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FT Executive MBA ranking 2020 analysis: demand holds firm



This is a year many of us will want to forget. But it is shaping up to be a strong 12 months for providers of executive MBA courses. For those in management roles who are fortunate enough to have kept their jobs, there is a strong incentive to invest in improving their technical and leadership skills as well as growing a network of contacts, all while working, which is what an EMBA offers.

In general, EMBA course leaders are not reporting the high double-digit increases in applications seen on many full-time MBAs this year. However, there is relief at many business schools that EMBA demand has held up despite travel restrictions and classes often being taught online rather than face-to-face, something these part-time students particularly value.

FT Executive MBA ranking 2020 — top 100

HKUST (left) and Kellogg

Find out which schools are in our ranking of EMBA degrees. Learn how the table was compiled.

Applications for the incoming EMBA class at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business were up about 7 per cent this year. Marjorie DeGraca, assistant dean and executive director of admissions, had been concerned that many of the 70-strong class would pull out at the last minute because campus teaching and study trips remain on hold, probably until next year.

“The EMBA is a really special community network and students get to know each other before they come on the programme,” DeGraca says. “We know there was a lot of chatter between them and that they were either all going to drop out or all going to stay. Luckily, the sentiment became ‘Let’s do this’.”

Demand for the course is holding up because there tends to be only one period in someone’s life when it is possible to balance part-time study with full-time work and raising a family, DeGraca says.

Marjorie DeGraca of Berkeley: Haas says participants ‘were either all going to drop out or all going to stay’
Marjorie DeGraca of Berkeley: Haas says participants ‘were either all going to drop out or all going to stay’

“EMBAs find this pocket of time when they say, ‘This is when I am going to do this’,” she adds. “Although it won’t be ideal for them to do this in 2020, many will know they will not have the opportunity again.”

The lockdown might also have encouraged some people to apply to EMBA courses because they find they now have time to fit in some additional study. “We have seen more people applying this year who have advanced degrees, a JD, MD or PhD,” DeGraca says. “Such people who are drawn to education say, ‘Maybe I should get another degree’.”

Applications to the one-year EMBA at EMLyon Business School in France are up 20 per cent year on year, partly because the school acted quickly to get course tuition back into the classroom, according to Rhoda Davidson, director of MBA programmes.

At the start of the crisis, EMLyon adapted to online tuition, with professors modifying the content, exercises and live cases to make teaching relevant to the crisis. For example, the school introduced a new case study on its collective performance course in which a senior human resources director explained how his organisation was handling the crisis and the move to remote working.

Students on the EMBA were offered personal leadership coaching to help make sense of the changing nature of work. EMLyon also launched a series of “Wednesday webinars” with experts from the school teaching on topics such as resilience, crisis management and risk management. “Participants [said this] made them feel much more connected to the MBA community and much less alone,” Davidson says.

The school has tried to offer flexibility for those students who are struggling to balance full-time work with part-time study during the pandemic. “We have provided personalised options for those who need to take a step back . . . for a few months, and a small number of executives have chosen to delay part of their studies by a year. It is a tough time for executives, so offering flexibility is very important so that they can pursue their MBA in the best conditions,” Davidson says.

A long-term trend is the growth of the EMBA market in Asia. In China, the part-time format of EMBA courses has long been seen as a better way to study for a postgraduate qualification and the degree is valued by employers. Schools in China and other parts of Asia have been moving steadily up the Financial Times ranking. Schools elsewhere have also capitalised on demand by setting up Asian outposts.

Insead offers three EMBA sections, starting on different dates from the school’s campuses in Fontainebleau near Paris, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Prospective students apply to a particular campus and while demand for the European and Middle Eastern programmes was flat compared with last year, applications in Asia were up 2 per cent. The contrast was even more striking for Insead’s EMBA run in partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing — the Tiemba programme — for which demand was up 36 per cent.

