Dr Steven Burton
In the recent past, the executive education landscape has witnessed a transformation in a fast-changing business environment. Businesses are increasingly becoming cautious and, at the same time, more committed to their learning investments. Dr Steven Burton, who heads the Centre for Executive Education (CEE) at ISB spoke to ISBInsight about the significance of executive education today and how it is changing.
Summary Keywords: programmes, organisations, executive, education, leadership, learning, individuals, faculty, components, MBA, management, business, measure, market, rescaling, classroom, schools
Welcome to the ISB insight podcast. Today we are talking to Dr. Steven Burton, who is the Executive Director for the Centre for executive education at the Indian School of Business. Dr. Byrd brings extensive graduate management education leadership experience to his position. He has previously served as the global Managing Director of executive degrees at NC ad, and as assistant dean for postgraduate programmes with the Lee County and School of Business at SMU. He was also the Associate Dean for MBA programmes at the karate school for business and leadership in Pakistan, and director for the MBA programmes at the University of Texas. Throughout his time in education, he has worked closely with professionals across the range from corporate executives to postgraduate students in the areas of leadership and professional development. He has worked throughout the world in the US, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Dr Burton was a co-founder of the MBA CSW p former board of director member MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance and conference advisory board member for the jmac. Prior to his career in the education sector. He spent 20 years in the corporate world in a variety of roles, including engineer, sales manager and executive recruiter.
Dr. Burton, thank you for taking the time today to join us.
Absolutely. Great to be here. Thanks for arranging this.
Could you tell us why has executive education gained so much significant than it has over the past few years,
I have been around graduate management education for 15 years and have been on and off involved with executive education. And over the past year, I've been more close to it. But it's fascinating to watch the evolution that's occurring in education in general and how that's impacting executive education. The degree programmes will continue but you hear a lot today about upskilling and rescaling and those terms typically aren't associated with traditional degree programme education's and so you begin to get more into life long learning Lifetime Learning concepts. Executive Education has been the concept of lifelong Lifetime Learning. And as business as the need for rescaling and upskilling as the need for continued development increases, executive education or corporate education is playing a larger role in that. And so I think you're seeing more focus in that as an alternative, maybe not as an alternative as an option, or as a necessary component to an individual's education portfolio as they move through their career. So it keeps them fresh, it keeps them current, and, and it it keeps them attractive to employers. One of the things that I hear largely from a lot of the corporates is is the willingness and the ability to learn the intellectual curiosity is an in demand skill. And that doesn't stop when you get a degree, you know, a bachelor's degree or an MBA degree. Or in the other advanced degree, the necessity to to continue learning is something that organisations are desirous of. And so executive education plays a large role in that area.
And how does executive education differ from the mainstream MBA programmes?
Sure. There's this conversation that is happening. And then you read quite a bit about it are, you know, if I think about business school, specifically, because my experience has been largely in graduate management education, but it can apply more broadly? You know, is the MBA our graduate or our degrees is are those programmes dying? Or are they becoming less valuable, and I fully disagree with that, I think that there will always be, there will be a market for that in the foreseeable future. But it doesn't stop there. And that's where executive education and lifelong learning concept come in. I think there's a large transformation that occurs in a cohort based on a structured degree programme offering. But again, the world is changing the needs of organisations are changing. As an individual grows in their career, the gaps in their knowledge set and the gaps in their capabilities are becoming more evident. And this is where you get plug and play, executive education, corporate education coming in. I think you will see that continuing to grow, but that differentiates it from the NBA, or even an NBA type degree.
Over the last few years, schools have started realising that executive education does contribute to a big portion of their revenue. has that impacted how schools function business schools from your experience?
