Non-C-Suite Career Paths for Executive MBA Degree Holders

Executive MBA programs have long been considered a fast track to the C-suite. An intensive course of study created to develop high-level management skills, critical-thinking capacity, and decision-making ability, the EMBA was designed to prepare promising business managers who already had several years of experience to move into executive positions.

In the past, corporations often paid for all or part of an EMBA education, considering it an investment in the executives climbing their particular corporate ladder.

Today’s Executive MBA aspirants have different goals, rather than seeking traditional executive MBA graduate jobs, according to the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), an academic association that represents the EMBA industry. They are more likely to finance their own education and follow their own career path after graduation.

“Executive MBA programs not only help business leaders grow, they help them make significant career transitions, find a new job or garner a promotion, or launch a new business,” EMBAC notes in “Fuel to propel your advancement” on its website. “Simply put, EMBA programs are designed to broaden the horizons of students. They offer fundamental knowledge that can be applied to all kinds of situations while also supporting personal and leadership development.”

Part of the reason for the shift in career direction can be attributed to changing expectations in the workforce.

“Lifelong careers with the same employer are slowly fading into history as talented managers become more selective in their EMBA career paths,” according to “EMBA Paths Are Becoming More Diverse” on “EMBA participants are also more open to committing to new business ventures beyond the corporate world.”

Washington State University’s online Executive MBA students are finding that the knowledge they develop as part of the program can help them succeed in a variety of endeavors.

Benefits of an EMBA Program

The first EMBA program began in 1943 as a way to develop new leaders who could help expand American industry during World War II, the Financial Times notes in its article, “Moving with the times – 75 years of the EMBA.”

Similar to today’s programs, it targeted senior managers who had significant career experience but who needed an educational option that did not affect their full-time work schedule. The model was a success, and today more than 260 institutions offer an EMBA degree, the Financial Times article says.

There are many reasons for the degree’s popularity. The benefits of an executive MBA are numerous, EMBAC notes, and can include:

  • Significant salary increases: The 2018 EMBAC survey indicates that the average compensation package (including salary and bonuses) for respondents at the start of their EMBA program was $172,498. That figure rose to $197,719 by the time they received their degree.
  • Leadership development: EMBA programs are laser-focused on developing leadership skills. Students often design their own leadership or personal development plans tailored to their particular objectives. Program elements that help them realize their goals may include:
    • Use of self-assessment tools to enhance self-awareness and provide a greater understanding of strengths and weaknesses
    • Emphasis on improving “soft” skills such as communication, negotiation, and relationship building
    • Executive coaching
    • Leadership residencies and courses
    • Leadership programs
  • Global perspective: Because modern business is international in nature, leaders need a more comprehensive and diverse mindset, which EMBA programs can help develop.
  • Influential networks: EMBA programs focus on helping students develop more significant connections with professional peers.

Graduates also come away with better critical-thinking skills, increased confidence, stronger communication skills, and greater ability to lead a team, according to EMBAC.

Alternatives to the C-Suite

The mix of hard and soft skills acquired in an EMBA program can be put to use in a range of leadership positions, whether in business or other organizations. Some popular recent options for EMBA aspirants and graduates include:

  • Switching careers

For all the attention to higher salaries, more money wasn’t the top reason EMBA graduates initially chose the program.

The ability to “change one’s career trajectory” was more important than money to EMBA alumni who responded to a survey conducted by EMBAC and LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. Core business knowledge took the top spot in the survey, while increased earning potential only ranked 5th.

Aspiring managers, the Financial Times notes, have “realized the need to invest in their own professional qualifications to give themselves an advantage in an increasingly competitive job market.”

  • Starting businesses

Planning for one’s own corner office, rather than moving into a corporate executive suite, is becoming an increasingly popular option for EMBA graduates and students—especially for those with a background in technology, engineering, or science.

They have the technical skills, notes, but want to acquire the management perspective necessary to start or scale up their businesses. EMBA studies help them develop business expertise and increase their confidence level.

“Oftentimes, taking the dream to the next level requires a mastery of soft skill items like influencing change and leading people,” according to’s article, “How an Executive MBA might propel your career as an entrepreneur.” “And there is not a replacement for confidence in your business acumen when seeking loans, talking to investors, or recruiting that next superstar to your team.”

With the increase in aspiring entrepreneurs seeking these degrees, EMBA programs have begun changing to meet these more diverse needs.

“As students have picked up more of the check, they’ve demanded an experience more finely tailored to their goals and interests,” U.S. News and World Report notes in “EMBA: Boost a Career While Working.”

To meet that demand, some schools now include such electives as entrepreneurship and strategy while others focus on customized programs ranging from national security to healthcare, the article continues.

  • Working in the nonprofit sector

Like corporations, nonprofit organizations need strong fiscal management to be successful and sustainable. “No margin, no mission”—a phrase credited to Sister Irene Kraus, the founding executive of Daughters of Charity National Health System (now Verity Health System)—is the mantra of many nonprofit executives.

Sister Irene was also the first woman chair of the American Hospital Association. When she took the reins of Daughters of Charity in 1986, the operation’s annual budget was more than $3 billion, according to her 1998 obituary in the New York Times.

An EMBA degree can help nonprofit executives taking a path similar to Sister Irene’s to develop skill sets comparable to their peers in the corporate world.

Washington State University’s EMBA Degree Program

Washington State University’s Carson College of Business offers an online Executive MBA program that can prepare graduates to become strong, influential leaders in whatever business ventures they opt to pursue. Contact Washington State for more information.

Recommended Reading:

3 Ways Leadership Experience Makes You a Perfect Candidate for an EMBA

An Overview of Executive Leadership Styles and Traits

What Type of Business Professionals Will Benefit the Most from an Executive MBA?



Broadening horizons: Executive MBE Council

Changes in career expectations: AccessMBA

First EMBA program: Financial Times

EMBA salary increase: EMBAC

“In an Executive MBA Worth it?”: EMBAC news release

Switching careers: Financial Times

Boost a career while working: US News

Starting businesses: Financial Times

Sister Irene obit: New York Times