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The Global Executive MBA Turns 20

October 14, 2019

The evolution of MBA education

An Austrian-American success story celebrates a special anniversary: Almost 20 years ago, the WU Executive Academy and its partner institution, the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, ushered in a new era in executive education in Austria. When the Global Executive MBA first started on March 27, 2000, it was one of Austria's first Executive MBA programs, and MBA graduates were rare, both nationally and internationally. Nowadays, almost 20 years later, the Global Executive MBA is triple-accredited (AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS) and ranks among the world's top 50 EMBA programs. In the past 20 years, virtually no stone has been left unturned. Read on to learn more about how this double-degree program came into being and what it has to offer its students today.

Pic with MBA students
The WU Executive Academy's Global Executive MBA celebrates its 20th anniversary.

A lot has happened in the past two decades: The world has overcome the dot-com crisis; an economic crisis has been triggered; the human genome has been deciphered; a probe has landed on Mars; Austria qualified for UEFA Euro 2016, and an African-American lawyer and a pugnacious hotel magnate were elected President of the USA.

The Beginnings - How It All Started

As a professor of international management, Bodo Schlegelmilch had taught at Arizona State University's Thunderbird School of Global Management. In 1997, he came to WU Vienna to set up the Institute for International Marketing Management. He was astonished to see that WU Vienna did not offer any MBA programs and approached the university's then rector, Heinrich Otruba, about it. “He told me: ‘Why don't you create an MBA program?’,” recalls Schlegelmilch, who served as the WU Executive Academy's dean until 2015.

In 1999, he thus brought Austria's first university-based executive MBA program into being - after all, he knew a lot about MBA courses following his teaching assignments at the University of Berkeley and Arizona State University. “At the time, prospective students from Austria found it strange that the MBA required them to pay a fee to attend - as opposed to regular courses of study, which were offered free of charge,” recounts Schlegelmilch.

That said, the thirteen students of the first class were offered a lot by the standards of the time: International study trips took them to Russia, the USA and Poland. Moreover, they benefited from the fact that thanks to the partnership with the Carlson School of Management in Minnesota, program graduates have always earned two MBA degrees, one in Austria and one in the USA.

Faxes, Not Mouse Clicks

Regine Eitelbös has been a member of the Global Executive MBA team since the word go. As a community engagement manager, she is nowadays responsible for interacting with the students and alumni of the WU Executive Academy. Regine still remembers how she sent the lists of applicants to the partner university in Minnesota: “We had to fax the lists and were required to contact somebody by telephone two hours in advance who would then wait in front of the fax machine until the lists had finally been transmitted - and the huge time difference did not make things easier,” she says. Today, applications can be sent at the click of a mouse and will become available in the system of the US partner university seconds later.

Portrait Barbara Stöttinger

Prof. Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

We have never tolerated compromise with regard to one thing: quality. This applies to lecturers and students as much as it applies in terms of program content.

From a Seminar Room in a Hotel to One of Europe's Most Modern Learning Environments

The equipment at the time was also hugely different from the modern lecture halls at the WU Executive Academy that boast interactive smartboards and 360° cameras. Classes took place in seminar rooms, first at the Mercure hotel and then at the Hilton hotel. The beech tables were arranged in a U-shape, and there was a jumble of cables on the floor. An overhead projector was used to project transparencies onto the wall. As the years went by, the Global Executive MBA relocated to the elegant Palais Liechtenstein and the Museum of Young Art (MOYA), respectively. Since fall 2013, program participants have been pursuing their MBA studies at a dedicated executive-education building on the new Campus WU, namely the black cube designed by Spanish star architect NO.MAD, where high tech meets futuristic architecture: Students can look forward to a restaurant-cum-café on the first floor, a sky lounge, cathedral-like lecture halls that are equipped with interactive whiteboards and flooded with light as well as state-of-the-art self-study facilities.

Pics of the MBA classes back then and today
The seminar rooms have also changed a lot in 20 years: on the left still in hotels, on the right in the WU Executive Academy building on the WU campus.

Virtual, Global and Diverse

International study trips have always been an integral part of the Global Executive MBA - only their destinations have changed in the course of time. The students of the first class traveled to Bucharest, St. Petersburg and Warsaw. Today, the program and its international residencies span four continents: The regular modules are delivered in Vienna; the study trips take participants to China and India, South America and the USA.

Pic of one of the MBA residencies
International study trips were part of the Global Executive MBA right from the start. However, the destinations have changed.

In 2006, digitization really made its way into the then classrooms at MOYA in the heart of Vienna: Students gained access to what was at the time one of Europe's largest e-learning platforms: Learn@WU with more than 100,000 pieces of digital content. In class, they used interactive clickers to answer questions by the lecturers in a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”-like manner. In 2011, WU Vienna set up a dedicated telepresence room for participants, making it possible for them to hold video conferences with fellow students from China and the USA in the context of working on a variety of projects. In 2012, students were equipped with tablet computers thanks to a cooperation with Samsung.

Pic of the telepresence room for MBA students
With access to the Learn@WU learning platform and the establishment of a telepresence room for students, digitization made its way into the Global Executive MBA.

Virtual learning has become another integral part of the Global Executive MBA. That said, face-to-face learning continues to be essential. The concluding highlight of the program is the so-called Global Team Project, during which students from three leading universities from Europe, Asia and the USA, respectively, tackle complex business challenges together in 21 teams. What makes the global teams special is the fact that their members join forces with one another across three continents and time zones. The members of a team will not meet in person until their project is complete and they present the results to a jury at the Carlson School of Management. Thanks to the unique cooperation with the Carlson School of Management, Global Executive MBA participants are awarded two MBA degrees, an American one and a European one, upon completion of their studies. Moreover, they get access to one of Europe’s largest network of managers, which connects some 4,500 MBA graduates, and join one of America's leading alumni associations.

“Sustainable success depends on the right mix, and this is especially true with regard to MBA programs - the overall package must be compelling,” says Barbara Stöttinger, “… and the Global Executive MBA definitely has a lot to offer!”

Everything for a Successful Career: Excellent Connections and a Strong Community

In 2008, the WU Executive Academy founded the WU Executive Club, laying the foundations for a comprehensive portfolio of alumni services and career events. Today, there is a personalized career accelerator program: From day one far beyond graduation, students are provided with career support - through coachings, lifelong-learning formats and networking events. WU EA Connect, a social-media network launched in 2017, also connects MBA program participants across the world's time zones and oceans, throughout their training as well as afterwards.

The WU Executive Academy's Global Executive MBA has changed a lot over the years. And it will continue to evolve in the future. According to Regine Eitelbös, only one thing will never change: “The heated culinary discussions among students,” she laughs.

For more information about the Global Executive MBA, which has been educating top executives for 20 years, please click here.

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