From the edge of the earth

When travelling up and down the globe it can be hard to find time to develop business skills. Auburn University's MBA can enhance your professional life from virtually anywhere

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Auburn University Marketing Professor, Danny Butler, is one of many professors who give lectures filmed in an on-campus television studio which are then broadcast via the internet to students

Alain Gruber is employed by a luxury ship that sails around the world. Barbara Kneiss once commanded a large sales team that covered five states – travelling three to four days per week. No matter where business sends them, be it the South China Sea or the heartland of the US, Auburn’s remote Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) classroom follows.

The programme can be defined by three words: convenience, quality and relationships. In terms of convenience Auburn’s EMBA programme allows students to study from its remote classroom anywhere, at any time. “When I travel all over the world and see all of the beautiful places, I’m not really on vacation. I’m working, and I also find time to study,” said Gruber, Senior Vice President for The World Residences at Sea, the largest privately owned residential yacht on earth, who expects to complete Auburn’s EMBA programme this May.

It accommodates the travelling professional, wherever they might be, whatever time zone they might be in

The all-encompassing quality of the programme attracts world-class executives from a variety of industries, large and small, and is recognised as a leader in the field. “It’s really allowed me to just step back and understand more of the organisation from a global perspective,” said Kneiss, who was recently promoted to Director of Sales Force Effectiveness for Mead Johnson Nutrition in Indiana. “It’s made me a better business leader because now I have a broader perspective of the organisation than I would have before entering the programme.”

Forging relationships
Via the internet Auburn EMBA students study closely together in groups, share ideas, and become colleagues in the remote classroom regardless of their geographic setting.

“I was so fortunate that the partners I was paired up with were extremely understanding,” said Gruber, who refers to his company’s ship as “a floating country club” and which carries him across a variety of time zones. “There were times where I was in Australia and it had to be like two o’clock in the morning and one of my colleagues was in Seattle, and the other one was in Atlanta, and all of us connected. They understood that I had such a tight schedule that they would get up early. I was really blessed with having a very understanding group of partners that I was paired up with.”

Kneiss agreed: “There is that immediate engagement with the class. You really get to know everyone quickly. We’re not just connected professionally, but also personally and I enjoy that aspect.”

The success of the scheme has seen Auburn University’s College of Business EMBA programme chosen by European CEO as the ‘Best Remote Learning Programme in North America’ for 2012.

The programme’s roster continues to grow into 2013, with 60 new students admitted last autumn. The programme is comprised of executives with a minimum of eight years professional experience from a variety of industries, large and small. Students come from a range of corporations to study Auburn’s EMBA including Dell, Ernst and Young, FedEx, Exel, and Anheuser-Busch, while a further five members of the class of 2013 are from the military.

Diverse disciplines
“We have a variety of people with a variety of disciplines who all can learn, not only from the professors, but from each other,” said Daniel Gropper, Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programmes. “[The programme] is blended learning. A mix of on-campus residencies and then distance technology.

“We set out to design the programme in a very innovative fashion where we mix one week-long residencies basically at the start of the programme in August. Then they go home, to wherever home is, and they communicate with each other just as working professionals do everywhere – by email, telephone, Skype conference calls, and our online classroom site. They would log into the classroom site, and the professor would have posted questions and perhaps discussions will take place about the readings from their home in Indiana, on a boat off the coast of Finland, in South Florida or wherever they might be. They only have to be on campus for that week and then they are free to go back to wherever work and family sends them. For travelling professionals, this is ideal.”

Gropper noted that each student receives his or her iPad for use in the programme. “The regular Auburn faculty are being recorded in the TV studio and students watch those on the iPad, contribute to the discussions, and if you’re a travelling professional, you can literally do this wherever you have internet access around the world,” he said.

Roughly 30 Auburn professors are involved in the programme. “These are faculty who are experts in all areas and well-published,” Gropper said. “The faculty were picked particularly for their expertise in dealing with a senior-level audience.

“Students are logging into the remote classroom site, wherever they are. You mix that convenience for the travelling manager wherever the company manager is sending them, whether managing projects in Bolivia or South Florida. We have students who are travelling the world on business and they tell me that they can log in from their hotel in Hong Kong and participate, or from their room in London or Brussels and make contributions to the class website.

It accommodates the travelling professional, wherever they might be, whatever time zone they might be in. That’s why this programme works well for them.”

Flexible networking
“Among the high-quality programmes, ours is reasonably priced,” Gropper said. The course costs less than $60,000 for the 21-month programme. Students can pursue a generalised EMBA, sub-specialties in healthcare management and in quality management where a six sigma greenbelt can be earned.

Kneiss, who received her undergraduate at Georgia Southern in Hotel, Travel and Tourism, praised the programme’s mix of distance learning and on-campus residencies.

“It allows the opportunity for networking and getting to know your classmates, as well as the flexibility to complete the programme at your leisure throughout each semester,” she said. “I would recommend Auburn because of its flexibility and the fact that it is a highly rated and reputable institution.”

The programme not only broadens horizons, but offers solutions its students can apply in today’s business world. “On the financial side, it was a benefit to me personally to look at the way that we have financially structured the company and how we fund the business and potentially use different methods of funding,” said Gruber. “I was able to sit in discussions and actually become more active and talk about different options than I would normally. A key aspect I have learnt and been able to apply is supply chain management. For a ship like us that travels the world and never repeats its itinerary, you really have to recreate the supply chain every week wherever we go in the world.”

World-class development
Kneiss said the programme has allowed her to think globally. “Prior to coming into the programme I would say that my focus for career aspirations were strictly in the US,” she said. “And now, having a broader understanding of global business and the fact that we are a global company, it has broadened my sights to possible global assignments.”

Rabun Lewis is a Key Account Manager at a leading global producer of industrial minerals, OMYA in Atlanta. He received his undergraduate degree in marketing from Auburn in 2005 and has been in the EMBA programme for less than a year. It’s already made an impact. “Auburn University has developed a world-class EMBA programme that fosters the development of business skills and knowledge, a strong business network, and personal growth,” he said.

“In what should probably be the benchmark for any EMBA programme, I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned in the classroom and apply it immediately at work. I recommend the Auburn University EMBA programme to anyone seeking to enhance their professional development and to become prepared to take on different challenges in their career.”