Should You Get A PhD For An Executive Business Career?

Well, it depends. A PhD does make sense for many careers, particularly if you are interested in research and development, but I would not recommend doing a PhD for an executive business career. It really depends on the type of PhD that you get. Not all PhDs will advance your business career. A PhD can be beneficial for an executive business career if you pursue a PhD in the hard sciences (Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Toxicology, etc.), or a social science like Economics. It is somewhat common to see people get a PhD in the hard sciences, and then an MBA. The PhD / MBA combination seems to allow people to go into management after their science career. The normal career right after your PhD / MBA is something like Pharmaceutical Sales, Management Consulting, or Drug Development Project Management.

What About A PhD in Business Administration?

Nope. I would not recommend a PhD in Business Administration for a non-academic career. Ok, that sounds weird, right? Shouldn’t getting a business PhD allow you to become a Business Executive? Isn’t it a terminal degree in improving or understanding business and markets? What is going on there? A PhD in Business Administration is generally geared towards you becoming a professor at a business school. Indeed, there are strong norms against going into industry after you do your PhD in Business Administration. If you go into industry, you are likely going to have end strong relationships you built with people within academia, and that might be a difficult task if you invested a lot of time in the relationship. As a business school professor myself, I rarely see anyone go into industry after their PhD in Business Administration. There are some people that do, but not a lot of people do. Why is that? Most people get a PhD in Business Administration after they spent a great deal of time in industry. Indeed, the top Business School PhD Programs like Wharton (UPenn), INSEAD, Stanford, Harvard (especially these folks), Berkeley, etc., recruit candidates based on how much industry experience they have, as well as the intellectual fire-power they may have in the future. There is a bit of a trade-off, though, because too much industry experience may prevent you from getting into programs because people fear that you will either go back into industry, or you will not have enough time to make a major contribution to the academic field. I am not saying that people do not go into industry after their PhD in Business Administration. You do see some people pursue the non-academic route, but this after they decided that the PhD academic route was not for them. In other words, it usually means they were relatively unsuccessful with the traditional academic route. Or, they just decide that the traditional academic route is not what they wanted. This focus on academia is changing and more and more people are going into industry, but I would say, that overall this is not an ‘acceptable’ route with a PhD. The primary reason is that academia is becoming more competitive, and thus, in order to sustain themselves, a few people are turning to non-academic routes once they have completed the PhD. Still, I would not recommend a PhD as a stepping stone to bigger things in industry. I would highly suggest that you only do a PhD in a Business School if you are choosing to become a Business School Professor. (It is a good career path, but if you read on this blog, it is pretty difficult.)

Should You Get Your PhD Part-Time For An Executive Business Career?

Again, I would likely not recommend this route if you are planning on becoming a professor in business school. Part-time PhDs generally are focused at clinician audiences, and most major business schools do not offer these programs. However, you could go this route if you are thinking of advancing your knowledge of business, and in this case you might want to select a doctoral program that specifically targets executives. There are some Doctoral Programs that do target business executives. These are likely labelled as part-time PhDs, online PhDs, or executive DBAs (Doctorate of Business Administration). Some of the programs are completely legitimate, and they are focused on helping you become a more thoughtful executive. However, just like in undergraduate programs around the world, many of these programs vary in quality and cost. Please do your homework! Before you agree to go to a program, do this simple trick. What I normally make my own undergraduate students do when they are selecting graduate programs is to actually gather the data on how much the program will cost, the percentage that people will be employed, where they are employed, and the wages they receive. This simple spreadsheet will save you a lot of heart-ache. Many people put more effort into choosing the movies they are going to watch on the weekend, then their school choice. Go get some physical data. Now, if you are somewhat independently wealthy, and the cost / benefit of the doctoral program does not matter, then look at the reputation of the doctoral program.  (By the way, there are surprisingly a large number of people that are in this camp, and I am not being funny). If the financial aspects of the executive doctoral program does not matter, than you should look for the programs that have great professors with PhDs from outstanding institutions.  Why? Because these professors likely have the most recent or best training. I have some great blog posts on dealing with PhD issues that you might feel are extremely valuable, such as whether you can get multiple PhDs, deciding on getting your GMAT or GRE, tips for writing your statement of purpose, going through the PhD interview. I think you should really read these posts. What about if you are sitting on the fence between becoming a professor and going into industry? You should likely choose the standard ‘academic’ PhD in Business Administration route because it will keep this option open. If you go to less legitimate programs for your doctorate, you are drastically limiting your potential in academia. Academia has popularity dynamics, and reputation does matter. However, that being said, most high quality PhD programs are going to focus on academics, and training you to become a professor, so do not expect anyone to be pleased with your choice if you go back to industry. Feel free to watch a video on doing a Business PhD part-time below:

How Come You Just Don’t Get An MBA or Executive MBA? What Is the Difference Between Executive MBA (EMBA) And Executive DBA (EDBA)?

