Daniel Scheu and Sabine Kuschel explain how two very different business schools in two countries created a winning EMBA partnership
From this year, the EQUIS-accredited Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences, University of Cologne in Germany will be offering a new international, part-time EMBA programme in co-operation with the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), also EQUIS-accredited, in the Netherlands.
The “Cologne-Rotterdam Executive MBA” has been created to forge a new generation of business leaders in the heart of Europe and is aimed at managers who already have some experience in leadership roles.
A dedicated joint team from the two schools took less than 12 months to launch this new executive training programme, which will be taught on the University of Cologne campus, the university’s new centre of expertise in management education.
It all began with an idea – to pool the expertise and experience of two prestigious universities and set up a joint programme for executives. The partnership would combine a highly ranked and renowned university, which has been awarded “excellence status” by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research, with one of the top 10 business schools in Europe, the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, which has more than 40 years’ experience of teaching MBA programmes.
The vision was the brainchild of Professor Ulrich Thonemann, vice-dean of Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences and managing director of the Business School of University of Cologne, and his Rotterdam-based colleague Professor Steef van de Velde, dean of RSM.
The initial concept of a new Cologne- Rotterdam Executive MBA was followed up by numerous talks at various levels, plus market and competitor analyses. As well as all the formalities involved in setting up the programme, March 2015 saw the kick-off of marketing activities to present the programme to the public and attract potential students.
The most difficult question was yet to be answered, though – would the programme be able to hold its own in the market? Helping it on its way was the marketing team for the launch, which included Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, director of marketing and admissions at RSM, with her team and an abundance of experience, and Daniel Scheu, head of marketing at the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences in Cologne.
In subsequent meetings in Cologne and Rotterdam, the team worked together intensively on a marketing plan covering all the key activities. Six months later, in September 2015, the big day arrived. The Cologne-Rotterdam Executive MBA was officially inaugurated at a launch event in Cologne.
This was also when the marketing process really got underway – with a new website, brochure and a host of other activities. The event was attended by guests invited from RSM and Cologne, alumni of RSM, prospective students and the media.
The University of Cologne has long been known for providing one of Germany’s best masters programmes. In his launch speech, Professor Thonemann described the promising outlook offered by the new MBA programme:
“RSM is one of Europe’s most prestigious business schools, with decades of experience in MBA education. This collaboration enables us to combine the strengths of our two institutions so that we can offer a first-class, international management education programme in Cologne. Our joint programme offers unique opportunities to participants as it merges the global corporate networks and alumni networks of both universities.”
That is what makes the new programme so different. It provides a “win-win-win” situation – for the University of Cologne, RSM, and future students and their employers. Perhaps most significant is that the new joint EMBA programme is a real co-production and not just a “franchise” of RSM’s existing EMBA programme, which would simply leverage existing modules to a new context.
Instead, the programme is taught in equal proportions by faculty from Rotterdam and Cologne. As a result, its contents combine the best of both worlds: the philosophical, sociological and economic underpinnings of a continental European, particularly German, university and the Anglo-Saxon analytical models and discourse typically taught at highly internationalised business schools such as RSM.
The official signing of the cooperation agreement at the launch event put the final seal on the shared future of RSM and the Business School of University of Cologne. Following a positive response from the press and potential candidates, the marketing campaign was stepped up via MBA websites, social media activities, a print campaign, promotion at MBA fairs, information events on campus and much more.
The initial reaction, in the form of website conversion rates and brochure downloads, plus the number of interested visitors to our stall at MBA fairs was very impressive. It is no surprise that the programme has proved very popular, what with two EQUIS-accredited business schools offering programmes catered to local demographics but embedded in international practice and discourse – a still somewhat rare phenomenon in Germany.
The combination of a solid local grounding in German business practice and academic scholarship, with a distinct international orientation in terms of modes of analysing and communicating about business topics, is fresh and innovative. The set goals have been exceeded so far.
Now, with the new programme started in September, both schools are delighted with the results; the first cohort of the Cologne-Rotterdam Executive MBA consists of 21 highly motivated students with 40% international background, an average age of 33 years and work experience of eight years in average. That, to us, is clear proof that it was the right decision to venture into the international continuing education market hand in hand with RSM.
As well as producing a unique programme, taking this step together strengthened business relationships between the two universities at a wide variety of levels. And it led to friendships – which in corporate culture is essential for trust and investment in current and future joint projects.