Yeah, it's a really interesting question and and perhaps to some degree You know, you do also read a lot about the business models of universities and schools coming under fire. But in many schools, the executive in many business schools, again, executive education is is still a smaller part or even a much smaller part than the MBA degree or the degree programme side. So it's a vital component, but schools are looking to it as a potential source of revenue as either their MBA programme may diminish, or as they see, other funding sources may be dry up, you know, but beyond that, through executive education value is being created. And so I'm very much a supporter of where we're creating value, that value should be captured. So it's not necessarily a bad thing to take advantage of that. So yeah, it is playing a part. But beyond the revenue side, there's also a valuable component that the executive education plays for the school, it does a fantastic job of getting the research faculty, helping develop them as as classroom teachers. Teaching an MBA programme or an undergraduate programme is is one skill set teaching and executive education course, where you have probably a more practice based audience, an audience that is more experienced and more tempting to want the challenge is a fantastic way to develop faculty. And so executive education also plays a part in developing faculty. Beyond that, getting the faculty close to the corporates. So executive education, you get guys that are practising on a day to day basis, and the questions they ask and the problems they pose in the classroom, and trigger thoughts and trigger new ideas by the faculty. So it is a way to bring the corporate practice side to the faculty research side, to create new ideas to create new learnings to possibly create new collaborations and partnerships. So beyond the revenue generation model, which is a part of it, there's a number of other benefits that an executive education programme offers to its School,
which are the programmes that have gained more importance, what are the themes that you've seen come up more prominently, as I
have conversations with my colleagues worldwide and watch this, there are some fundamental things that executive education offers, I think, for corporates and, and I hear this from a number of people but whereas MBA degrees, graduate management degrees, kind of teach you some of the basic functional fundamentals and introduction to management. But beyond that, kind of the general management, so across functions, or cross functional leadership, that general management skill set, and then even beyond that, this mysterious concept of leadership, those are the things that I see playing a key role in many executive education, portfolios in any school. And the same is true for ISB. Our stepping into leadership, our transformational leadership, our custom, bespoke programmes for organisations, one of the key things that we hear from from many of our organisations have a leadership foundational component. And so what you see is, as individuals grow in their career, leadership becomes a key skill. And, and it's, you know, you'll hear so many different avenues about this, but leadership may not be taught, but it certainly is developed, it can be learned, and it can be developed and integrating that into a structure programmes, what executive education done. And so if that's one of the reasons that it's one of the more, the more common components. Beyond that, you get topical subjects, you know, if I think about what's going on, now, you think about AI and data analytics and technology components and digital transformation. Those seem to be the things that are very popular now. That will mature at some point, and you will have new, I call them buzzwords, but new concepts in business that business schools and faculty research will begin working on and then that will migrate over into the executive education side.
is executive education only confined to the top management or to employees at the lower level also see value in it.
Sure. Good question. And, you know, we see it across the whole range. We will do executive education programmes from individuals that are early in their career, sometimes as early as five to seven years of experience and have the sweet spot for ISB tends to be The seven to 15 year range. And kind of where a lot of schools target because it helps from from a brand building point of view as well as a knowledge transfer point of view. And deepening the relationship is at the senior level. So C level c minus one may be c minus two, depending on the size of the organisation. But what organisations are doing and maybe more of some, some of the the more functional areas, they are going further down within their group to take the younger guys and run them through executive education courses. You know, they don't want to lose them for for a year or two years to go through a degree programme. So if we can go in and go and run them through an analytics course or a negotiations course, or even begin to talk about management courses, different organisations have different levels of sophistication and identifying talent and identifying training needs. Some of them will identify talent earlier and put them into management programmes, and then general management programmes and then leadership programmes. And to complement that they'll put them into some very functional skillsets training. other organisations may look at it as as maybe slightly more transactional to where they look at functional skill sets, I've got a group and I want to train them on, on advanced sales skills, or negotiations as part of their sales training, or I need digital marketing capabilities. And so they will take professionals earlier in their organisation, and go for some of those functional skill sets. So we do see it across the board, we tend to want to move up the value chain. Again, back to what I was saying earlier, where leadership and general management are one of the traditional and more common, and so we want to move up the chain and really focus on that because a lot of our faculty have that capacity. And it's one of the things that we want to be be known for in the market, too.
How can organisations better track what impact it has on them when they train their executives?
