With markets and value chains becoming more complex in the age of globalization, managers increasingly find that traditional business education is no longer enough to master the challenges in today’s rapidly-changing world. The Executive MBA in Supply Chain Management at ETH Zurich was created to address just these challenges.
The ETH Zurich, or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is a public polytechnic university founded in 1855 by the Federal Government to support local industry. For years it has been consistently ranked among the top ten universities in the world, and has built a distinguished reputation for its teaching and research faculty, including Nobel Prize winners like Albert Einstein.
The university’s proven strength in engineering, science, and technology provides business students with a unique perspective on Global Operations. Their unique MBA programme, one of the few offering a deep dive into Supply Chain Management, is hosted by the university’s Chair of Logistics Management. According to the Academic Director Prof. Stephan Wagner “what we increasingly see is that most of the goods and services that a company offers are actually made outside their walls. This means that firms rely on suppliers, service providers, and software engineers for their business success.” The coordination of that complex network requires special know-how that is aligned with the strategy of the firm.
ETH’s MBA SCM programme was set up more than 13 years ago in cooperation with local industry, which had recognized the need for managers with these special skills. Dr. Stefan Nöken, Director of Supply Chain Management at Hilti AG and a member of the programme’s Industry Advisory Board explains “we supported ETH’s MBA programme from the very beginning because we knew that Supply Chain Management, like Finance and Marketing, had become a profession, one which needed highly-qualified business leaders to manage the global challenges that lay ahead.”
A Supply Chain manager oversees the flows of a company’s materials, information, and money, starting from point of origin all the way to its final consumption. This means coordinating a multitude of channel partners through which the company’s products travel, as well maintaining the business relationships behind that (usually global), production, and logistics network.
As opposed to a generalist MBA programme, which typically offers just one core course on operations or manufacturing, the ETH programme offers a 3-month deep dive into the details of Supply Chain Management: Planning, Procurement, Production, Logistics and Transport, and the Systems Design and Control which coordinate the flows between them. The classical aspects of business administration – strategy, finance, marketing, organization, and leadership round out the curriculum.
The 18-month programme is designed for executives who have at least five years of experience. After 12 months of weekend classes on-campus in Zurich, participants take the last six months to solve a business problem at their company as a master thesis capstone project. In this way, sponsoring companies benefit directly from the development of their managers. “Since our executive students continue working while studying, they are applying what they learn immediately to their job,” notes Prof. Wagner.
The graduates benefit in a variety of ways. Anette Halfmann of IKEA, who was promoted from a European role into Deputy Supply Manager with global responsibilities, was most impressed by what the lessons on negotiating international business deals. In her own words: “you learn a lot about the macroeconomics of the world, and about the different flows and logistics in different countries. The programme gives you a much broader perspective.”
Karl Lindström, today Internal Auditor at Kuehne+Nagel Management AG, personally benefited most from the exchange with classmates from diverse backgrounds. He recalls how “you really engage and listen to what is being said and throw in your contribution. It’s not something for passive students who would just sit back, take notes, and go home with a diploma.” Lindström added that the programme also gave him “the confidence to speak directly with senior management in my company.”
The direct contact with business leaders is practiced often during the study programme. One of the most compelling experiences is the chance to personally interact with managers of multinational companies, at regular VIP talks on campus, as well as on study trips to Russia, China, Japan, and the U.S. “We start in Russia where students are exposed to an economy that is very different in structure from Switzerland’s. Then we go to the United States, which has a more established business tradition, and we meet CEOs of some of the world’s biggest companies,” explains Prof. Wagner. In Seattle, Washington, students visited companies as varied as the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, software giant Microsoft, and big retailer Costco.
For graduate Zoltan Szabo, Director, Global PET Category and Procurement Systems, Amcor, it was these study trips that were the most eye-opening part. When at Boeing, his cohort was assigned a live case on the battery issues that had caused several aircraft to develop electrical failures. After visiting the factory, observing how the airplanes are produced, and researching Boeing’s processes, Szabo presented his solution to the Boeing executives, and heard their personal feedback. He reflects: “through this programme you meet one-toone with CEOs and C-level executives, which broadens your network at the highest level.”
The MBA ETH SCM limits its class size to a maximum of 25 so that each participant receives personal attention and has the opportunity to engage directly with one another, and with the Swiss-based CEOs who deliver VIP talks on a regular basis. In this way, the international network they build is as vital to the learning objectives as the obligatory academic coursework from a world-class university.
The application period runs from October 1 through April 30 and a new class begins each September. Tuition is 65,000 Swiss francs, which is moderate compared to many full-time MBAs. Prof. Wagner notes that “more and more students are paying the tuition themselves, so they have no obligation to stay with a sponsoring company after graduation,” adding that students often “make so many connections and build their network through the programme that they sometimes end up at companies they have visited.” No matter who makes the investment, Prof. wWagner emphasizes that “the career progress of our alumni demonstrates that the investment was a good one.”
For more information visit: http://www.mba.ethz.ch/
Article by Paige Baschuk