If you are thinking of going industry, than the fastest and most legitimate route is not the PhD in Business Administration, or a PhD in other fields for that matter. Just go get a MBA (Masters of Business Administration) or if you already have lots of business experience, an Executive MBA. Again, this will save you a world of hurt. You will notice that the career prospects for an MBA are quite good, and is generally much quicker to obtain the returns from the degree. So you might be wondering? Why get an EDBA, then? Honestly, part of obtaining any doctorate is bragging rights of being called a doctor (but not the one that saves lives). 🙂 However, the key difference between an Executive MBA (EMBA) and an Executive DBA (EDBA, Executive PhD, and the like) is that the EDBA provides a more academic or theoretical understanding of organizations, whereas the EMBA provides a more practitioner (“practical”) understanding of organizations.  Does that mean that the EDBA is better than the EMBA? Absolutely, not. There are many reasons to choose the EDBA and many reasons to choose the EMBA, and it really just depends on your individual motives. I want to point out that I do not have a ‘dog in the fight’ as my institution does not offer either program, and I have not real particular bent towards the value of one over the other. Both of these degrees can be suitable for the right person. What are some other important differences between the EMBA and the EDBA?
  1. An EMBA is more common than an Executive DBA program.  This alone should make you seriously consider the EMBA if you are just thinking about career prospects. You will likely have an easier job finding an job if you are using the EMBA to find another career than an Executive DBA. Why? More people just understand what the EMBA is all about, and thus, it is easier from a hiring prospective. However, if you are thinking of the EDBA just for academic interest or because you would like to have a doctorate, than it does provide value. 
  2. An Executive DBA program will allow to get a much more theoretical understanding of the world. You will likely learn all of the theories and ideas that you would learn in a PhD, and then you will get the opportunity to test these theories in your organizational setting. I like the idea that you can apply what you learn, and that you will learn more of the meaty ideas that one learns during their PhD.
  3. An Executive MBA will be much more hands on. What do I mean by this? It will be less abstract, and focus on more practical ideas. You will learn about immediate tips and tricks, but you will not learn the underlying reason ‘why’ these tricks work. In other words, you can think of the EMBA as focusing on “know-how” and the EDBA focusing on “know-why.” The value of know-why is that you can eventually learn to apply the theories in more contexts.
  4. You will be to communicate more with technical staff about scientific ideas with an Executive Doctorate of Business Administration. Why is that? Getting an understanding of research methods, statistics, and theory gives you a much better appreciation what what technical staff may be discussing. Of course, this only matters if you work in an industry where science is valued, such as pharmaceuticals. In other fields, it may not be nearly as important.
  5. Executive MBA programs are often much more shorter than executive doctorate programs. You will complete the degree in a few years, whereas the executive doctorate is often open ended and can take roughly four years. This means that the may be cost differences between the programs. However, as I mentioned above, please do your homework as the variance amongst programs in cost is quite surprising.
Check out this YouTube video if you want to get my personal thoughts on the matter. I think you will learn a lot about the difference between an EMBA and a EDBA:  

What Degree Would I Choose?

If you are doing the degree to upgrade your job position in industry (i.e., you want to move up the corporate ladder), I would highly recommend doing an Executive MBA from a high status institution as this will carry a lot of weight in the marketplace. However, if you are looking to learn about the science of management, organizations, and markets, and you are doing the degree less for the job prospects but more for discovery and self-actualization, I would definitely recommend the executive doctorate program.  You should also note that your degree does not make you who you are – it only gives you additional points of leverage. So, if you really want to become a CEO at a F500 company or you want to become a Professor at HBS, go out and figure out how to get there. Not everyone will get there, but most people will never try. Most people will think you are crazy to even consider it.

The R3ciprocity Project.

What is the r3ciprocity.com project? If you don’t know me – I am a Professor of Innovation and Strategy. There were so many people that helped me out to get through graduate school and become the person who I am,  so I actually wanted to do something. (Here is a past blog post about it). I also read a lot about the benefits of reciprocity in the academic literature, so it made sense to start helping other people out. I created a sharing economy proofreading platform designed to help you get feedback on writing and modeled after principles of reciprocity. Check out the platform by clicking this link. I also needed a way to market the platform, so I thought the best way is to be helpful, honest, and just a nice person on the internet. (Seems like an unicorn – someone who is nice on the internet?!). Perhaps, someone might find this useful. Anyway, thanks for reading this post about EMBAs and EDBAs – I know that this can be a difficult choice in your life. But know this – whatever you choose, the path of life will take you where you are suppose to go. Things have a funny way of turning out the way they should be.

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David Maslach

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