And this is one of the most common questions or common things we get when we're talking to our clients. You know, I've read a number of things. And and I think, you know, one of the latest sources I read said, you know, and I think globally, executive education is the three plus billion dollar industry. And maybe that's US based I forget the exact, but it says it's one of the only spins that corporate do that to a large degree over 50%. And maybe sometimes as high as 90%. They don't have the ability to understand if they're getting a return on that, or even worse, they're dissatisfied with the return on that. So there's a driving need to, to measure the output. But how do you measure learning, you know, you can do it through assessments, but from leadership and management, there really aren't assessments that work that have that that immediate feedback. So what organisations are beginning to do is to have very strategic HR policies that identify talent early on, invest in training, and then watch those individuals develop. And that longitudinal study can take a year, two years, five years, but then that gets fed back to to, to back to how they adjust. Now that feedback cycle is incredibly long, and it's difficult to make adjustments. So there's other measures they'll look at. And so they will look at performance reviews, they'll look at retention, they will look at collaboration, they will, you know, do 360s and there's a number of techniques. And there are specific consulting firms and services that are available to measure the ROI on executive education. Some people embrace them wildly, some people are more sceptical of that. But, and in some of the startup ecosystem and tech ecosystem, that measurement of learning is, is the driving force behind some of the designs. But even beyond learning, learning is used for performance. And so can you tie that to business results. Back to sa where, you know, there's a multi billion dollar spend. And there's this uncertainty. There's also studies in data that show that organisations that invest in leadership training, Executive Education outperform those that do not invest or that invest, you know, at a lower level. So at a macro level, it's a good thing. It does show results in it coming down to you know, from the 40,000 foot to the 10,000 to the 5000 to the 500 foot level. That's where it becomes difficult to measure and the changes that are Her are more long term. And so you can't say, you know, at point A, when they came into the class versus point B, two weeks later when they left the class, there's a difference. But how do I measure that? And that, that has not been mastered that I that I'm fully aware of yet?
What are the differences that you have encountered an executive education landscape across different markets, say the Asian market, India, and then please read the more developed ones to the west. I've
been in India now for almost a year. And so this is really my first time here, I spent about six years in, in Singapore and at the time I was in Singapore, I had been benefit to get to travel throughout Southeast Asia, spend some time in the US and and a little bit in Europe with with an organisation. And so I've seen a variety of perspectives. And I think there's definitely cultural components. But there's also and we'll talk, I'll talk more about the cultural components. But beyond the cultural components, one of the biggest differences I see is the needs of the organisation based on the markets that they operate in India, and lots of Southeast Asia, our growth market, some people call them emerging markets, their growth markets, and the needs and the demands of a growth market is much different than that of a stable market. And so the training in the US will be more on a stable market and more and tailoring to a well developed professional. Whereas in a growth market, you find, you know, a more dynamic competitive environment, you find faster pace of change, you find greater uncertainty. And so it's one of the things that we see and I think is propagating off into into develop markets also now, but is a greater need for, you know, a lot of people are leaving in digital transformation, but we just called it transformational leadership, and are leading in a disruptive are leading in a complex, fast changing environment. And so I think you see that in India, I definitely see that in Southeast Asia, Singapore is less so us is less so for that the sophistication of the participant doesn't really change. And we know it's one of the things I've been wildly impressed by, in my year here and talking and watching and engaging with the participants in our programme. In these guys, these individuals have a level of sophistication, not just from a business perspective, but in dealing with the complexity and the uncertainty that's associated with it, you know, you put this in the lap of somebody who is in a stable environment like the US or maybe Europe, and then I anticipate that they would have great anxiety and not be able to perform, whereas its day to day business here. So I see that, that the questions that we get the way that the the the classes are run, tend to be focused more on growth. What I also see is, if I'm looking at growth, and I do see more growth here, whereas I see more expansion kind of market expansion in the US, but from a growth point of view, India organisations in a bit, see this in organisations in Southeast Asia also are looking to expand beyond their borders. Okay, how do I, how do I take my model, and I've got a lot of family businesses, and I've got a lot of very strong Indian businesses, but the brands aren't known outside of India. And so how do I take that outside. And so the topics will be a bit different, the topics will vary than what you would see, you know, in the US and other some of the foundational and fundamental components, you know, leadership and management are the same regardless of where you're at in the world. And so, you know, that it's different here is true, but foundationally, and I don't have a measure of that, that's 5% or 50%, foundationally. There's, there's similar components. One of the things that we do here more here is if you look at today's graduate management or management education as as much of it as case based teaching. And those cases that are used to teach historically have been based on large multinational us organisations, and you're getting much more variety now. But what we hear from our clients and our participants in the programme is the, again going back to the growth market, the desire to see maybe not so much what GE or IBM was doing 50 years ago, but what are yo are, you know, reliance, how they entered a new market. So they're wanting to see geographically specific cases that they can relate to with names they can relate to that are in market. gets that, that they've been experiencing. And so those are some of the differences that that that we experience.
