How SMU Cox Prepares MBA Graduates for the C-Suite

January 23, 2023

In a 2019 Ernst & Young survey of CEOs, board directors and institutional investors, two-thirds of respondents expressed that historic C-suite models are not suited to tomorrow’s business needs. The C-suite must adapt, and with it, those in leadership roles. To excel in an evolving executive landscape, aspiring C-suite professionals must develop forward-thinking analytical skills and hone the latest leadership competencies. Whether a Master of Business Administration program is the best place in which to do that depends.

Some online and in-person MBA programs focus on out-of-date leadership paradigms no longer effective in a changing world. Others, such as the SMU Cox School of Business Online Master of Business Administration program, adapt as industries, technologies and employee expectations change. Aspiring executives must seek out a future-focused MBA. SMU’s program evolves with business trends, preparing ambitious business professionals to achieve their career goals and contribute value in the modern C-suite.

The Evolution of the C-Suite 

From the explosion of big data and advanced analytics to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business landscape looks little like it did five years ago. Coupled with shifts in stakeholder expectations and the rise of automation, C-suite executives face new challenges and opportunities that require an updated business leadership skill set. 

Navigating internal and external stakeholder expectations demands a refresh on communication, financial management, strategic planning and interpersonal skills. Human resources surveys show that employees today expect their employers to prioritize mental and physical well-being, flexible working conditions and diverse and inclusive cultures. External pressure to adopt environmentally responsible policies and corporate social responsibility models also challenges today’s executives to balance protecting the planet and people against profit margins. 

The integration of Big Data and artificial intelligence changes the face of business and redefines the role of executive leaders. More than ever, C-suite professionals need a firm handle on advanced analytics to improve decision-making and drive better business outcomes. These technical skills become even more critical in times of ambiguity, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

McKinsey research from 2020 indicates that 85 percent of companies have accelerated digitization in response to the pandemic. Changes in automation, the rise of remote work, supply chain disruptions and market instability in recent years underlined how C-suite professionals need to be agile and embrace strategic leadership. 

Today’s leaders must be comfortable leading through ambiguity and uncertainty. At the SMU Cox School of Business, faculty directors recognize this need and adapt the graduate degree curriculum to match the market expectations of C-suite leaders. As David Jacobson, the director of experiential and engaged education at SMU Cox puts it, Online MBA students “have the orientation to run toward the challenge, to ‘run toward the noise’” and can turn problems into opportunities as a result.

How the SMU Cox School’s Online Master of Business Administration Program Prepares Graduates for the Modern C-Suite

Integral to the SMU Cox Online MBA curriculum is the idea that continued business success requires ongoing, active learning. Online MBA students prepare for the C-suite and the next stage of their careers by developing soft and technical skills in demand in today’s workplace. 

It Focuses on Leadership Development 

Keeping pace with unprecedented changes challenges business executives to rely on every style of strategic management and leadership. As employees and customers look to the C-suite for leadership in times of uncertainty, business leaders need to be ready to act decisively and establish rapport with their teams.  

Working with a career coach is one of the best ways to foster new leadership skills. Studies find that students who work alongside a mentor or career coach may exhibit more significant changes in leader identity, self-concept identity and sense of purpose. Coaching also equips leaders to handle crises and refocus team energy in times of turmoil. By working with career coaches, students in leadership MBA programs identify and adapt their management styles to meet the needs of the current business environment. 

It Emphasizes Project-Based Learning

While the soft and technical skills required of top business leaders may seem intuitive, executing and knowing how to respond in crisis takes practice. In a 2020 review, researchers concluded that project-based learning allows students to test their ideas, develop autonomy and find more innovative approaches to problem-solving. Contextual learning in a master’s degree program plays a crucial role in leadership development and successful project management. 

Online MBA students at SMU Cox engage in project-based learning that models real-world scenarios. Online students complete simulations, consultative experiences and case studies where challenges are ambiguous and outcomes mirror current events. These exercises reinforce core MBA curriculum concepts so that graduates know how to adapt to obstacles while developing teamwork best practices and strategic leadership skills. 

