MBA and Executive MBA Programs Improve Strategic Thinking and Support Business Development

When organizations send their employees to leadership development programs, the organization, as well as its individuals, often reap benefits for years to come. MBA and EMBA programs provide keys to strategic thinking, deeper business understanding, and networking – supporting long-term business development and personal growth.

Photo: Otso Alasko

Annika Rautakoura, 14.08.2023

Executive education programs such as MBA and EMBA are excellent pathways for breathing new life into innovations within organizations while boosting individual potential. Aalto MBA and Aalto EMBA provide a holistic business understanding for individuals to work across departments and expand their mindset.

We interviewed representatives from five Finnish organizations, with several employees taking part in an Aalto MBA or EMBA in recent years. While each organization has specific needs in terms of employee education, expanding business thinking has similar effects across industries.

Supporting business innovation with personal development

Sending employees to an MBA or EMBA program spanning a couple of years is based on a careful evaluation within the organization. The program participant’s work position, often tied to specific goals related to the business, is important for the decision, and yet it is often a matter of evaluating the individual’s situation as a whole and what they hope to gain personally as well.

Mika Laakso, Senior Vice President of S Group, describes the process: “For us, it all starts with the employee’s strong personal motivation to take part in such a program. At the same time, we evaluate what it could mean for our business – what type of potential the person has in terms of leadership or ensuring the right kind of know-how in our organization for years to come.”

For example, S Group has a complex organizational and ownership structure, operating locally and within numerous different sectors. Especially if there is rotation on the management level due to retirement, it is important to find tools for maintaining strategic business expertise among employees and find ways to support up-to-date thinking inside the organization.

Mikko Vihanto, CEO of logistics company Varova, participated in Aalto MBA during 2014–16, then as the company’s Network Manager. He has since sent another employee to the program, with his own experiences having supported the decision. “We make a holistic assessment of each person’s wishes and situation, but I find it crucial that the program will provide immediate benefits for the participant and support them in their current work.”

He also encouraged Varova’s Network Manager, Samuel Söderström, who has worked for Varova in different roles for 20 years, to partake in the program. Söderström felt that his former degree in Business Administration was not particularly tied to practice and has mostly learned on the job. Yet new positions that have emerged in Varova over the years brought new educational needs, and he began his MBA studies in 2022. “I wanted a theoretical framework to support our business and bring new ideas,” Söderström explains.

Strategic thinking across the board

One overarching theme of the program that participants glean from Aalto EE’s leadership programs is improved strategic thinking and what it can mean in a business context. Expanding the strategic mindset can result in new ideas, thinking far outside the box, and understanding business on a new level. Participants complete mandatory modules, along with electives that can be chosen according to personal and possibly organizational interests.

MBA provides a very extensive cut-through of different business functions.”

“MBA provides a very extensive cut-through of different business functions,” Vihanto states. “While the program does not produce accountants, it includes all that participants need to know, for example, about accounting and managerial accounting to support decision-making.”

People in specific functions often do not come into contact with the agendas of business areas besides their own. Once they acquire a shared business understanding, the differences between departments and the distance between key players are smoothened out. “People begin to speak the same language,” Vihanto notes.

An MBA educates you more than a nine-to-five job."

Wesley Pijpers, Business & Operations Lead for Supercell’s Hay Day game, believes in the importance of interfacing with colleagues from different departments. There was a lot of marketing and HR knowledge he did not have before partaking in the MBA from 2020 to 2022. “The MBA gave me perspectives on talking to people with different domain expertise, communicating at their level, and understanding what they need for success,” he says.

For Pijpers, developing oneself goes beyond daily activities. “An MBA educates you more than a nine-to-five job,” he notes. It brings people into a different situation and puts more pressure on them to truly develop their thinking and talents, he believes.

