Should CPAs Consider an Executive MBA?

By | 2 years ago

In my last post I answered the question of whether CPAs should get an MBA.  I said that an MBA makes sense for young CPAs who want to make a career change, provided they go to an MBA program ranked in the top 25 globally.
This post focuses on the Executive MBA degree (EMBA).  EMBA programs target students who are currently in management positions.  Top EMBA programs admit students who average 37 years of age with 14 years of experience, where full time MBA programs admit students who average a decade less in age and experience.  I think EMBA programs are an excellent choice for new CPA firm partners.  Yes, new partners.  Making partner is a key step in your career, but your success as a partner will be measured by how good of a rainmaker you will be. An EMBA can help you make it rain.
Unlike top ranked MBA programs, EMBA programs are fairly easy to get into.  Most programs do not ask for GMAT scores and could care less about your undergraduate degree or GPA.  They focus mostly on your current job and your ability to pay the tuition.  Partners in national or local CPA firms should be able to get into their program of choice.
Most universities with MBA programs also have EMBA programs. The degree granted is the same.  The content of the programs is usually similar.  The major difference is how the programs are delivered.  To accommodate the working schedules of students, most EMBA programs operate on weekends or in intensive weeklong sessions that may rotate to different cities around the world.  Most programs are completed within two years.
EMBA programs are not cheap.  Wharton’s EMBA program in San Francisco costs $186,900 for the two-year program, even more expensive than Wharton’s full time MBA.  By contrast, Colorado State’s Denver EMBA costs only $67,200.  Research indicates EMBA students typically increase their earnings enough to pay for the program in 44 months.  Most EMBA programs include tuition, fees, and books and sometimes include housing and international travel in the fee.
You are unlikely to get your employer to pay the freight.  I know some Big 4 partners who got the firms to pay for EMBA programs at top schools like Columbia, but those partners were considered potential candidates for senior partner somewhere down the road.  In addition to the program costs, an EMBA comes with some high personal costs.  You will be spending a lot of time away from family and job.  Of course, if you are a new accounting firm partner, your family is probably used to that.
So why should a new partner consider an EMBA program?  Not for a career change, but to enhance partner skills and for business development.  The most common criticism I hear about accounting firm partners is that they have their eyes firmly locked on the rearview mirror.  Accountants are trained to evaluate events that have already taken place.  EMBA programs help train students how to look forward, a skill that is highly valued in the marketplace.  EMBA programs also hone boardroom skills that often lag technical skills in new partners.
Most importantly, EMBA programs typically operate in cohorts, where a group of 20 – 80 students do the entire program together, often travelling the world together.  This leads to close long-term personal relationships that can easily be converted to business relationships.  Every day in class you have the opportunity to show your classmates (potential clients) how smart you are.  Your accounting knowledge will make you a valued classmate.
My advice to new partners is to match their EMBA program to the types of clients they expect to serve.  If you are going to be focused on clients in the Denver market you should select a program like Colorado State’s Denver EMBA that mostly draws students from that market.  If your market is global, then one of the top tier programs that attract students from around the world may be a better choice.  Top ranked Trium EMBA (a joint program of New York University, The London School of Economics, and HEC Paris Business School) has students from 30 countries.  I don’t consider EMBA rankings as important as MBA rankings mostly because I think the market is more important than the reputation of the school.
I don’t have an EMBA (or MBA) although I teach both MBA and EMBA students. I’ll explain that in a later column. I earned a Masters in Tax before a Big Four career and a PhD after retiring as a Big 4 partner.  In my next post I will look at whether a CPA should consider a PhD.