Doing A PhD For An Executive Business Career

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 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.

Pros and Cons Of Executive PhD In Business & Executive DBA Programs

The Pros and Cons Of Executive PhD In Business & Executive DBA Programs

Most people that get doctorates in business end up pursuing a PhD in Business Administration. However, executive doctoral programs make a tremendous amount of sense to me. Strictly from a consumer choice and industry dynamics perspective, having additional variance in organizational forms has its pluses. It creates but heterogeneity of options for potential doctoral students and also, allows different programs to compete and learn from each other. Besides, not everyone wants to pursue an academic route with their doctorate. Most do, but not everyone. And, having executive doctorates allow people to specialize in the things they want to do.   From my perspective, I am also a big advocate of bringing some of the ideas that we research and learn in academia to the ‘real’ world. From a knowledge and technology transfer perspective, I can’t imagine a better way to have a direct impact on the business world. I have heard from some of the best academics in our field discuss that their students often say their best courses are the most theoretical courses. I have even heard a few mention that entire organizations where set up around the ideas they learnt in these theoretical courses. Why, then, would we restrict these student experiences to just 1-2 year MBA courses? Why not exploit the in-depth and rich opportunity of an applied doctoral program where executives get an extended 2-4 year walk into the world of academic ideas? Because I know you are busy, some pros and cons of an Executive PhD program in Business are:
  1. A reduced emphasis on publishing compared to PhDs programs training you for tenure-track professor positions.
  2. They allow you to better understand organizations and markets.
  3. They help you better understand research.
  4. You can interact with your professors.
  5. You can leverage the knowledge in your organizations.
  6. They are expensive.
  7. They probably won’t help has much as a PhD to become a tenure-track business professor.
  8. Executive PhDs are a lot of work.

Executive Doctorate Business Programs

I am going to discuss the advantageous and disadvantages of Executive Doctorate of Business programs. I hope this will help provide an unbiased guide for you when you make your decision. My only goal with this post is that you are informed and you make a wiser choice if you are thinking of pursuing a more practical-oriented Doctorate Degree in Business. Who Am I? I am David Maslach, and I received my PhD in Business Administration from the Ivey Business School several years ago. I am now working as an Assistant Professor of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. Actually, I would consider myself a Professor of Strategy, but my research tends to cross a lot of boundaries, and I really don’t know how to frame my research in an easier manner. I am interested in how firms and their managers learn from failure. (You can learn how to get a PhD in Strategy and Innovation here.) Anyway, I began this platform as a way to give back to the people that have helped me get my doctorate and succeed in this career. I thought the best way to give back is to help others that are interested in this career, but are just a few years behind me and would like some advice about graduate education.

What Are Some Names Of Executive PhD In Business Programs?

I have seen Executive in Business programs called many things, and so you should look out for these types of doctorate programs.
  1. Executive PhD
  2. Executive PhD In Management or Executive PhD in Business
  3. Executive Doctorate
  4. Executive DBA or Executive Doctorate in Business Administration.
  5. PhD Executive Program
  6. Part-time DBA Program
  7. Some-times Schools of Education or Public Policy will have Executive Doctorate In Higher Education Programs.
  8. There may be more, but that’s all that I am aware of right now. 🙂

An Executive Doctorate In Business Is Not For Everyone

Obviously, I am overselling executive doctoral programs. We don’t have any at my institution, but there are many around the world that are pretty respectable (Here are some Executive DBA programs here and here (This is the AACSB list, however, I find the list not easily searchable). I also think that you should be very wise with your choice of institution – you can end up overpaying for degree that will not get you far if you are not careful. But, this problem happens in all academic degrees. There are good ones and bad ones, and it is up for you to choose. Doing an Executive Doctoral Program in Business is not for everyone, but I would say the same thing are higher education. Like higher education, many executive doctoral programs are generally quite expensive, and you should also pursue such a degree if you have the finances to do so. You should also know that if you want to become a traditional business school professor, you ought to think about a PhD in Business. It is just a more traditional route to become a tenure-track professor. Most of my business school professor friends and colleagues have PhDs or specifically Harvard’s DBA (Havard’s DBA is rather unique as it is more akin to a research degree than an Executive Doctorate). I also think the Executive Doctoral degree in Business is rather specialized. This specialization is a good thing if you already did an MBA or EMBA and looking to do a bit more. However, specialization does lock you out of other options. For example, if you wanted to switch careers and get a law degree, it would be rather challenging to pursue a doctorate and a law degree at the same time. Although, I am sure there are a few people that have done so. Want to learn some differences between DBA programs and PhD programs, you should really read this post as it details some of the fundamental and more subtle differences that few people tell you about. 

