What Top Programs Deliver

In these days of renewed cost-consciousness, companies are careful about spending on executive education programs, which are often perceived as having a high fat-to-muscle ratio. Compared with specific technical training, "leadership development" can seem downright flabby. To find out what's beneath the surface of executive education, we dissected six programs that our survey respondents cited as most valuable.

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford University

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Program: Strategic Uses of Information Technology (SUIT)

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Duration: One week

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Cost: $7,100

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Take-away: Attendees learn new business models to apply to their own companies.

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Web: www.gsb.stanford.edu/exed/

Stanford's executive education offerings range from a six-week course in general management, known as the Stanford Executive Program, to intense one- and two-week programs in financial management, marketing and leadership. One offering that's popular with CIOs is SUIT. Working in groups of their peers, IT executives focus on applying business models to their own situations back at the office. Much of the benefit of the SUIT experience comes from high-level IT professionals working collectively to solve real-life problems.

"Stanford is very selective: This year SUIT admitted about 40% of those who applied," says Haim Mendelson, co-director of the program. "We want to be sure that the SUIT participants are at the right level in their jobs so they can apply what they learn when they return, and also so they can add value to the other students. So much of the learning takes place in the study groups. Plus we hope that SUIT participants will stay connected to maximize the value of the network they establish here."

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Attendee view: That's exactly what Emma Espino,CIO at Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua SA in Chihuahua, Mexico, did. Espino used her time in the lectures and study group sessions to ask her colleagues questions about actual situations she was experiencing on the job.

"It was a real benefit to collaborate with a group of other CIOs to think about ways to solve specific problems," says Espino. "My company is going through a re-engineering project, integrating innovation with IT. The SUIT program gave me the opportunity to align IT and IT projects with my company's value proposition and strategic direction."

Darden Graduate School of Business Administration

University of Virginia, Charlottesville

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Program: The Executive Program (TEP)

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Duration: Four weeks

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Cost: $25,000

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Take-away: Attendees learn how to integrate business acumen with interpersonal skills to gain a holistic view of work and life.

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Web: http://exed.darden.virginia.edu

Consistently ranked among the top executive education programs in the world, Darden is unusual in its holistic approach to training future leaders. TEP includes the standard features of an intense executive education program, plus a rigorous academic curriculum in general management. A hands-on, computer-automated business simulation allows participants to work in small groups to manage a hypothetical company.

What makes Darden's TEP distinct, however, is the regimen of physical exercise and consultation with a trainer and dietician—all aimed at getting the future executive to focus on the value of personal health.

"Executives return to their companies and model healthy behavior for their colleagues. Our program may even save some lives along the way," says Brandt Allen, Darden's dean of executive education.

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Attendee view: Ed Carson returned from TEP in June this year 17 pounds lighter and charged up by the experience. The business manager at Boeing Commercial Space Co. in Kent, Wash., works on Resource21, a global information system satellite used by industry and the government for data and intelligence gathering.

"What I learned at Darden had direct application to my job," Carson says. "When I selected Darden, I wanted a qualitative approach to refresh my skills, as well as the opportunity to gain acumen for leading an innovative, global enterprise. I was not disappointed."

The Wharton School

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

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Program: Executive Development Program (EDP)

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Duration: Two weeks

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Cost: $18,500

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Take-away: Attendees learn high-impact leadership and business skills.

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Web: http://aresty-direct.wharton.upenn.edu/execed/course.cfm?Program=EDP

Wharton's business school offers options for advanced learning, including an array of MBA programs and executive education courses. The two-week EDP gives executives moving to a new level of responsibility broad exposure to business functions and general management.

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Attendee view: When Jim Knight attended EDP this past spring, he was the lone IT executive in a class of about 40. The senior vice president and divisional CIO for the claims department at Chubb & Sons Insurance Co. in Warren, N.J., supervises 145 employees and oversees multimillion-dollar enterprisewide IT projects.

