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EMBA X: The Executive MBA Combining Business & Technology

A new Executive MBA, launched by the University of St Gallen and ETH Zurich, puts executives at the heart of business and technology and empowers them to lead in the name of social impact


Fri Feb 5 2021

Strong leadership, technology, and social impact. A triumvirate that should sit at the heart of business in the 21st century. That’s what two of Switzerland’s top universities believe, as they launch a new Executive MBA that hopes to drive forward a mentality of social responsibility among executives.

EMBA X is the result of a collaboration between the University of St Gallen and ETH Zurich.

The two schools began developing the 18-month program in 2019 with the aim of tackling the future challenges facing global society. It was an opportunity to combine the leadership expertise of St Gallen with the technical prowess of ETH Zurich to provide executives with a business education fit for the future.



Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift was underway. Digital disruption posed a challenge to the way executives lead their companies.

There was also already growing pressure on companies to move away from a model of shareholder primacy and toward one of stakeholder value, considering employees, the environment, and wider society.

EMBA X aims to educate executives on how to lead their companies with this in mind. 

Recognizing where technology can have a positive impact is something Karolin Frankenberger (p 55768be683ef81fa48578eb3204804661b271b9e.jpg ictured right), academic director of the EMBA programs at the University of St.Gallen and co-director of EMBA X, emphasizes was key to the design of the program.

“What’s important to me is executives need a willingness to make a significant impact on society,” she says, “the new EMBA will [push] this.”

Alongside leadership development and implementing technology for social good, the EMBA X program also focuses on personal development, with an integrated Personal Development Journey running throughout the course.

The aim is to send executives back into their companies with the ability to extend their own personal development and cutting-edge knowledge to their teams. There should be a trickle-down effect from the top that results in an overall positive impact for the organization.

EMBA X: Business + Technology 

Combining the expertise of a business school with a science and technology-focused university gave the EMBA X team the advantage of designing a program that would sit at the cutting edge of industry.

But you can’t do that without first-hand industry insight. That’s where Claudio Feser came in. Claudio (pictured left) is a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company, and acted as industry expert and senior advisor on the creation of EMBA X.

As he made sure the program was relevant to the realities of the contemporary business world, he notes the challenges faced by the two universities when collaborating.

“There are very different cultures, perspectives, and priorities with the two,” he says, “but our mission of creating something to prepare the leaders of tomorrow was so compelling that it made it easier to bring the two institutions together.”

8a9e656bdded3ff7afabdcdfc4559351c696d408.png The program was created to enable leaders to learn skills that will become more prevalent in the upcoming years. As further technological advances and demands for more corporate responsibility blend together new roles will be created that executives on the EMBA X program will have to both fill and take on themselves.

“Many of the jobs that are going to exist by 2030 don’t yet exist,” Claudio emphasizes.

“Executives need to know about emerging technologies and the impact they have on business,” Karolin adds. That’s why the team chose to eschew a traditional EMBA structure in favor of a more integrated approach.

Teaching on each module will be done with academics from both institutions in the same class, rather than being split down the middle. Students will learn in a hybrid format that splits their time approximately 60% in person and 40% online.

They'll cover topics like business innovation, adaptive technology, and sustainable business, all encouraged by targeted skills building and personal development.

They’ll also be well prepared to lead in a post-COVID-19 economy. Though the program was in its early design stages pre-coronavirus, the EMBA X team were pushed to design most of the program remotely when the pandemic hit.

The impact of COVID-19

When the two schools got together to flesh out the program’s details, they were hit by the worst global health crisis for a century. But the pandemic accelerated trends that were already underway. Trends that the team had in mind when initially designing EMBA X, which starts in February 2022.

“The whole situation and complexity of response to COVID-19 not only medically but economically and socially gave us more confidence in the main principles we wanted to build into the program,” explains Stefano Brusoni, professor of technology and innovation management at ETH Zurich and co-director of EMBA X.

The overarching theme of the program is technology’s role in the future of leadership. The importance of sustainability, science and technology, and effective management have been underlined by the coronavirus crisis and have cemented the two universities faith in their new program. 313e08e19f2c4a38381affb523794a80b65b6e2d.png

It's one thing to adapt a program from in-person to online, as most schools did at the start of COVID-19 restrictions. To create a program remotely in a pandemic, Stefano says, is a different task entirely.   

“Everything is integrated now. COVID-19 has taken away the boundaries,” he says.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a decade of change, accelerated it, and condensed it into a few short months. The challenges the EMBA X program was initially designed to meet have already arrived. 

If the EMBA X program stays true to its message, the businesses that will benefit will be ones led by strong, tech-savvy leaders with a social conscience.