Location is important in a year when global travel has been limited, and Insead’s multi-campus structure has enabled it to be close to some of the biggest markets for EMBAs. Insead’s success in Asia is a combination of the growing number of EMBAs in the region and the school’s international reputation, says Virginie Fougea, global director of admissions and financial aid. “We certainly observe stronger brand recognition for Insead in Asia.”

Numbers have not increased on all EMBA courses. Applications this year were down slightly compared with 2019 for the top-ranked Kellogg-HKUST (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology) EMBA, according to programme director Judy Au, although she stresses that the standard of those seeking places on the course remains high. “We have not sacrificed the quality of students or compromised their learning experience for the sake of filling the classroom,” she says, adding that participants must fit the programme’s ethos of “high impact, low ego”.

Nor have travel constraints been an impediment to many Kellogg-HKUST students getting to campus, according to Au, with candidates attending from Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Some high achievers want to “make use of this time to . . . go for the best possible opportunity and get ready for the next surge”, she says.

Top EMBA: Kellogg/HKUST


Kellogg and HKUST Business School’s EMBA tops the ranking this year, retaking the crown from HEC Paris. The programme has been number one in four out of the past five years. Alumni receive the largest average weighted salary three years after graduation, at $528,057. Among the degree’s strong performances was third place in the work experience category, measuring participants’ seniority and years in employment before starting their EMBA.

Top single-school EMBA: Ceibs


In second place, the Shanghai-based school is the top-ranked solo provider of an EMBA. This is Ceibs’ highest ever position in the ranking. In addition, alumni took home the second-highest average salary, at $482,674. The location is part of its appeal. “Sharing a class with senior, energetic executives in one of the most dynamic cities during the most breathtaking economic growth in history” was an eye-opening learning experience, one survey respondent said.

International experience: Trium


Ranked fourth, this joint EMBA by HEC Paris, London School of Economics and New York’s Stern is top for international course experience for the eighth time since 2010. This category measures the percentage of teaching hours carried out abroad. One graduate said: “The international locations of the modules gave me a more in-depth understanding of working across various cultures.”

Top for salary increase: Shanghai Jiao Tong: Antai

Shanghai Jiao Tong: Antai

Antai alumni reported an average salary increase of 123 per cent from before their EMBA to three years after graduation. Overall, the school rose five places to sixth. Graduates have the third-highest average salary at $451,744. Alumni also rate the network highly. One executive said: “The course has increased my industry knowledge and broadened my network” so that “unknown business challenges” can be discussed with peers.

Top for work experience: IE Business School

IE Business School

Moving up to 12th place, the Spanish school is top for work experience, based on graduates’ pre-EMBA career profile. This category includes information on seniority and the number of countries they worked in. IE performed well in other categories, including second place for coverage of corporate social responsibility in its core curriculum. The school is also seventh for international course experience, measuring the percentage of teaching overseas.

Biggest rise: Edhec


With a leap of 24 places, the French school is the biggest riser at 45 thanks to improved performance in several categories, in particular average salary and salary increase, which helped Edhec to its highest overall rank since 2017. Positive feedback came from one survey respondent who wanted deeper insights into business overseas and praised the trips offered by Edhec for the practical experience.

Highest new entrant: IBS-Moscow Ranepa

IBS-Moscow Ranepa

The Russian school is the highest new entrant, in 52nd place. Its success is partly due to an average alumni salary of $316,009. One graduate said: “My income has highly increased, I’ve found new clients and my understanding of business and management is completely different now.” The school, established in 2010, also performed well in two diversity categories, with women making up 50 per cent of the faculty and 56 per cent of the advisory board.

Top for gender balance: Aalto

Aalto University

Finland’s Aalto University is top for student gender balance, with an equal split between men and women. This compares with an average of one woman to 2.1 men and is up from Aalto’s 42 per cent female students in 2019. Alumni commented on the positive, supportive atmosphere created by the faculty. Many also remarked on the programme’s ability to improve self-confidence. The school’s overall rank is joint 88th, up from 92nd last year.

