January 18th, 2022

In today’s world – where innovation, in every sense, iterates rapidly and where business moves at a lightning pace – are traditional MBAs failing the modern executive?

Technology, mobility, globalization, and new business models have removed barriers and reinvented even the most antiquated industries, such as healthcare and insurance. It’s easier than ever to share information, to create, to build. It’s also easier to consume information – coming at us fast in all forms.

However, despite these advances, higher education and the traditional executive MBA – long revered as a must-have for any ambitious executive – is a laggard in the innovation department.

Traditional courseware (even when offered online) doesn’t make sense for today’s world. 

The traditional learning model from grade school through higher education, even when offered through MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) is not what busy, dynamic, modern executives need. They take a long time to perfect (even years), are associated with outdated case studies, history, and detailed architecture that says “learn this first, then this…” and so on.

For so much of business, especially earlier in a career, this model is essential for career learning (think course catalog with 101 through 401 learning). But in the real world of building, operating and governing a business at the top levels, it’s not what works best. Dare I say: this model is ripe for total disruption.

MBAs, bootcamps, and certificate programs require that you’re either in or you’re out and they are time-bound. They are a prescriptive, defined study with a very real (and expensive) finish line. But there’s an entire world of businesses and executive leaders outside of the MBA who need to make business happen, now. There are executives who need to present to the board, host a high-stakes strategy session, collaborate across the business to innovate strategy, expand into new markets, go through a merger and acquisition, today or this year.

The world does not wait for the MBA to happen – it marches on and evolves with or without it. This puts leaders who are eager to learn (and really, truly need answers, insight, mentoring, support) in a bind. They’re on their own, limited to personal networks, consultants, and even – well – search engines for answers.

Yet there’s a greater need than ever for advanced learning.

The model doesn’t work, yet broader business learning is needed more now than ever. The faster things evolve, the more we need to be able to keep up in an instant. As executives, CEOs, and board members, we are busy. And we need to know what we need to know right when we need to know it – no sooner, and no later. On-demand, digestible, current, and taught by leaders who have just done what we are about to do: scaling, IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, remote workforce, SPACs, and so on.

Just like books, mastermind groups, and podcasts lend themselves to creating an enriching learning experience for the reader/participant/listener, there’s a demand for thoughtful learning for leaders, and I’m not talking about the traditional leadership skills (presentation, negotiation, managing up and out, and so on). Those are important too, but I’m talking about the business of running the business.

MBAs require unreasonable cost and time commitment

I know there must be other middle-aged, successful executives like myself – we’re paying mortgages and college tuition. Not only do I not have the luxury of hitting “pause” on my career for an MBA program, but I’m also far from interested in the six-figure bill that would come with it. Recent research shows that top programs can easily result in $100K to $200K of debt in just two years. Yikes!

No thank you.

MBAs focus on pillars, but today’s executives must be cross-functional and holistic.

CISOs know information security; CMOs know marketing; CFOs know finance. But once you reach the SVP and C-suite, it’s less about functional expertise (that’s what helped you rise in the first place), and more about looking across the organization and even outside the organization.

Leaders must understand the spectrum of a company’s stakeholders, far beyond the reach of their own functional team. They must get the customer perspective, investor perspective, board perspective, the community perspective, society’s perspective. They need to know how to support and interact with boards, how to partner with CFOs and CEOs, how to fundraise, how to scale, how to go public. And they need to succeed with empathy and emotional intelligence, while leading a multigenerational, remotely dispersed workforce in a pandemic.

Pedigree has gone digital.

It’s not wrong to desire the pedigree associated with a top school – there’s a reason I went to Penn, after all. But the elite have gone digital, just like the rest of the world. They’re gathering on their own for monthly happy hours, cohort learning groups, mentoring discussions, coaching engagements. While MBAs haven’t evolved, the people who they serve have embraced a new way of learning. And they’re thriving while they’re at it.

Alternatives to an MBA

There are very real alternatives to the MBA for executives who are curious, ready to learn, eager to connect – and have no time to spare. Imagine if you could have “Netflix for Business”, where rather than surfing categories like “family” or ‘drama” you are surfing “Preparing for IPO”, “Executive Financial Acumen”, “the CEO’s Office”, and so on – everything from funding, to building, to operating, to governing a business. Starting live, then available on-demand. That’s exactly what Athena offers, paired with a sense of community and a powerful network.

And just like top-tier schools, the outside world comes recruiting. This is why Athena has maintained its board and advisory listings as we’ve evolved. As our members evolve, we remain committed to delivering opportunities directly to our platform and into our members’ inboxes. It’s an ecosystem of support for the world’s top executives – while allowing us to focus on the business.

How are you committed to learning and evolving in 2022 and beyond? If you’re a senior woman executive who wants to learn the business of running a business, connect with other top leaders, and access exclusive opportunities, Athena may be right for you. (Learn more here.)



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