Bewley featured in Business Week article about Harvard Business School PLD


For decades, Harvard Business School was the king of executive education. Particularly popular in management circles was HBS's noncredit "open enrollment" program. If a manager needed a quick refresher on a single, focused topic in, say, ethics, HBS was the first choice. And if an executive needed more than a crash course, the school offered a longer, more comprehensive option focused on management development and aimed at mid- to high-level employees without MBAs. The format served the school well for half a century.

But the B-school began to hear rumblings from corporate clients about what they deemed serious flaws in the program's design. First, the 8 to 12 weeks participants spent on campus was too long for them to be away from their jobs. Second, the school didn't attract enough applicants who were on the corporate fast track—the kind of people who would make good networking and brainstorming candidates. "There was a gap in what we were offering," says W. Earl Sasser, a veteran HBS management professor. So Sasser and his team rebuilt the program.

The result is called the Program for Leadership Development (PLD). It was designed to provide the best HBS has to offer—top professors, lots of case studies, and plenty of networking opportunities—without being too onerous for full-time employees.

For starters, the school toughened admissions criteria to ensure that classes include a range of talented and experienced people. Now attendees have as much as 15 years' working experience and many already hold MBAs.

Then Sasser & Co. expanded the length of the program, from 12 weeks to six months, while minimizing time on campus. Instead of three months in the classroom, PLD participants spend a pair of two-week sessions in Cambridge. Of course, reducing the amount of time spent on campus means the classroom intensity goes up several orders of magnitude. In their first two weeks on campus, PLD students cover 19 case studies. "We give the MBAs four times as long to cover the same amount of material," says Das Narayandas, the program's co-chief. "It's like trying to drink from a fire hose." To make the load more manageable, the school has designed the curriculum so each professor's teaching builds on classes that came before.

Before coming to campus, participants complete Web-based tutorials to develop basic skills in areas like accounting and finance. After their first two weeks on campus, they return home and engage in an intense business simulation that unfolds over six weeks. Each team of six or seven students launches a virtual company in one industry. The teams compete against each other for market share and revenue, and are asked to analyze all aspects of the business, from marketing and accounting to strategy and product assortment—all topics covered in their studies. Each of the six weeks represents one year in the company's life. After each week, the group must decide how their company will proceed into the next year and so on.

HBS says its new program has much more in common with full-time MBA programs than with anything currently bearing the "executive education" label, both in design and class makeup. The school has put increasing emphasis on networking. While on campus for their two weeks, students stay in small, single dorm rooms that are linked by a common den-like gathering space to encourage socialization and teamwork. As a result, the school says, participants build relationships typically found in full-time MBA programs, bouncing around ideas and concepts, and carrying their discussions off-campus.

J. Patrick Bewley, who works full-time at a small San Ramos (Calif.) marketing firm, says he has been putting in 18-hour days since starting the program in mid-October. "I learn as much from my classmates as I do the professors," he says. A telling statement, since the program has mustered some of Harvard's top professors, among them Robert Kaplan and Clay Christensen. "The Harvard program was everything I was looking for," says Bewley, 32.