When Jeff Swallow attended Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management Executive M.B.A program nine years ago, he never expected to find his future business partners.
Senior executives in Magnetrol, the family-owned business he was working for, were poised for retirement. Mr. Swallow soon knew where to find their replacements. 'I needed to surround myself with the best people I possibly can, and I found those (people) at Kellogg,' he says.
When a director of accounting position opened up in 2002, one year after the program ended, Mr. Swallow suggested one of his study group mates, Marlin Underwood. About six years later, at the end of 2007, a director general counsel position opened up and Mr. Swallow looked to John Heiser, another of his Kellogg study group partners.
Now Magnetrol, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based industrial manufacturer, has come full circle: it is sending its first employee to the program.
In executive M.B.A. programs it's not unusual for students to find future business partners, co-workers -- and sometimes even spouses -- during the roughly 22-months of class meetings.
Many of those connections are rooted in study groups, which are usually not formed by luck of the draw or random sorting on Excel. Instead, a myriad of staff members at a business school often will work for months to first admit the right mix of students and then place them in strategically-appropriate study groups. At Kellogg, anywhere between five and 10 staff members work to form a study group, and each cohort has about 12 study groups, says Julie Cisek Jones, assistant dean and director of Kellogg's E.M.B.A program. 'It's an intense process that takes several weeks of mixing and matching,' she says. 'The first pass at study groups is never what the final study groups tend to be.'
These by-design relationships group together students of different industries, job experience, academic background, gender and location create what the school believes to be the most effective learning environment. A typical group might include a quant jock, an engineer, a marketing executive, a health care director and a manufacturing manager.
From these groups spring personal and professional connections. 'Study groups are very tight, they form a certain level of bond that you get in no other way,' says Marjorie DeGraca, executive director of the University of California, Berkeley-Columbia joint executive M.B.A program.
One year, to get the study groups just-so, Ms. DeGraca laid out index cards with students' names and basic facts on her living room floor, mixing and matching until the groups seem balanced.
Students say the meticulous effort is worth it. According to The Wall Street Journal's 2008 Executive M.B.A. student survey, 80% of recent graduates said 'perceived quality of classmates' was an important factor when they selected their E.M.B.A program, second only to the reputation of the school. About 66% of those surveyed also said 'opportunities to network with senior business executives' was an important factor.
Forming and maintaining a network is essential to many students, who say they continue to keep in touch with classmates during and after the programs. Schools with multiple programs make efforts for students from the various programs to meet whether it's for a particular class, for international electives or for seminars made available to all of the school's executive programs.
The result: plenty of E.M.B.A. alums, like the employees at Magnetrol, end up working with -- or for -- each other. Others have gone as far as creating companies with their peers.
When Jennifer Boss was a student in the University of Chicago's E.M.B.A program a few months ago, she purposely sat with Russian students while taking classes in Europe. Ms. Boss, a senior vice president in research at Heitman LLC was motivated because the Chicago-based real estate investment management firm she works for was putting its money in a new fund in Russia. 'I made all of these great contacts including someone who works for a consulting firm who has real estate contacts,' she says. 'It worked out really well.'
Maura O'Neill was in the Berkeley-Columbia program when a classmate approached her with an idea to start a new business. After giving him advice, he asked her to be the chairman of the board. Two years after completing the program, in March 2008 they sold the company, Cafescribe.com, an educational software producer. 'We started working on it, bouncing ideas off while we were still in the E.M.B.A program,' she says.
Of course, some of these relationships go beyond the boardroom. Dayo and Toks Olabisi first met at a Wharton Business School information session. After exchanging business cards, neither expected anything more than a professional relationship would ensue.
But their friendship continued to grow after both decided to attend Wharton's E.M.B.A program. 'I actually felt [Dayo] is what helped me get through it,' Toks says. 'We're able to always leverage up each other (to do our best).' The pair married in December 2006 and graduated from the program in May 2008.
Dating during the programs is not entirely uncommon. Dina Keswani, a student in Cornell University's E.M.B.A program, has seen couples form in the school's program. 'When you spend so much time during a weekend doing work and stuff related to schoolㄒyou form a bond with the people,' she says. '[The couples are] really maximizing their time.'
Kelley Blanco, assistant dean at Columbia University's E.M.B.A program, knows that first hand: she married one of her learning group members from the program. And at the end of the day, whether personal or professional, Blanco says peer connections can make or break a program.
'That cohort component is definitely one of the keys to our success,' she said. 'I know the importance of the whole E.M.B.A experience, the whole thing. It makes the job a lot more rewarding.'
九年前，杰夫·斯万娄(Jeff Swallow)进入西北大学凯洛格管理学院(Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management)攻读EMBA课程，当时他并没有想到自己会在这里找到未来的工作伙伴。
2002年，EMBA课程结束后一年，公司财务主管的职位出现了空缺，斯万娄推荐了自己EMBA学习小组的同学马林·安德伍德(Marlin Underwood)。大约六年之后的2007年年底，首席法律顾问一职也出现了空缺，这回斯万娄又找来了凯洛格的另一位同学约翰·黑瑟(John Heiser)。
这类的关系中有很多都是在学习小组中建立起来的，而学习小组的组成通常并不是靠简单的抽签或者Excel的随机分配。商学院要调派大量人手、花费数月的时间，先招收到各类合适的学员，然后再将他们分到相互匹配的学习小组。凯洛格学院院长助理及EMBA课程负责人朱莉·西塞克·乔恩斯(Julie Cisek Jones)说，在凯洛格商学院，需要5至10名学校员工来安排一个学习小组的组成，一个班学生大约会分成12个学习小组。她说：“这是个严密的过程，我们要花上好几周的时间来把学生混合再匹配。而学习小组初选出来的人员构成跟最终的构成肯定会有不同。”
几个月前，詹尼弗·博施(Jennifer Boss)还是芝加哥大学(University of Chicago)的EMBA学员。去欧洲上课时，她刻意跟俄罗斯的同学坐在一起。博施供职于总部位于芝加哥的房地产投资管理公司Heitman LLC，是负责调研业务的高级副总裁。她之所以这样做是因为公司正在投资俄罗斯的一个新基金。她说：“我结识了很多对我非常有帮助的人，其中有一个来自一家拥有众多房地产业客户的咨询公司。真的是很有帮助。”
当然，也有一些人的交往远远超越了办公室的范畴。妲尤·奥拉比西(Dayo Olabisi)和托克斯·奥拉比西(Toks Olabisi)第一次见面是在沃顿商学院(Wharton Business School)的介绍宣讲会。交换名片的时候，两个人都没有想到他们之间还会发展出比职业交往更为深入的关系。
念EMBA期间谈恋爱已经完全不是什么新鲜事了。在康奈尔大学(Cornell University)读EMBA的蒂娜·凯斯瓦尼(Dina Keswani)已经在自己的班上看到好几对了。她说：“即便是在周末，你还是要花很多时间来做跟学业有关的各种事情……于是你就跟这些人建立起了一种紧密的关联。（这些情侣）不过是在最大限度地利用自己的时间而已。”