When is the Right Time for an EMBA?

At face value, the matter of when executives should pursue an EMBA should be straightforward. In reality, the right answer to the question of "when?" often turns out to be far more nuanced.

One of the most common questions our EMBA applicants ask is, ‘when is the right time for an EMBA?’ The short answer: there is no “right” time for an EMBA.  The decision requires reflecting on career goals and aspirations, and how an EMBA can support or accelerate that trajectory.

HEC Paris Executive MBA: a snapshot

The HEC Paris EMBA program is designed with an executive’s busy agenda in mind. The median age of EMBA students at HEC Paris is about 38 years old. Each has met or exceeded the program’s standards of excellence for admission. Each is highly experienced, often recognized experts in their chosen field. On top of that, many have their hands full with family commitments.

But where they are in their career journey can vary drastically, underpinning the absence of a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when a professional is ready to pursue an EMBA.

With a program average of 14 years’ professional experience, most are comfortably mid-career. There are many exceptions, however. A sizeable minority are in their early-career stages, with roughly 5-8 years’ work experience; still others have more than 25 years’ experience.

HEC Paris EMBA January track rentrée

And every year, the roughly 250 students across 4 intakes and 2 study formats who start their EMBA studies at HEC Paris have at least this in common:

Early-career, mid-career, or late-career, they are all ready to broaden their networks, strengthen their leadership skills, and embrace a diverse EMBA classroom’simmense learning potential to help open doors and pursue the career they’ve always wanted.

An EMBA for Early-Career Executives

The answer to the question “when is the right time for an EMBA?” is completely subjective.

Many current students are already in leadership roles. Rather than taking a break from their careers to pursue executive management training full time, they leverage the flexibility of an EMBA. That way, they can take their professional development to the next level while staying in their positions.

Such was the case for alumni Lindsay Bergner, and Henrique Sigolo,  who were 31 and 29, respectively, when they began at the HEC Paris Executive MBA.

US native Lindsey used her EMBA in part to facilitate a move from HR at Richemont to a key position spearheading digital commercial partnerships at Cartier.

“I was very clear that if I wanted to move from HR,” she explains. “The easiest route for me was going to be internally. Staying at Richemont meant I could leverage my internal reputation.”

HEC Paris EMBA alumna Lindsey Bergner

Indeed, when it came time to interview for her new role, she credits the EMBA’s Capstone Project, an executive-level deep dive, in helping position her to land the job.

“EMBA classes in general, and the Capstone in particular, gave me a good level of business understanding to understand my scope quickly and immediately bring value to my new role.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of how EMBA students bring immediate value to the workplace.

For one, becoming classmates with executives from across disciplines— each brimming with knowledge, skill, and experience in their domain—is an unparalleled resource, especially for younger candidates.

Henrique, EMBA ’19,  for one, would have opted for a full-time MBA if preconceived notions about age were all that counted. At 29 when he began the EMBA, he was comfortably the youngest member of his intake— but already in an advanced position in his career.

“The level of my cohort-mates, in terms of experience and moment in their careers, was so much further ahead than full-time MBAs,” he explained. After finishing his EMBA, he went from an advanced management role at GE Renewable Energy in France to running Amazon’s FP&A operations in his native Brazil.

“I started going to job fairs for full-time MBAs— talking to people and seeing what jobs were on offer — and I realized that those candidates were in much different career stages than I was. Even though I was the same age, all the jobs on offer would’ve been a career step back for me.”

EMBA Benefits to Mid-Career Professionals

It is no stretch to assume many mid-career EMBA students would have pursued a full-time MBA sooner if life didn’t have different plans in store for them. Indeed, for those mid-career, an EMBA might seem more obvious: it’s a chance to sharpen your management toolkit, build broader networks, and take a thoughtful and introspective step back to take stock of your career roadmap.

HEC Paris EMBA alumna Bommy Lee

“The EMBA really enabled me, I think for the first time, to stop and think about how I wanted to live my life more deliberately going forward,” said Canadian native Bommy Lee, EMBA ‘18.

Her EMBA helped her pivot from journalism to corporate leadership in venture capital.