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Biden faces tough path to US economic recovery




Joe Biden is grappling with a messy and unpredictable economic outlook as the twin threats of rising inflation and slow jobs growth shake confidence in the steadiness of the US recovery from the pandemic.

The US labour department this month reported that the pace of job creation slowed significantly in April, fuelling concerns of widespread discrepancies in the labour market.

It followed up that report with figures published last week showing an unexpectedly steep jump last month in its consumer price index, compounding fears of mounting inflationary pressures.

The data have exposed Biden to sharper criticism of his economic management from Republicans and rattled hopes of a smooth rebound from the coronavirus crisis on the back of hefty fiscal stimulus and quick vaccination rollouts.

The US has driven the global economic recovery, with the IMF predicting gross domestic product growth of 6.4 per cent in 2021.

“There are a lot of signs of a resurgence in aggregate demand — an economy that’s recovering, but that recovery is going to be chaotic,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic think-tank at the Brookings Institution. “And yes, really difficult to manage.”

Senior Biden administration officials have cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from one month’s data. They argued that average monthly job creation over the past three months has still been much stronger than in the previous quarter, that the inflation bounce is likely to be transitory and that the recovery remains firmly on track.

But they have also acknowledged high levels of economic uncertainty at a time of big shifts in spending patterns and employment trends, and as health-related restrictions are being lifted across the country more rapidly than predicted — partly because of the pace of the country’s vaccination campaign.

“There’s going to be a period, as supply starts to equal demand and sectors are healing and recovering, [during which] there’s going to be some choppiness,” Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters on Friday.

“We know that the mismatch between different parts of the economy will show up in unexpected ways until the economy more fully recovers. As the president urged earlier this week, we must be patient,” she added.

Critics of the administration’s economic policies — ranging from former Democratic Treasury secretary Larry Summers to Republicans on Capitol Hill — have seized on the latest data to argue that the Biden administration has recklessly dismissed the risks of excessive fiscal stimulus, and played down the economic warning signs.

“I was on the worried side about inflation and it’s all moved much faster, much sooner than I had predicted. That has to make us nervous going forward,” Summers wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“I think there’s a decent chance that this works out fine. And that we just have a super rapid recovery and a great year,” said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank. “I think there’s also a chance that this could end really poorly.”

Other data releases last week failed to clarify the picture. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index showed rising long-term inflation expectations, while retail sales were flat last month after a big jump in March. On the brighter side, weekly jobless claims out on Thursday dropped to a low point for the pandemic.

Cecilia Rouse
Cecilia Rouse said: ‘There’s going to be a period, as supply starts to equal demand and sectors are healing and recovering, [during which] there’s going to be some choppiness’ © Reuters

At this stage, there were no signs from the White House of any big changes to Biden’s policy agenda to address the emerging economic picture. On the labour market front, the president moved to enforce a requirement that citizens who were offered “suitable” jobs not be eligible for unemployment benefits, and Rouse said the White House was reminding businesses of a tax credit for employee retention set up as part of its stimulus programme.

The White House is sticking by the fiscal support it has enacted with the help of congressional Democrats not only to stoke the country’s recovery but also to help low-income families. It has also pointed to its confidence in the Federal Reserve to manage any rise in inflation.

But Republicans and conservative economists have called for more dramatic action to cool the economy, such as an early end to federal unemployment benefits, which Republican-led states across the country have refused to pay.

Meanwhile, economists whose forecasts were badly wrecked by the data released in recent days warned that any assumptions about the US recovery — let alone policy changes — may well have to be revisited.

“We’re in such an uncharted territory,” said the Hamilton Project’s Edelberg. “When you’re talking about the changes in aggregate demand that we’re experiencing, and changes in supply that we’re experiencing — whatever uncertainty you have about inflation in normal times, increase that by an order of magnitude.”

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Covid rules leave pubs and restaurants in England fearing the great indoor reopening




Before the pandemic, the tiny Sicilian restaurant Franzina Trattoria was loved by south London locals for its long communal tables. Customers would squeeze in and share food with people they had never met. Two diners, who were complete strangers, ended up getting married.