"Wharton helped me become a better negotiator and is helping me translate the benefits of IT into business values that align with the strategic direction of my organization," Knight says. "I'm also working more productively with my people—encouraging greater accountability and drawing out their strengths, rather than marginalizing them by concentrating on areas of weakness."

George Washington University

Washington

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Program: Executive Master of Science in Information Systems (EMIS)

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Duration: 15 months

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Cost: Approximately $30,000

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Take-away: Attendees earn a specialized graduate degree.

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Web: www.msist.gwu.edu/program/emis

Known for its diverse offerings, George Washington University is popular with the military and with high-tech organizations. The university offers a Contemporary Executive Development program that places a special emphasis on public policy. The EMIS is geared toward IT executives making technology decisions that will have a strategic impact on their organizations.

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Attendee view: That's what drew Louis McDonald to the program. The industry director for IT and telecommunications at Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, already has a master's degree in computer science, which he earned in 1984.

"I needed to update my skill set and learn more about bringing technology and business together," says McDonald.

He began the EMIS program in 1999 and completed it the following year. He and 20 classmates met once a week on alternating Fridays and Saturdays. Because he changed jobs in the middle of his studies, McDonald ended up paying most of the tab himself, but he says what he gained from the experience was worth the investment. In his job, he helps universities match their technology innovations to potential commercial applications.

John H. Carson, director of the EMIS program, says McDonald's profile is typical. "Most EMIS students pay their own way," says Carson. "They use what they learn in class every day on the job. Many of them tell us they are queued up for a promotion managing a large technology group for their organizations. They come [here] to get the degree that will qualify them to accept the new position."

Ouellette & Associates Inc.

Bedford, N.H.

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Program: Various IT workshops

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Duration: Two days

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Cost: Approximately $1,000

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Take-away: Attendees learn new strategies for specific IT issues within their companies.

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Web: www.ouellette-online.com

Not all executive education has to be costly or directed only to the highest-level individuals. Ouellette & Associates offers lower-cost, IT-centric training and development workshops that help IT leaders embed leadership qualities within their organizations. This way, CIOs can spend training dollars to influence the entire IT environment rather than invest in a few handpicked fast-trackers.

The company specializes in the human side of technology, teaching IT people how to improve service and consult with internal business partners. One of its most popular offerings clues IT professionals in to the politics of project management.

"IT executives are so busy, it is often hard for them to take advantage of the business school programs," says Dan Roberts, president of Ouellette & Associates. "We offer workshops with a short duration that have a high impact and are manageable to fit into tight schedules."

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Attendee view: Deane Morrison, CIO at Capital Region Healthcare in Concord, N.H., relies on Ouellette & Associates to help him establish and maintain an organizational culture among his IT staff in several locations throughout the state that's focused on delivering customer service. He customizes the workshops for a mixed audience - IT professionals and their internal clients. "In this way, we achieve a neutral, objective atmosphere for a productive dialogue that helps us solve service issues and create understanding about technology among our clients," he says.

Executive KnowledgeWorks

Crystal Lake, Ill.

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Program: Customized executive education

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Duration: Varies

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Cost: $75,000 and up

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Take-away: Attendees learn to brainstorm solutions to specific company problems.

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Web: www.ekw-hrd.com

For companies that want to assemble a team of executives to hammer out specific problems within their organizations, Executive KnowledgeWorks (EKW) provides a framework for deluxe, customized programs to help them.

"Our clients don't want generic programs on leadership, strategy and marketing. They want a process that enables them to reach their own goals," says Anthony Fresina, president of EKW.

EKW arranges unique accommodations for the executive teams, culls faculty members from the world's finest business schools and has facilitators to pull it all together. In some of EKW's programs, attendees have done their brainstorming and set strategic direction at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Robert Redford's Sundance Studio and the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa.

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Attendee view: "To this day, there are executives at the Lincoln Financial Group who say that the Gettysburg experience was the best event they ever attended," says Barbara Taylor, former director of executive education for the Philadelphia-based financial services firm and now president of Taylor Executive Consultants. "This was the meeting that clarified Lincoln's vision for the future."

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