It’s 9:30AM in Central London. The weather outside the walls of the Thistle Hotel in Marble Arch is sticky humid. Yet inside, Inge Kerkloh-Devif is keeping a cool head.
Business schools may feel the pressure of adapting to global expansion and the targeting of new, emerging markets – but Inge, boss of executive education at HEC Paris, shows no signs of stress.
The executive director of global business development at HEC Executive Education is only a year into the job but her results speak for themselves. The leading French business school shot up to the top-three of the executive education rankings last month. In open-enrolment courses, they languished seventh last year.
She has come into the role at an exciting time for executive education. New technology is energizing a revival which has seen demand for courses become insatiable. Schools are expanding into emerging markets and online programs are reaching the masses on a global scale.
Custom programs, lucrative courses tailored for businesses, are fashionable once more. The short-course king is back in business.
But there are still challenges that executive education must face. Moocs – massive online open courses – are threatening to steal business.
“They are a competition, for sure,” smiles Inge, softly spoken with a German accent. “Executive education is in a disruptive innovation situation. We see new players coming in.”
But HEC tailors its executive education for the hard-nosed executive. “If you try to put the normal and common content into your Mooc, you won’t be able to train the CEO of tomorrow,” she says. “The important thing, then, is what you put in the Mooc. It’s not [about] giving access to everybody – it’s also the content you have.”
Inge reckons there are strategic alliances to be made. For HEC, new players mean new opportunities. “There might also be opportunities to do things differently. Why not?”
“But I will talk about that in a couple of months,” she laughs, cautiously.
Inge is only in London for a short stay, but her reach extends far beyond the United Kingdom. Executive education is a global business – and business is seemingly booming. The school has 52 open-enrolment programs – courses directed to all professionals – yet only seven of them are taught in English, she says.
HEC is huge in Qatar, where it offers a complete portfolio of management programs. But Inge has more ambitious plans for expansion. The rest of the Middle East is just a starting point.
China, she says, has a huge need for executive education. “But it’s quite a mature market,” she adds. The development of emerging markets in Africa and Latin America are also feeding the growing demand for executives’ courses.
“All those growing markets – we have such a need for executive education. As they are facing new opportunities and new challenges, they need people to manage those challenges and opportunities,” says Inge. “You start to see it in Indonesia and Malaysia. You can see it in Middle East and in Africa.”
The school has seen an increase in demand in Africa – partly because most of HEC’s programs are taught in French. In October, the school launched its first executive Master’s degree in Azerbaijan. HEC is training governments in Africa to help improve performance, and just signed-up the Central Bank of West African States for a customized program.
Southern America is also set firmly on Inge’s sights. A group of professors just flew back from Brazil – partly to avoid the World Cup inflation – who were looking at expanding their portfolio into the emerging country.
But the school’s focus is on degree programs first, she insists. HEC offers an Executive MBA, as well as an Executive Master's degree and a clutch of certificate programs. It’s Trium Global EMBA, a partnership with NYU: Stern and the London School of Economics, is ranked fourth world-wide.
“We are focusing first on degree programs, because this is really the full HEC experience,” says Inge as she finishes sipping a latte inside the Thistle’s Costa franchise. “Then we focus a lot on custom programs, especially international [ones].”
HEC’s open enrolment programs are on a smaller, national scale – but the portfolio growing.
Part of the expansion puzzle is the online revolution that is sweeping through business schools. HEC offers both an online mode of delivery and face-to-face programs. It depends much on the customer – and the region.
But Inge believes executives need a classroom experience, “because you have the peer to peer learning... the classroom experience is very impacting”. Still, they have not shied away from the cyberworld.
“[We are] starting to bring this interactive e-learning, because e-learning was so much more only online learning, and not having this interactivity [before],” she explains. “And it’s a wonderful experience to mix all those opportunities, and again to have a more global reach,” Inge adds.
She does not, however, think we will ever reach a situation where executives will learn entire curriculums from their laptops and tablets.
Emerging markets, for example, have a preference for classroom learning, she says, and the school must react to the demands of its clients. “They’re executives – we are not teaching fundamentals, we are teaching leadership, strategy. So those are topics which are not only accessible online.”
Globalization has brought with it a more diverse learning opportunity for executive education students and EMBAs. Inge thinks that it is 80-90% of the reason that students sign up. “If you want to do global leadership it’s not just taking a piece of paper or listening to a professor – its real experience.”
It was the reason she took on the job in the first place: “Because it had so [much] international exposure. I think again executive education is a global market today. For our customers, it is very important to have this real experience.”
For HEC the question now is: which new courses do they plan to develop? Inge still has a few aces up her sleeve; the school plans to strengthen its energy, and fashion and luxury offering.
Inge says: “We plan to launch our executive Master in china in 2015. And fashion and luxury is also really a hot topic for us.”
Leadership is still a dominant theme, as are strategy and change management courses. Big data, she says, is also an up-and-coming topic. “It will be an amazing challenge because big data will enable [us] to make strategic decisions in a new way. I think there will be a big need in training executives for strategic decisions on big data.”
With so many different program offerings and new courses in the works, it may be difficult to pin-point executive education’s place within HEC Paris. But one thing is for sure: it is still a huge revenue driver.
“But it’s a revenue which enables us to deliver our education, it’s not for gaining money,” Inge is quick to point out. “It’s really giving out the opportunity to deliver our education. We are training 8,500 executives per year at HEC executive education. This enables us to make it happen.”