But as owner Stefania Taormina and her husband Pietro Franz prepare to welcome the first diners since December back into their 4-metre-wide eatery in Brixton on Monday, Taormina fears they may not return.

“We don’t see many bookings inside [and] it’s a bit scary. We think people are thinking differently now and sharing tables is maybe a problem,” she said.

To comply with Covid-19 restrictions for hospitality businesses in England when the government allows them to open indoors from Monday, Taormina has cut the number of guests seated in the restaurant from 55 to 14 and spent £1,000 on plastic dividers to break up the tables.

The saving grace has been the six two-person tables on the restaurant’s outside terrace, which have been booked all hours of the day since restrictions on outdoor eating and drinking were lifted in late April. “We are breaking even just about with the terrace open,” she said. “I think people still prefer to go to places outside.”

The pandemic has left the hospitality industry facing a crisis of historic proportions. Since the pandemic struck, UKHospitality, the trade body, estimates the sector across Britain has lost £80.8bn in sales between April 2020 and this March, compared with the previous 12-month period, equivalent to £9m every hour.

Line chart of like-for-like hospitality sales compared with 2019 (% change) showing pub and restaurant sales have plummeted during the pandemic

More than 8,500 of the UK’s 115,100 licensed premises have gone out of business. And only a third of those operating have the outdoor space that has allowed them to reopen since the government allowed alfresco dining from April 12.

Even as the rest make ready to open inside in the biggest easing of restrictions in England since lockdown was imposed in January, many pub and restaurant owners fear the remaining Covid rules — waiter service only at tables that must be at least 1m apart, with a limit of six people from no more than two households — will make most establishments unprofitable.

“The vast majority of our pubs will be trading on May 17 [but] I expect us still to be trading at levels where we will be making a loss,” said Andy Spencer, managing director of Punch Pubs, which owns 1,100 premises. He said that pubs would run at half their usual capacity and that the restrictions were “challenging, time consuming and expensive”.

Key to profitability for most pubs and restaurants is the removal of all social-distancing rules, and many owners were buoyed by recent comments from Boris Johnson. At the start of this week, the UK prime minister raised the possibility that all restrictions could be lifted over the summer.

But by Friday, Johnson warned that the next state of England’s lockdown easing plans due on June 21 — when all existing rules are set to fall away — may have to be delayed because of a surge in infections caused by the emergence a Covid-19 variant first detected in India.

Opening with extensive restrictions in place has presented other challenges, not least the need to train staff who have been furloughed for months.

Pedestrians walk past a PizzaExpress restaurant in central London
PizzaExpress’s 6,000 staff have had a week of ‘full immersion’ training in both hygiene measures and service © Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Zoe Bowley, managing director of PizzaExpress, said the chain’s 6,000 employees had undergone a week of “full immersion” training, both in hygiene measures and service. “Some of our team members, apart from a small gap in November, haven’t worked for a year,” she said.

The sector also faces a labour shortage with a loss of experienced and qualified staff, partly due to the pandemic and partly due to Brexit, with EU workers returning to their home countries.

This will add to the pressure on employees facing customers for the first time in months. “They are rusty after furlough for a year and are heading back to jobs where they will have to cover other roles because there aren’t enough staff to cope,” warned Mark Lewis, chief executive of the charity Hospitality Action.

Another common fear is antagonising guests by insisting they comply with the Covid regulations, such as checking in with the test-and-trace app and wearing a mask when moving around.

Even if reopening goes as planned, the absence of foreign tourists and commuters for at least part of the summer — with international travel still heavily restricted and office staff encouraged to continue to work from home until at least late June — is expected to leave many city-centre establishments short of customers.

Anna Sebastian, manager of the Artesian bar at London’s Langham hotel
Anna Sebastian, bar manager of the Artesian at London’s Langham hotel, said ‘normality won’t be restored’ until tourists return in large numbers © Charlie Bibby/FT

“We’re very dependent on footfall from tourists shopping on Oxford Street and hotel guests, so until they return in large numbers, normality won’t be restored,” said Anna Sebastian, bar manager of the Artesian at The Langham hotel in London.