A Plus Of The Executive Doctorate Is A Reduced Emphasize On Publishing

One of the disadvantages of doing a PhD is that you are focused on doing research. Well, depending on who you are, it is can be quite exciting to do research. The disadvantage comes from having to publish in top tier journal outlets, and these just take a long time and a quite a bit of effort to get published in these outlets. The advantage of an Executive DBA-type degree is that you will be expected to do research, and understand research, but the requirement to get published in an ‘A’ journal will be reduced. Why is there less of an emphasis in publishing in top Business School journals? You will have a different career direction and a different outcome. Your executive doctoral degree will eventually lead you to become an executive leader in your organization, or to be an executive management consultant. Part of the reason why there is an emphasis to publish in top journals in PhD programs is because you are required to get a tenure-track professor job. Whereas, an MBA generally tends to be more practice orientated. A PhD in Business is very research-oriented. Executive PhD programs and Executive DBA programs fit in the middle – they are research-oriented but the focus is not publishing in the very best research journals. That is not to said that their are people that do really good research during their Executive DBA and people that focus on less research-oriented PhDs, but generally, these are the major differences between these two degrees. One key distinction that Executive Programs have that many Students in PhD Programs would beg to have are the real-world data and real-world cases. If you could partner up with people that are interested in publishing in top business journals (for instance, Administrative Science Quarterly), you might develop a winning team in which you have hard to find real-world data (and someone who knows how valuable good research is to their business) with someone that will carry the paper through the review process of one of these journals.

What Are Pros And Cons of Executive PhD and Doctorate In Business Administration Programs?

1. Executive PhD Programs Allow You To Get A New Understanding Of The World.

Hands down, having a new take on the world is the single greatest benefit of getting any doctorate. If you do not learn about new ideas and have many ‘mind-flips’ in which you completely view the world differently, you are in the wrong doctorate program. Not only should you learn about new theories that you never thought about, but you should have a much more rigorous perspective then you would get in a MBA program. In my view, these executive doctorate programs will add value to management of organizations, particularly, if you are interested in executive management positions.  This is especially true, given the general business environments focus on Business Analytics. Most of the ideas that you hear about in business analytics is just what you would learn in several research methods classes in a doctoral program. I wrote a really interesting post about whether you should get a PhD to become a business executive that you ought to read.

2. Executive DBA Programs Are Still Quite Research Intensive.

One of the coolest things with Executive DBA programs is that they focus on doing research. You’ll get a understanding of what it means to do research and why it is important for organizations. I am absolutely a big fan of the knowledge translation aspect of executive DBA programs. There is a grumble in many Business School Faculty discussions that they stuff we learn about in research is not the same stuff that we can teach about in the classroom. (Obviously, some MBA programs like U. of Chicago’s and Stanford’s GSB emphasize in-depth research, but this can vary from Professor-to-Professor). Yet, many many schools emphasize case-studies, which don’t get me wrong, are a very valuable way to teach about managing, but they may gloss over the science of management. However, with an Executive Doctorate, you will be learning the same theories and and research papers that we have to learn about as Business School Professors. And, we have learnt a lot about the science of management, organizations, and markets. We don’t know everything, but there is a tremendous amount of science that has been done over the past almost 100 years.

