The schools’ Executive Master in Marketing and Sales – EMMS – combines distance learning through an online platform with traditional classes in Milan, Barcelona and Madrid.
But Alessandro Arbore, the course co-director, does not see online-only MBA programs taking off. “I don’t see pure distance learning as the future of executive education, and I don’t see distance learning as the future of education overall,” says Alessandro, an SDA Bocconi professor of marketing.
In January 2007, the school took on its first EMMS cohort. The program cost €29,500. The course runs for 14 months. Fifty percent is taught through distance learning and 50% is face-to-face. EMMS students split their classroom time between SDA Bocconi’s Italian campus and ESADE’s Spanish bases.
The distance element, says Alessandro, is more demanding. “A single course face-to-face is one week – nine or ten sessions in one week – while distance learning is nine or ten sessions but lasting seven or eight weeks.”
SDA Bocconi, which also runs traditional MBA programs, has developed the partnership during a revival of executive education. It has also launched the sales and marketing-only track at a time when specialist Master’s programs are gaining in popularity.
The question for Christopher Graf von Hallwyl, an EMMS graduate, was: do I want to be a generalist or a specialist?
“A specialist – not limited to an industry, but profoundly equipped with above-average functional skill sets – is what the future requires,” says Christopher, who works at Engel & Völkers AG, a real estate firm.
An EMBA will give you a solid overall perspective of business management, and will allow you to work while studying. But EMMS allows students to focus on specific marketing and sales topics. “There is no other program and no EMBA that can give you such a broad and deep understanding of this process,” says Alessandro.
He thinks it will give students a career boost: “People already within this career track found it valuable to get the tools and the knowledge to speed up and boost their career within that field.”
Most of the students, then, come from a strong management background. But entrepreneurs flock to the EMMS program, too, who are “looking for a better understanding of how the marketing process” works.
Candidates from both big corporations and SMEs have taken to the EMMS program, which is made up of seven modules. The course covers topics from the marketing fundamentals to the strategic aspects of client relationships and sales innovation.
Most of the program’s candidates have nine years’ experience, says Alessandro. They come from marketing and sales departments. “But also higher levels [of management], with the idea of putting customers at the centre,” he says. Most of them stay in their pre-Master functions, but move up the careers ladder, he adds.
Industry surveys reveal that sales and marketing are the biggest hiring areas for companies this year – 54%, above finance and consulting. However, most executive students are not seeking a career change; rather, they want a promotion.
Luca Porcellati, an EMMS graduate who works in brand management, says the course still enhanced his marketing and sales knowledge. “Without doubt, you will learn new business models that you can apply to your daily work,” he adds.
The benefit to being partnered with ESADE is an increased network. “It doubled the network of our students,” says Alessandro, before adding: “Enlarging the places where the students are going to meet is also improving their real-life and personal experience.”
Vanessa Márquez, an EMMS grad who now works in Spain, says: “Working with different persons with different backgrounds, different experiences and different technical languages makes the program even more attractive.”
For EMMS alumnus Federico Parma, diversity was one of the biggest draws. “Both of them [school cohorts, have] distinct influences. It helped in targeting different aspects of our preparation,” says Federico, who works at Ericsson Telecommunications in Italy.
As one of the brains behind the new course at SDA Bocconi, Alessandro is no stranger to the debate about online MBA education. “Distance learning… is more flexible, but you need to blend and balance and mix this efficiency with the efficacy of face-to-face experiences and interaction, which is still very useful for managers,” he says.
There are important aspects of human face-to-face experiences that cannot be replicated, he adds.
“This is why when designing this program we decide to mix. We don’t want to give up on face-to-face because there is a value in terms of emotional intelligence that cannot be delivered through an optical cable,” he says.
“But at the same time, since these are executives, there is the value of convenience.”