend since the launch.

“The modern world of business is one where disruption, change, and technological progress will be the norm,” said Arya. “A single lifetime will not be sufficient to prepare a business leader for every fork in the road. By leveraging best practices relevant to Asia, learning from peer leaders in Asia, and building a network of co-learners across the region, our programs equip our participants to grow and lead from Asia, the fastest-growing economic region in the world.”

The executive education courses offered by Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University began 25 years ago. They were created to meet the need for “shorter sessions that focused on particular leadership development or strategic challenges,” said Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, dean and director of the school.

In the intervening quarter-century, organizations have come to understand that “retaining top talent is a strategic imperative,” Khagram said. “And capitalizing on the strengths of the work­force can be best realized by investing in human capital.”

Courses at Thunderbird are designed to prepare leaders for the Fourth Industrial Revolution—a shift in business that many could not have anticipated when they joined the work­force, as well as the future of work—by focusing on global mobility and agility, digital transformation, and a global mindset for strategic leadership.

“The pace of change, level of complexity, global connectivity, and rapid advances in technology are changing the future of work,” Khagram said.

“Today’s and tomorrow’s leaders are faced with unprecedented challenges. These leaders need to continually refresh and hone their leadership skills sets and competencies, and doing so in an application-based learning environment is powerful.”

The school offers a range of online and in-person programs in areas such as business analytics, global leadership, inter­national credit and trade finance, and leading diverse teams to achieve collaborative results. Customized courses are also available, and the school adds to its programs regularly. A new course that will focus on competitiveness in this age of rapid technological developments is now in the final design phase.

“Our typical students are a cross-sector blend of leaders of leaders, or leaders of managers,” said Khagram. “They usually take our courses to gain exposure to global business trends that help them stay informed and enable them to be more proactive in their business decision-making, freshen their knowledge in an area of expertise, and expand and strengthen their peer network.”

Demand for education programs remains strong at Bangkok-based Sasin School of Management, both for customized corporate courses and more focused, open-enrollment programs.

“In recent years, as technology has disrupted more industries and the overall business environment, we have seen demand increase significantly as mid-career executives look to update and upgrade their skill sets,” said Dean Outerson, head of the school’s marketing department.

Dramatic changes in the business world have forced executives to adapt and evolve, he said, pointing out that, “Competition is now global, not local, so there is a greater need to maximize skill sets and organizational efficiency. Executive education fills those needs and helps students and their organizations be ready to do business globally.”

The two-week residential Senior Executive Program, for example, is designed to give participants the most up-to-date skills and concepts to lead an organization. And while the program takes place at a high-end resort hotel complex in Hua Hin, Thailand, the literature warns participants that it will not be a vacation.

In response to significant demand from executives, and the increasing need for innovation, digital transformational leadership, and entrepreneurship business models, the ESSEC Business School, Singapore, commenced courses aimed at senior-level corporate officers in the Asia–Pacific region in 2015, according to Michael Gomez, director and head of the institution’s executive education program.

“At ESSEC, we take the time to get to know our partners and their businesses,” he said. “We believe in corporate programs as a partnership, leveraging co-creation and continuous collaboration to develop an effective and meaningful experience.”

The school encourages participants to closely examine their particular needs and then draws up learning solutions to effectively address an individual’s specific requirements.

Pointing out that, on average, knowledge gained in university is redundant in as few as five years after graduation, the ESSEC faculty “continues to update their knowledge as the world evolves through cutting-edge research. Hence, executive education provides an opportunity to take a step back from the busy day-to-day demands, retool, and expose oneself to best practices.”

In common with the other educational institutions interviewed for this story, ESSEC is able to deliver instruction and experi­ences that will dovetail with the needs and work require­ments of executives or organizations.

Existing courses—in such areas as design thinking and innovation, digital transformation and platforms, big data and strategy, and market entry—are constantly being complemented with new programs. The latest addition at ESSEC focuses on digital ecosystems and international business and economics.

Whether a student falls into the “high potential” category or is already in the C-Suite, it is extremely rare that they do not experience positive change in performance and career.

“We have seen participants promoted to new leadership roles, increases in newly implemented projects, and other divisions reaching out after witnessing our participants’ impact upon completion of their training with us,” Gomez said.

Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.
Continuous learning, lifelong education, and skills improvement are critical in any profession.