India is considered a very price sensitive market, as far as tuition and fees are concerned, do you also get a lot of feedback on the fees? Because executive education tends to be on the higher end? Yeah.
Yeah, I expected more of that than I see when I get here. And so I don't want to, you know, say that we don't see price pressure, we definitely do. But what I have noticed in the time that I've been here is, is that mature organisations or even organisations that have advanced HR policies, recognise the value that it contributes, again to talking about the return is there as it shown, and they're willing to invest. And, and, you know, many of them for their more senior professionals, they will send them to the US or Europe, and so they will invest at the, you know, at the developed world, and at the more expensive price points. So they recognise the value that it creates, and they're willing to invest. Saying that, you know, sometimes there's the perception that, okay, we're an Indian School, we're not a, you know, one of the US Top brand names a Harvard or Stanford. And so there's expectations that that we should be, you know, priced at an Indian level. And so we've got to be sensitive to that. And so we do face pricing pressures. But I'm a big believer that if you create value, and you can demonstrate that you create value, then that value will be recognised. Now it's our job to convince him to work with our clients to understand that value. Another thing that we do, and that is B is is kind of its foundational, you know, from from its beginning, is, we have, you know, I think some of the best indian based faculty, but we also have relationships with top schools worldwide. I mean, our founding partners, you know, it's Wharton, Kellogg, and we have faculty from those schools, as well as other schools worldwide, top schools worldwide. And so we can bring those faculty in, that's not inexpensive to do. And so we need to be able to recoup that. But we can bring those faculty in so that these organisations don't necessarily need to send their senior leaders over to the US or to Europe, and pay those those no standard fees there. But get exposure to some of that, in class faculty that knowledge that world leading faculty in India, at, at a price that may be at a discount to what you see in the US. But, you know, I talked to our team and I talked to my clients and, and, you know, really, in many ways, this isn't as different from the US, there's always that, that pressure to you know, to discount to give comps to, to find ways to to reduce their costs. And if you think about it, you know, you know, managers measure them on how they manage and how they're a steward of their organization's resources and funds. And if they can get 50 people trained for the price of 40, then they're going to they're going to do that. And I appreciate that. And so, we have, we have good collaborations with our, with our with with many of our clients that go way back, and they understand the value that ISP brings, and so and so we were able to, to, to work with them to capture that value.
What are some of the key challenges that the Centre for executive education here faces when encouraging employees to shift from their outmoded practices to towards rescaling?
So, you know, take one of our change management classes, right, change is hard. Think about anything you as an individual have done, taking up an exercise regime, relocating to a new low place, changing jobs, changing apartments, change is hard, okay? And there's a level of comfort in doing what I'm doing. And rescaling is something I see as perhaps necessary, but maybe it's a it's a longer term thing. And absent that sense of urgency, I don't know how to make myself change. And so trying to get individuals working with organisations to get that sense of urgency to embrace embrace the learning now, we can do things from the school, make it more bite size, make it more practice based, provide provide actionable, learning that when they go back to the office on Friday or Monday or Tuesday, that they can begin talking to their colleagues and and using in meetings and developing presentations and and showcasing the skills. And so the more they're able to do that, then The gratification becomes more immediate, and therefore, they're more engaged in doing it. But in the end, it comes into personal change management. And, and, and creating, we can't really do it, but creating that sense of urgency. And organisations demonstrating that what they value in their employees is is, is the desire and the ability to continue learning, then it becomes just like any performance measure that you have, as an employee, you may not like to do a but you know, at the end of the year, or at the end of the quarter going to be measured on a, and so I better go do something with it. And when I'm forced to do it, or when I see that, I get rewards, and when I get rewards, I get happy about it, and then I continue to do it. So that's, it's, you know, we see that in our classroom, right we have, it's fascinating for me to watch, you get, you know, you can sit in a classroom where maybe there's 30 people, and you see some who are gung ho, and they're there for a purpose, they did all their pre meetings that can't wait to talk and ask and engage, you know, you see some that are on their phones, and you see some that you know, are out taking calls most of the time. And you know it, how do we capture that? And how do we do it, but you get that variety in any population, you have a distribution, and we see them in the classroom. And so those that are eager to learn, maybe it's that particular class B take another class, you know, two months from now, maybe they'll be the ones checking their phones in or out of taking calls. But that either ingrained desire or that sense of urgency exist in some. And for organisations to manage that into their performance process. They want to say that the desire and lifelong learning is important, then create measurements and really integrated into their HR systems.