3. Executive PhD Programs Generally Have A Much Smaller Class Sizes.

Class sizes are generally much smaller in doctoral programs across the world. There are many reasons why class sizes in doctorate programs are small, but a positive aspect of these small class sizes is that it allows you to interact on a more 1-to-1 basis with your professors. Is that positive? I suppose it depends on who you ask. 🙂 However, I always found in my PhD program, that getting to know world-class faculty on a personal first-name basis, was a highlight. I still have quite fond memories of sitting around a conference table and discussing the weeks latest readings with very smart fellow PhD students and faculty. It really was a blessing to be able to do that. I spend a quite a bit of time explaining some important details and tips for meeting with your PhD supervisor in this post. I am sure you will benefit from reading the post. You should also read this explanation of PhD class sizes and what to expect with normal PhD classes, particularly in a Business School. I am sure it will help you think about what classes are like in graduate programs.

4. Executive Doctoral Programs Will Allow You To Apply Knowledge In Your Own Organization.

I am going to keep coming back to the idea that you can both learn new ideas and theories by reading the latest research articles, but also you can apply these ideas in your own organization. This is something that most PhDs that are going the tenure-track route cannot do. They simply will not have the access to a real organization that you will have as a manager. I am personally always been interested in the real-world knowledge that can be generated by applying theories to real contexts. This theoretical knowledge that can be applied is an advantage that neither MBAs or PhDs will possess.

The Cons of Executive Doctorate Programs.

Everything in life has pros and cons, and Executive Doctorate Programs have some downfalls. There are many things that I like about the concept of Executive Doctorate Programs, but I also tend to not like some aspects of them.

1. Executive PhD programs Tend To Be Expensive.

I truly see the value of the executive PhD, however, these programs tend to be very expensive. I am going to be upfront – Executive ‘anything’ (insert name here) Programs are going to be expensive. By the way, if you can find an inexpensive Business-class flight, please let me know. 🙂 Some of this expense is warranted as it makes sure that only people that are serious will attend the program. The expensiveness of the PhD program also makes sure that if you do attend one of these programs, that you will study and apply your knowledge. I also think the market for these higher-end degrees has opened up the possibility of degrees that don’t hold the same credibility in the marketplace as others. Don’t get me wrong, you get this variance in programs, program quality, and student quality in all types of degrees, from undergraduate to PhD degrees. It just means that you have be smart about your school choice. If I were you, I would pick institutions that have a good reputation, and that they have demonstrated return on investments. You should look at where the doctorate students came from, who they currently are, and where they were placed. If any of these gives you any doubt, you should likely find another program that will better fit your needs. One more note, if you are concerned about the expensive of the Executive Doctorate program, you might want to look at PhD programs. Most, if not all, reputable PhD programs provide stipends to do research at the institution. My own PhD degree was paid for (for 5 years) through grants and scholarships, however, don’t expect to get rich. You will have enough money of the PhD stipend to live the life of luxury, such as eating peanut butter sandwiches and spaghetti almost all the time. 🙂 (Just kidding, during grad school my wife and I had the occasional nice meal about once a month or so).

2. An Executive PhD Will Likely Not Help With Becoming a Tenure-Track Business School Professor.

If you are thinking of pursuing an Executive Doctorate program to become a tenure-track Business School Professor, I would advice you against this route. Virtually all of my friends and colleagues who are Business School Professors did not go this route, and I am unaware of anyone who received tenure with such a degree (excluding the folks at Harvard). Of course, I don’t know everyone, and this may vary a lot between schools and countries. Yet, most people who become Business School Professors received a PhD in Business Administration or a comparable degree (ie. PhD in Organizational Sociology, PhD in Financial Economics, etc.). I am not saying that it can’t be done, but it will be very difficult to get a tenure-track position in a university with such a PhD degree. You will have to be all the more promising in other areas. For example, if you were the former-CEO of a major corporation, I would imagine that many Business Schools would welcome you to teach, but again, it will likely not be a tenure-track position. If you want to become a Tenure-Track Business School Professor, I would highly recommend that you read this guide to become a Business School Professor. You can also read this post about how long a PhD will take so you can become a Business School Professor.