Many EMBA students cite mid-career reflection, and a refresh, as primary motivators in joining when they did. Before considering an EMBA program, Bommy says, “I felt like I could see the end of what my potential would be. That’s why I decided to do a business program.”

How the EMBA helps give structure to career transformation

Bommy’s path from journalism to venture capital was, in part, accelerated by key connections among the HEC Paris alumni network, numbering 70,000-plus with chapters found around the world.

The potential of the broad networks she and her fellow EMBA alumni join isn’t limited to geography. An EMBA classroom is filled with experts in each of their chosen fields of interest, which means each participant is also exposed to their classmates’ unique and often insight-laden approaches to problem solving.

Alumni Emilie Metge Viargues, EMBA ‘19, and Arnaud Naudan, EMBA ‘20, parlayed absorbing EMBA lessons and rich insights of their own into the ultimate C-suite promotion: to CEO, of Christofle and BDO France, respectively.

Copyright Nathalie Oundjian

“The HEC Paris EMBA gave me that certainty and belief that I’d be able to accomplish my goals,” Emilie remarks.

Emilie used the EMBA to add the confidence she lacked to a professional track record already steeped in gravitas and accomplishment in the luxury industry. She credits the experience as a key ingredient to her eventual promotion.

The EMBA, she says, “gave me the wings to fly.”

Arnaud, on the other hand, used the program’s signature Capstone Project as the basis of his vision of BDO France’s 3-year plan, a critical asset in his promotion to CEO.

“My Capstone project was the culmination of the holistic HEC experience that helped me secure this role,” he explains.

“From strategic concepts that I integrated into my Capstone, to the business plan that got me this job, to the soft skills that needed mastering in order to succeed in my new role, to my cohort-mates from whom I learned so much, everything helped convince my partners to accept me as CEO of the firm.”

An EMBA Jolt for Late-Career Candidates

Candidates with 20 or more years of high-level work experience have just as much to gain from an EMBA as anyone else.

At 49, alum Patrick Aisenberg, EMBA ‘16, began his Executive MBA with a verve and openness of spirit that had served him well in his career as a serial entrepreneur. As an applicant, though, he had been more hesitant.

“I was concerned that at 49 I may not be able to learn more,” he explains.

He quickly discovered that concern to be unfounded.

“You’d think that at 49 your brain might not be a sponge again, or that you can’t learn again—or not as well—but that’s wrong…I can say that from first-hand experience now.”

The insights, hard skills, and confidence he gained from the course and his classmates helped him sell his company of 25 years, Linkbynet, as part of an acquisition campaign by Accenture.

“You’d think that at 49 your brain might not be a sponge again, or that you can’t learn again—or not as well—but that’s wrong…I can say that from first-hand experience now.”

HEC Paris S building

Late-career “triple jump” into the C-suite

But career entrepreneurs like Patrick are hardly the only late-career candidates who can expect clear gains from an EMBA.

Roland Dubois, EMBA ’20, wanted to make a big change after nearly 30 successful years in metals and mining. He used his EMBA to help engineer a career “triple jump”, changing function, geography, and industry, and landed the C-suite.

“I was 50 with a background in different roles. I was also already trained in management,” he explained in an interview with Business Because.

“It was important for me to stop and refresh and update my knowledge.”

Sharpening one’s management toolkit—from skills to networks to unalloyed self-confidence—is a key motivator for EMBA candidates, regardless of their career stage.

“It’s really down to the diversity and completeness of the different EMBA courses, which cover basically everything you need to be a CEO,” he continued.

“How you combine this for success is up to you.”

HEC Paris EMBA march intake

When should you do an EMBA?

An EMBA presents exceptional professional opportunities to those that make the most of the classroom and network available to them.

But everyone’s career goals are unique. Whether those goals are to ascend the ranks within your current company, shift to a more purpose-driven path, make a career pivot, or something else entirely, the right timing for an EMBA depends on your unique situation.

If you’re ready to build a road map for your aspirations, consider joining one of our regular program webinars or connect with our recruitment team to discuss how the HEC Paris EMBA might help you reach your goals.

More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. The Executive MBA at HEC Paris perennially ranks among the best in the world; click here to learn more.

To get the latest news and information about the HEC Paris Executive MBA delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your EMBA journey, introduce yourself  to our recruitment team.