Could you tell us about the flagship executive education programmes that si offers? What are their key features? Like?
Sure, happy to Yeah, you know, kind of building upon what we have talked about earlier, what, what we see is kind of the most in demand is kind of what we, you know, kind of invest in and put our flag in as our flagship programmes, if you will, flagship programmes would be in our open enrollment programmes. And if I think about our open enrollment programmes, we have a programme that we call stepping into leadership. And it goes back to these individuals that are moving from management to leaders. And it's that transition that occurs, and we offer that multiple times of year, it's one that is one of our more popular programmes. And it is specifically targeted to help individuals understand and make the transition from being a manager into being a leader, which is a big transition in most people's careers. Next in line would be one, one that we call transformational leadership, and there's different names and versions of it. But it's for individuals that perhaps are already in leadership, but the organisation is being disrupted or their industries being disrupted. Or they're, you know, in general, any leadership is about change. And so it's dealing with that transforming leadership component. Third, and we offer two of these programmes with with partner schools, we have our global Advanced Management programme with the Kellogg School, and that is one that is probably our more senior individuals. And then we offer a an Advanced Management programme with in us in Singapore. And these are open enrollment and that partnership component kind of bridges between two parts in Asia or Asia in the US, and are ones that, that we feature and are quite popular from from from our from our markets. What is the future for
executive training looks like to you? What are the new trends that you see emerging going forward?
You know, I wished I had a perfect crystal ball and could tell you, but I will give you my point of view. And it's based on my experience, both in the corporate as well as the education side, I think some very specific things that are maybe short term, as far as the future go, then we'll talk longer term. I think you'll you we are seeing and you'll continue to see shorter duration programmes as as, as managers and executives find difficult to be out of the office for a week or two weeks at a time. And so you'll see, you know, one, two day three day programmes and maybe you see them occur over multiple different cycles. And in a quarter or a year, I think you will see more practice based and experiential learning components. And so individuals taking the frameworks that are brought into the classroom and applying them to projects and this is pretty prominent now. But we're seeing more demand as part of that measurement technique to bring more experiential learning into the into the classroom. And then blended delivery or technology based delivery technology is not the solution, but as it as executives and senior managers find it difficult to get time out of the office, being able to digitally deliver that either synchronously or asynchronously. I think you will you will see Growing now beyond that way out in the future, or at least kind of the next generation for that, I think you began to see more direct measurements of learning output. I think you begin to see more of a thread between courses. So it's not like I'm, I'm taking this group of 20 people from my firm and putting them into these classes, I think you began to see more of an individualised personalised learning component, that an individual design that an individual designs in collaboration with their leadership team or HR team at their organisation and with the learning professionals at a business school, or in an education provider, that are threaded with what their current job responsibilities are, what their aspirational job responsibilities are, kind of their performance gaps and strengths, again, making it a very personalised approach. And I think you will find learning going beyond the facilitator in the classroom to a variety of mediums, whether it's video, whether it's podcasts, whether it's reading, whether it's facilitated learning, whether it's coaching, and probably some technologies that we haven't even thought about yet. We haven't talked about, you know, what role AI plays? Or what role augmented reality plays in this. It's not going to be all about technology, but can How can technology enable learning on a personalised level that creates a path for an individual to help them get where they're going? back to the question about do business schools add value they do, and they will, and they will continue to. But I think you will need to see business school as well as other providers began to vary their offering from this list of 50 classes that we all for over a year sign up and come. You know, there was one quote, I don't know who to attribute it to, but I saw it as part of the World Economic Forum publication, said, I think it said by 2030, the world's largest organisation would be an education provider and that that organisation hasn't been invented yet or hasn't been started yet. So the explosion in the need for education along with upskilling and rescaling and demand for personalised learning is going to grow and, and that will directly and wildly impact I think executive education, perhaps in my lifetime, for sure in your lifetime. We'll see.
That's quite fascinating. Thank you, Dr. Burton, for taking the time to give us these perspectives.
Thank you so much. I appreciate the opportunity. It was a great conversation, hopefully, hopefully spurred some thoughts and different people. Thanks.