If there is a positive to have come out of the crisis, the pandemic has forced the industry to accelerate the adoption of technology that has improved productivity: payment and ordering apps allow operators to turn tables faster and employ fewer staff.

Customers using apps also tend to spend more per head having had more time to peruse the menu and the ability to order as and when they want, according to several pub and restaurant owners.

But Bowley warned there was a “fine balance” to strike to make sure that an industry built on personal service did not become “faceless” just as it needed customers to return.

Technology aside, Spencer said he feared that until sports and live music could restart and customers could stand up in crowded bars, the pub experience would be a “sanitised” one. “We have taken out a lot of the soul . . . and a lot of the things that make the pub really special,” he said.

It is the same pre-Covid conviviality that Taormina fears will be lost at Franzina Trattoria. “It was a joy for me because you would see people who you had never seen in your life start to drink together and talk about food together and then sometimes they would go out together afterwards . . . I am scared that it will not happen again.”

Additional reporting by Oliver Barnes

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Death of the call centre? Workers ring in the changes during WFH era




A new message frequently punctuates the muzak as customers wait to speak to a call centre worker nowadays: a recording warning them to expect “home life noises in the background” once someone answers.

“A friend of mine heard splashing water when she called her bank,” said consultant Ursula Huws, a long-term advocate for staff to be allowed to do their jobs from home and who coined the term teleworking in the early 1980s.

“The agent revealed she was in the bath. For an industry historically so resistant to remote working, that speaks volumes about how far things have come in the past 12 months.”

Before coronavirus arrived in the UK, only 3.8 per cent of the country’s 812,000 call centre workers were based at home, according to research group ContactBabel — below the 5.1 per cent average for the working population.

But as the government introduced sweeping restrictions in March last year, the pendulum swung. By November homeworking was almost twice as common among call centre staff as the general workforce with about three quarters of 139,000 agents surveyed saying they were home-based.

This looks set to remain. A recent poll of 107 call centre managers and directors conducted by industry bodies found just four who anticipate a full return to the office.

HSBC has confirmed its 1,200 call centre staff will remain at home permanently. Outsourcer Capita has said many of its 16,000-strong call centre workforce in the UK can do the same, while rival Teleperformance has indicated many of its 10,000 employees will be allowed to continue working remotely once the pandemic subsides.

First Direct customer service representative at a call centre in Leeds, England
Working from home has allowed call centres to shed costly office space © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The shift will have far-reaching consequences: for the working lives of hundreds of thousands of people employed in the sector, for commercial landlords and for customers relying on their services.

Working the phones

The earliest known example of a call centre in the UK was in the Birmingham Post and Mail building in 1965, but it was not until the establishment of Direct Line in 1985 that they became more widespread. From 63 staff at the insurer’s call centre in Croydon, the industry has since mushroomed into one of the UK’s largest.

For a sector weighed down by a reputation for frenzied offices, distrustful management and high attrition rates, the post-pandemic world in theory offers a chance for a reset.

“Call centres are . . . a fun punching bag for a lot of people,” admitted Gary Slade, Teleperformance’s UK chief executive. But he insisted that a hybrid working model will offer his employees “more choice” rather than simply being an opportunity “to squeeze the staff by cutting costs and removing benefits”.

Yet half a dozen staff who spoke to the Financial Times on condition of anonymity, two of whom are Teleperformance employees, said remote working had made their jobs more difficult — or alleged they were being denied the right to do so.

One 26-year-old, who works for an online travel platform, described the stress from solving more complex customer queries from home as “all-encompassing”, while a 21-year-old Teleperformance agent said virtual training was “difficult to absorb”, adding that he often “had to wing it”.

Two are office-based, one of whom is working for an outsourcer in Liverpool having had repeated requests to do so remotely rejected for “no apparent reason”.