It Has an Agile Interdisciplinary Curriculum 

As the business world changes, there’s no room for “business as usual” master’s degree programs. To be successful in the C-suite, developing leaders need to take core courses to build advanced business acumen and electives framed in the intricacies of today’s business climate and aligned with the issues that matter to consumers. 

At the SMU Cox School of Business, the MBA curriculum incorporates foundational business skills while acknowledging the new realities of business management. Courses, including the Fundamentals of Finance and Marketing Management, reinforce traditional business principles, while specialized courses such as Global Business Strategy and Master Negotiation draw on lessons from today’s market.  

Courses take an interdisciplinary approach to business concepts rather than solely focusing on an individual industry. This equips MBA graduates who study online with a more holistic approach to business that they can apply in any organization – which is important because Online MBA students come from diverse academic and professional backgrounds.   

It Offers Executive Networking Opportunities  

Despite near-constant communication with others, the pressures associated with the C-suite can often be isolating. While the adage, “it’s lonely at the top,” may hold for many leaders, forming an executive network can help combat this sentiment and stagnation in an evolving business environment. 

A leadership MBA program such as the one available online through SMU Cox offers students lifelong membership in an active network of global industry executives and over 40,000 alumni. Beyond helping SMU graduates stave off feelings of loneliness in the C-suite, the diverse network connections alumni form facilitate collaboration, entrepreneurship, innovation and future leadership development.

By operating in a network of global leaders, Online MBA degree graduates can understand what’s working for their peers across industries and how they can implement similar strategies in their organizations. Long after classes end, SMU business leaders work together to adapt to the modern C-Suite.   

It Includes Domestic and International Immersions 

In business and beyond, diversity matters. In the workforce, it’s closely linked to employee engagement and even financial outcomes. As C-suite professionals strive to create inclusive workplaces, understanding multiple perspectives is critical. To help facilitate perspective sharing and understanding, SMU Cox includes domestic and international immersions in the Online MBA curriculum.  

In a minimum of two U.S. and/or global immersions, Online Master of Business Administration students connect with professionals from other backgrounds and cultures. Students complete projects that require real-time collaboration with peers, emphasizing communication and perspective-sharing skills in international business contexts.  

MBA students study with a diverse group of peers and graduate from the program equipped to lead inclusive and diverse teams. With the demand for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives on the rise and a surge in hiring for DE&I-related roles, it’s more important than ever that C-suite leaders can create space at the table for all employees. 

It Is Overseen by Field Experts 

Just as the Online MBA program curriculum emphasizes learning by doing, many SMU Cox School of Business faculty actively consult for Fortune 500s, run their own businesses, conduct research and serve as thought leaders in several industries. SMU Cox professors teach by doing and infuse their courses with current insights from their firsthand experiences. For example, associate professor of information technology and operations management Vishal Ahuja currently works to improve patient care through data analytics and operations management.

As a result, Online MBA students come to understand business theory in the context of the current business climate and can contextualize course concepts through real-world examples. The small class sizes and virtual events typical in top business degree programs are replicated in the online learning environment, letting MBA candidates who study remotely build one-on-one relationships with expert faculty who actively invest in their students’ success. 

The SMU Cox School’s MBA Program Develops Strategic Leadership Skills for the C-Suite 

No one set of competencies can define success in the C-suite, but the SMU Cox School of Business equips Online MBA students with an array of tools and strategies to lead in today’s business environment. From a modern, evolving MBA curriculum to diversity-driven immersion experiences, the Online MBA program offers skills they can immediately apply on their path to the C-suite. 

As online learners, SMU Cox MBA students do not need to sacrifice income or advancement opportunities to gain business credentials. The accessible format and accommodating pace ensure students can earn their MBA without relocating, losing time in the workforce or sacrificing income. The option to earn an MBA while working full time also allows many MBA students to take advantage of employer tuition assistance to help cover the cost of business school.  

In as few as 24 months, SMU Cox Online MBA graduates emerge from the 52-credit program ready to analyze and interpret data to drive better business decisions; manage and lead strategic, diverse, results-oriented teams; guide organizations through unexpected challenges; and leverage global and domestic perspectives to solve real-world business problems.