Juhani Kipinoinen, Key Account Director at ISS, works in global account management at ISS. He first participated in Aalto EE’s Global Leader 2021 and then in Aalto EMBA after his supervisor recommended the latter due to Kipinoinen’s interest in strategic planning. “I have worked with several strategies in the company, and Aalto EE’s education has been crucial in providing insights for them,” he notes. The insights he has gained range all the way from ways of building strategies to understanding different prediction models. 

Aalto EE’s programs build on quality and internationality

There are countless leadership program providers in Finland and around the world – yet Aalto continues to draw participants as an educational provider year after year. Generally, the EMBA is preferred for current executives and leaders with more work experience, while the MBA is intended for a range of positions but is aimed at ambitious professionals and managers.

It was extremely valuable to connect with professionals from different industries."

The different modules of the program feature instructors from partner universities around the world, along with participants from different industries. This provides a range of benefits for examining one’s business from an outsider’s perspective. Study tours and exchange period opportunities are also part of the program.

The international aspect was a key factor for Eeva-Riitta Tuominen, Business Unit Director at ISS. She heads one of the company’s six business units and started her studies in 2021.

“Because we operate in an international setting at ISS, it was extremely valuable to connect with professionals from different industries,” Tuominen notes. She considers the network ensuing from the program to be not only a personal but also a commercial one. “Having collegial relations with different operators and companies is highly valuable for the company,” she continues.

Project Manager at Supercell Ella-Roosa Tenhunen, whose MBA started in 2020 with the Aalto Executive Summit in Singapore, also highlights the international opportunities the program offered. “International study trips and the possibility of exchange were important to me, as they provided alternative perspectives and opportunities to expand my network even further,” she notes.  

For her, the MBA included an exchange period at Imperial College in London and a study tour to Yale. “I would not have been able to tailor my academic experience this much compared to the other universities on my shortlist,” Tenhunen says.

Meeting modern demands and improving leadership

Participants represent companies operating in a range of fields, which all have their specific demands for business. These requirements are only growing in the current global environment, setting pressure for organizations to maintain business resilience with the best possible tools.

S Group’s Laakso considers the need for in-depth business understanding to be more crucial than ever, especially for companies operating across several industries. “Considering the current changes taking place in the world, the demands for in-depth business, as well as specific expertise, are growing exponentially. Educational partners need to be able to respond to these demands,” he notes.

Petri Paajanen, Managing Director of Pori Energia, who participated in Aalto EMBA starting in 2019, considers leadership a lifelong path. During his EMBA, he wanted to dive into the latest discussions and phenomena in management and update his understanding of what being a leader in today’s environment looks like. Besides him, two other people from the board have also taken part in the Aalto EMBA.

“Each module challenges your notions of leadership and gives a new outlook on it,” he says and notes that his company has looked at digitalization, for example, in a whole new way on the board level.

Engaging employees and supporting ambition

Paajanen points out that companies are competing for the best people in the job market. Allowing employees to develop their skills, broaden their thinking, and possibly grow into other roles within the company is a clear signal from the organization of being committed to its people. In the fast-paced recruitment environment, this is a competitive advantage of utmost value.

By allowing employees and managers to develop themselves, companies are also engaging them. Yet engagement should not be the primary reason for providing extensive business education – there need to be business and career development targets as well, Jaana Junell from ISS says.

In fact, it is only natural that employees eventually move in a new direction and continue on their career path, whether this means retirement, a new employer, or entrepreneurship. “Management needs to be prepared for key people eventually growing in their career and leaving their current position and ensure there are possible successors with potential to replace them,” Junell states.

Having several people from the same organization participate in a similar or the same educational program also often results in valuable dialogue within the company. Discussions and information sharing can pass innovative thinking along in the work community, Vihanto from Varova says. Yet the company needs to encourage discourse, give feedback and make space for change in order for it to happen.

“When business understanding within the company improves, it enables exchanging ideas and renewal – if the organization makes room for it,” he concludes.

Aalto EE offers two MBA programs: Aalto MBA and Aalto Executive MBA (EMBA), where participants experience a journey of transformation, including elements of personal leadership transformation as well as business and organizational transformation. Read more

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