Chart showing that WFH improves staff morale but raises performance concerns

Privacy is another concern. Teleperformance has already butted heads with Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, and the Communication Workers Union over concerns about a plan to issue remote workers with webcams.

Slade said reports they will be used to monitor staff at will are “absolutely not true”. He said webcams will be used to replicate “the checks and balances” that are normal in the office.

The FT has seen an internal memo sent to Teleperformance staff suggesting video calls could be mandated to “conduct clean desk audits” and “[detect] unauthorised objects in [an] employee’s workspace . . . such as a mobile phone”. Slade said “occasional checks” are essential to “avoid data breaches”, adding that the webcams are “not designed to be remotely activated”.

But Jamie Woodcock, who went undercover in a call centre for his book Working the Phones, fears what he describes as “callous management practices” mean the chance to improve the workplace culture with the adoption of remote working will be “squandered”.

“Managers in call centres rarely ask workers what will improve their work, instead they simply rely on ever stricter targets and monitoring to get results,” said Woodcock.

Aimie Chapple, Capita’s executive officer for customer management, insisted she was “always checking in” with staff such as during virtual coffee mornings but that a balance has to be struck between “what employees want [and] what clients want”.

Others are more optimistic. The migration of consumers online during the pandemic has prompted a hiring spree to meet demand for helplines. “Thanks to the work from home model, they’ve been able to tap into wider talent pools,” said Leigh Hopwood, chief executive of Call Centre Management Association. “A call centre in Bradford can now easily hire an agent in London.”

Landlords put on hold

The prize for call centres allowing staff to work from home is the freedom to shed costly office space.

Capita saved £10m from office closures during the first UK lockdown and has now permanently closed 49 sites worldwide, nearly a fifth of their commercial real estate holdings, with plans to offload more.

In the UK, Santander has scrapped plans for a £75m call centre in Merseyside that would have housed 2,500 workers, while travel group Saga has put a 600-capacity call centre in Kent up for sale.

The call centre industry is important to the north of the UK

That could pose a problem for landlords in regions where call centres are a major employer. “Are they lettable? It hangs on the location. Some of these [operators] went to locations which had high unemployment and not a lot of other industry,” said Mat Oakley, head of UK and European commercial property research at Savills.

In the north of England and Scotland more than 6 per cent of the local population are employed in call centres, according to ContactBabel.

They are often thought to be unappealing workplaces. “Secondary office buildings in Dundee, Prestwick, East Anglia . . . on business parks like the one where [TV show] The Office was filmed,” said one analyst.

Many suffered during a wave of offshoring in the early 2000s but customer preferences led to a return, said Oakley, who also argued that concerns about high staff turnover led to improvements in office quality.

That will increase their chances of being re-let to other businesses or to the government as part of its drive to disperse employees around the regions, he added. “Many of these centres are in the north of England, I expect quite a few will get taken up as part of the government’s move of civil servants away from London. That’s the obvious tenant.”

Customer service

Both Slade and Chapple insist productivity, as measured by metrics like average call handling time and first call resolution, have remained consistent or even improved despite homeworking.

However the shift has presented new dilemmas for satisfying customers and maintaining data security. 

“At very least, a dog barking or a baby screaming in the background [of a call] will come across as unprofessional,” said Teresa Cottam, chief analyst at telecoms consultancy Omnisperience. “But if [the agent is] handling sensitive medical or financial data and their flatmate is next to them that opens the door to fraud and crime.”

Call centres are able to remotely monitor technology “to the nth degree”, she said, but adds the “human factors” remain “very risky”.

Huws forecasts that, regardless of the great WFH experiment, employees will eventually be asked to return to the office. “Face-to-face meetings and handshakes are in call centre managers’ muscle memory,” she said. “Juggling a hybrid workforce requires good management and they’re not really allowed to be good managers.”

Sir Peter Wood, who co-founded Direct Line, rues that the heyday of the call centre “has long gone”. “I used to man the phones just for fun and sometimes call customers back . . . when they were rude to my staff,” Wood recalled. “But the romance of call centres is a thing of the past.”

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