Being Different: Ashridge’s New MBA

Martin Lockett

Martin Lockett is Global Dean, Academic Affairs for Hult International Business School and Ashridge and Professor of Strategic Management martin.lockett@ashridge.hult.edu

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Martin Lockett looks at the experience of redesigning Ashridge’s MBA programmes.

In a global marketplace with around 150 EQUIS- and EPAS-accredited business schools offering MBAs and thousands of other MBA programmes, differentiation is a challenge.

For Britain’s Ashridge Business School this came into sharp focus when a 2009 internal quality review concluded controversially that its MBA had been innovative and was excellent but was probably notright for the future. The response was a major strategic review leading to new integrated full-time and part-time MBA programmes, which started in September 2012. This article shares our experience in rethinking the Ashridge MBA and the challenges we and others faced in making it happen.

Stakeholders and design principles

A starting point was to involve many stakeholders in the design. Internally, this deliberately involved existing MBA faculty, others interested in working on the MBA and a few sceptical of the value of the MBA degree. Combined with alumni and others in corporate roles, participative working sessions evolved the principles of a new MBA.

Balancing “knowing”, “doing” and “being” was one of these principles rather than focusing on knowledge [Datar, Garvin & Cullen Rethinking the MBA, HBS Press, 2010]. This meant building on the strengths of existing programmes and Ashridge’s 50-plus years of executive development experience – then going further.

We also benchmarked ourselves against a wide range of other business schools. What had differentiated our 2005 MBA design was no longer so distinctive. At least in their publicity, by 2010 other business schools were making similar claims about such themes as relevance and leadership. The design sessions were clear that we wanted to be different and needed to move quickly to do this.

A branding study reinforced the “be different” theme, which then became a design principle. This was part of attention to detail throughout the design process. For example, benchmarking showed that blue was the dominant colour of MBA brochures, so our old shade of blue went out in favour of aubergine and lime.

The review recognised successes elsewhere in Ashridge that could be used on the new MBA. Our virtual Masters in Management, for example, had developed an online “Learning Zone” that won plaudits from EQUIS and QAA peer review teams as well as the highest student feedback of any programme. Faculty were starting to internalise that virtual did not mean second best – so integrating an online Learning Zone with face-to-face learning became another core principle.

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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