IF YOU have been wandering without a compass for the last five or six years, there is hope yet. And it comes packaged as a four-letter word — “EMBA”, otherwise known as the executive Master of Business Administration.

No doubt there are many schools of thought on the merits of an MBA, let alone an EMBA, but having personally benefited from the latter as an employee and employer, I feel it is worth every penny.

Lose the stereotypes

Some will beg to differ, citing among other reasons, the irrelevancy of theorems taught by professors who lack real-world experience. To them, the value of the degree is overrated and that wrong values are taught where the ultimate goal is getting a fat paycheck.

While contentious, such points are somewhat justified thanks to certain leaders from top MBA schools who demonstrated unrestrained greed, corrupted dreams, shattered global markets and helped unleash a global catastrophe — the recent economic crisis.

But by the same token, there are many people who are not motivated by quick riches, but instead hold fast to ethics and business integrity.

Milk the real ROI

American publishing and media company Forbes recently did a study of what are common attributes among the über-wealthy. It turns out that nearly 90 per cent of billionaires who derived fortunes from finance obtained their MBAs from one of three Ivy League schools: Harvard, Columbia or the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

That’s obviously not the fate of every MBA graduate, but there’s no denying the financially rewarding prospect of an MBA education. A 2008 general survey of EMBA alumni by Georgia Tech College of Management showed that around 75 per cent of their students either landed a new job or promotion as well as attained significant salary increases not long after graduating from the programme.

But, a good education helps you see beyond the bottom-line. And the real return on investment (ROI) from an EMBA is actually better thinking. You will learn to think through complex problems in a more disciplined and confident way. These skills, combined with an outstanding education and the respect of your peers, will prove to be invaluable throughout your career.

Walk the talk

This means applying classroom thinking in everyday work situations. According to Professor Philip Perry, a programme director for SIM-University at Buffalo’s EMBA programme: “An employee with an EMBA…is now able to design and implement strategic plans more efficiently because the employee now has a broader understanding of the organisation as a whole, and this helps add value to the employer.”

Value-adding in this manner did not occur to me when I was a sales director. But when I became managing director of my company, I became the “chief fireman” as I was called into action whenever there was an emergency to attend to.

In addition to sales and marketing, I was also responsible for engineering, operations, finance and human resource. Before long I realised I would need to acquire new skills to manage areas new to me to enhance my performance and to be an effective leader.

The modules I enrolled in for my EMBA education greatly helped in my day-to-day “fire fighting” as there were many case studies in the classroom that acted as a guide in tackling poor performance and conflict issues at work. As a result, my eyes were opened to a whole new view of leadership.

Invest in talent

An education investment is something to consider not only for yourself but also for your employees. Talent retention is the biggest challenge in Singapore, especially in good years. The pressure has eased due to the recent recession but it will be back once the economy recovers. So, it is imperative to develop active development plans in which further education plays an integral role in employee retention.

Employees who sense that their companies value them enough to invest in their further education — despite the risk that they may leave when they become more employable — tend to be loyal and psychologically committed to the organisation.

MBA or EMBA?

The difference between the two will tell you which way to go.

According to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, academically, the EMBA and full-time MBA programmes are the same. However, the delivery of the curriculum, the experience profile, near-term career aspirations of students and the nature of the student experience are substantially different.

Professor Perry puts it like this. The MBA degree programme is typically designed for someone with minimal experience. It offers people the choice to start a career, switch careers or even specialise in a particular area like finance, marketing, accounting and human resources.

The EMBA degree programme, however, is designed to help mid-career professionals with considerable work experience — between 10 to 15 years — to have a better understanding and a broader focus of how the entire organisation works. These individuals have moved up in their career and bring a significant amount of work experience to the classroom.

So, if you are at the crossroads of your business journey, maybe it’s time you took a walk on the EMBA side. If you maximise your experience, you won’t be distracted by the dollar signs along the way and lose sight of the real success awaiting you at the end of the road.