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This is the first article in what will be a monthly series answering questions that the Thunderbird School of Global Management's Executive Education team is frequently asked. First up: “Why should I take a continuing education course from a university rather than a consulting firm or training company?”
This is a question we hear often from Learning & Development leaders at organizations looking for a custom program for their employees. But it applies equally to individual professionals looking to get the best return on their investment of money and time in executive education.
We admit that, on the answer to this question, we’re a bit biased. Certainly there are good programs run by consulting firms and training companies. Here, we’ll highlight the areas where a university stands out – the reasons why a Learning & Development leader or individual professional would choose a university over the alternatives for executive education.
“I don’t want academic theory; I want practical advice.” That’s a concern we hear often from people inquiring about our executive education programs. At Thunderbird, executive education participants actually get the best of both worlds: the practical advice they can apply at work the next day and the grounding in research.
Thunderbird programs are founded on the continued pursuit of thought leadership and focused on taking academic research and refining and reframing it to be relevant to industry. As such, our faculty members have both practical industry experience and academic research bona fides. They work together and with other colleagues inside and outside of academia to explore nuances, best practices, and trends from an unbiased perspective (a privilege, perhaps, of the independent non-profit).
Unique for Thunderbird, those benefits even extend to our online executive education courses, which are developed by faculty who teach graduate programs and as such have a firm grounding in both the latest research on the topic and its application in industry today. That blending of the academic with the practical gives students in all of our executive education programs the know-how – and the nuance – to apply it at work.
“Why a university for executive education? Because you want practical advice, based on experience and research.” – Click to tweet
Consider, as just one example, Thunderbird Professor Kannan Ramaswamy. He teaches global strategy in the Master of Global Management program as well as the executive education course Advanced Management Program for Oil & Gas Industry Executives. His research includes a recent study on hindering bosses. He has co-authored a book called Global Strategy: Creating and Sustaining Advantage across Borders. And he has consulted for the likes of American Express, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Mattel, Delta Air Lines, LG Electronics, Ericsson, and ExxonMobil, among many others.
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In many arenas, specialization is the key to competitive advantage. It certainly is for many consulting firms and training companies. But universities by their nature are at once broad and deep, exploring a wide range of topics as an institution made up of individuals with great depths of knowledge in specific areas.
“Why a university for executive education? Because you’re looking for a depth of knowledge.” – Click to tweet
At a university, faculty gain and apply cross-disciplinary learnings and best practices. At Thunderbird, that combination of breadth and depth is enhanced by our relationship with Arizona State University. As just one example, the upcoming executive education course Transform Tension Into Collaboration is being taught by Tamara Christensen, a Faculty Associate in the Design School at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, who brings to the class a combination of unique expertise and Fortune 100 consulting experience.
Whether it’s a company or an individual paying for the executive education program, the quality of the program is essential, as it is a key determinant of ROI. And what better source of assured quality than a top-ranked graduate school?
“Why a university for executive education? Because you’re looking for quality assurance.” – Click to tweet
For example, the Learning & Development team at one of the world’s top healthcare organizations was looking to shortlist a select few institutions where its employees could go for executive education. In essence, the organization was trying to put some quality control into its education expenditures, thinking about the quality that participants would get from each program.
That particular organization found it easy to apply the “quality-approved” stamp to Thunderbird, because as a university, we have to go through continuous evaluation and rigorous vetting to earn and maintain our accreditation. That is a level of rigor non-university education providers aren’t beholden to.
At Thunderbird we thrive on digging into the toughest organizational challenges, working with our custom executive education program clients to break apart their issues and architect solutions. Whereas consulting firms typically have pre-defined sets of best practices and processes, at Thunderbird we combine best practices and processes with hands-on, in-the-trenches work to identify and resolve the issues at the heart of the challenge.
“Why a university for executive education? Because you need help solving a tough organizational challenge.” – Click to tweet
We do that in all the ways described above: with professors like Kannan Ramaswamy who have both practical industry experience and academic research bona fides; with institutional breadth and individual depth of knowledge; and with quality assured by 70+ years of top rankings and accreditation. And, a track record of clients like Mayo Clinic, Toyota, BP, Intel, and KPMG, among many others, that turn to Thunderbird for solving those tough challenges.
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