3. Executive DBA Programs Are A Lot Of Work.

If you think a doctorate program is about eating pizza, drinking beer, and having deep discussions, you are going to be quite mistaken. You should roughly expect to work the same amount that you would in an executive or professional career, like a member of a top management team, a management consultant, or a corporate lawyer. The hours they work are going to be very comparable to the hours you will have to put into a PhD program. The key advantage is you get to work whenever you want to work, just as long as you are putting in 50-80 hour weeks (it varies depending on the demands of the week). Any doctorate program will be a lot of work, and you have to weigh the sacrifice of getting that degree against your current life. You have to make sure that your partner or spouse is on board with this career. I have seen many personal relationships suffer when people make the investment in a doctorate program. Just make sure everyone is on board, and that you are all are aware of the sacrifice you are going to make. Whether this sacrifice is worth it is really up to you, and what you desire in life.

Additional Resources To Help You Think About Executives Doctorates In Business

You might want to watch these additional YouTube videos if you are thinking of doing Executive Doctorates In Business. The advice given in these videos are worth exactly what you paid for them, however, I do think they would resonate with many people that have had experience in the field. Here are some things you probably should know.

Should You Pursue A Weekend PhD in Business Program?

Most people would probably discourage you from thinking about a PhD program from a part-time basis. It is one of those things that you just have to jump into the program. However, I might would willing to say that the Executive Doctorate is the one exception for the right candidate. The problem is understanding if you are the right student that could handle doing a PhD part-time (most would probably not do well – I am not kidding). I would highly suggest that you think and have many discussions if this makes sense for you, and if you think you are the one exception.

Should You Become A Management Consultant By Obtaining An Executive DBA?

An executive DBA or executive PhD is aimed for people to go into industry, and possibly consult. The degree is set up for people to pursue to get a more in-depth understanding without having the requirement to go into academia. Thus, I would think that it would make sense for you to pursue an executive program to get into management consulting, or to accelerate your Management Consulting career. If you want to become a business professor, I would highly recommend that you do a PhD from a very good university, instead. A PhD is just more common. Feel free to watch the following video to find out more:

Do You Need Management Experience To Do An Executive PhD In Business Administration?

In the following video, I mention that you do not need a lot of management experience to pursue a PhD because it requires a different skill-set than an MBA. You can also find this excellent blog post about the requirement of management experience and doing a PhD in Business.  However, if you are thinking of pursuing an executive PhD, I would imagine that most programs will strongly emphasize your work and management experience. Why do programs emphasize management experience for an Executive PhD?  The big reason is that they are looking for excellent candidates to go and become the next industry superstar, which is not the same as becoming an academic superstar. They want their students to do well in industry, and thus management experience is a good predictor of how well they will do in the future once the degree is completed.

What Are Questions To Ask During Your Executive PhD In Business Interview?

The following video is focused on doing well in a PhD interview, but many of the same issues and comments will apply to the executive doctorate as well. The program is still going to be focused on research, so the people that will be evaluating you will still be keenly aware of your interest in doing research in the future. I would also think about possible ways to add how you can make your doctoral education applicable to your business organization, and to point out what data and resources you can bring to the Professors that are interviewing you. Professors are also excited about new data-sources. If you want more tips to get into doctorate programs in Business, you ought to read this great overview of tips to apply to Doctorate programs.

Should You Start A Doctorate / PhD In Business To Change Careers?

Should you think about doing an executive doctorate to change careers? I am going to reiterate what I say in this video, you should think about where you are going rather than what you are running from. If you are thinking of getting a Doctorate in Business as a 10 year plan to do something that you want to do, then yes, I would recommend doing the doctorate degree. However, if you are simply just tired of what you are currently doing right now, I would hope that you pass over this option because a PhD is far too difficult to take lightly. Anyway, hope you liked this post! I tried to make this post on executive doctorate programs as comprehensive as possible. And, as usual, this is part of my r3ciprocity project, which you can learn more about the software that I am trying to build to make the world better for graduate students. Take care!