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They come from 15 states, two foreign countries and the District of Columbia, but one Executive MBA student at Auburn University can call The World his home.
Alain Gruber, Senior Vice President for Operations on The World: Residences at Sea, the largest privately-owned residential yacht on earth, is one of 51 EMBA students participating in weeklong on-campus residencies April 29 – May 3. For Gruber, who will graduate in May, the College of Business’ executive program was the perfect choice to continue his education.
“I would recommend Auburn because I think there’s a diminished rate of investment on an Ivy League school,” said Gruber, who once served on the advisory committee for Auburn University’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program.
“I am not downgrading any of the Ivy League schools because they have earned their reputation but sometimes when you look at a business program it’s going to cost you double or one-and-a-half times more than this program does. I’m speaking purely on the way the executive program is structured where the minimum requirement is to have at least eight years of true work experience. I don’t know how much the Ivy League school helps you in comparison. I get job offers from really top places that hire from Ivy League schools and they don’t look down on the EMBA degree from Auburn. Auburn has a degree that is well-recognized.”
Some corporations represented on Auburn’s EMBA roster include students from Dell, Ernst and Young, FedEx, Exel, and Anheuser-Busch. Five members of the Class of 2013 are in the military.
The EMBAs aren’t the only distance graduate students on campus for residencies. Auburn welcomes 39 students involved in the Physicians Executive MBA (PEMBA) Program and 13 students in the Master of Real Estate Development for Executives (MRED) program for their required week of on-campus learning.
The College of Business’ distance learning programs have earned national and international acclaim. In January, U.S. News & World Report ranked the Business Distance MBA program seventh nationally. In January, EURO CEO Magazine recognized the college’s EMBA program as the “Best Remote Learning Programme in North America.”
Remote learning practically means taking classes from anywhere in the world, making new friends and adjusting your schedule.
A big part of the EMBA experience for Gruber — whose ship carries him across the Atlantic Ocean to the Greek Islands to Australia to Hong Kong —wasn’t necessarily the class work or the Internet lectures. It was the teamwork and relationships built with classmates in study groups.
“When I travel all over the world and see all of these beautiful places, I’m not really on vacation,” he said. “I’m working. I’m attending meetings.” And studying.
Gruber said he was fortunate to work with partners who were willing to adjust to time differences created by his work setting.
“There were times where I was in Australia and it was 2 o’clock in the morning and one of my colleagues was in Seattle, and the other one was in St. Louis and the other in Mobile,” he said.
“Sometimes I was the one causing the time difference, some of them understood that I had such a tight schedule that they would get up at 3 o’clock in the morning. I was really blessed with having a very understanding group of partners that I was paired up with.
“There are some people who need to do the EMBA and the only option they have is a pure distance. While I learned a lot from the faculty and the materials provided, it was a huge benefit to me to have that class interactions. I cannot even imagine the EMBA without the class interaction.”
Gruber said he also learned from his EMBA colleagues.
“I was the only one in the entire class that came from a hospitality background,” he said. “Now, I was sitting with people that came from finance, real estate, health care, all of these different groups, and it was interesting to see how they looked at the business world and how they were interpreting some of the materials.”
Gruber, who earned an undergraduate in Culinary and Restaurant Management from the Hotel Management School and whose professional experience includes the title of executive chef for NCL America and management positions at a number of luxury hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, said it was his “ambition to bring my education to match my career.”
Dan Gropper, Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs, used the words “quality” and “convenience” when describing the EMBA program.
“We have outstanding men and women from a variety of industries from literally all over attending the program,” he said. “We have high-quality people participating who might be coming from manufacturing with a background in engineering quality control. We have others who might be coming from a finance sort of background. We have others who come from a journalism type of background. We have others who come from health care. So you have a variety of people and a variety of disciplines who all can learn, not only from the professors but from each other. Building that network is a particularly valuable part of the Executive MBA Experience.”
Gropper noted the minimum executive requirement to be part of the program is eight years, but executives involved in the program have an average of 14 years of professional experience.
“You’re getting middle- and upper-level managers who have substantial experience and who can learn a lot from each other,” he added. “They also can build a network of colleagues who they can bounce questions off of — kind of share their perspectives on issues that might arise.”
The program offers a mixture of on-campus residencies and distance technology. Students watch recorded lectures from a variety of senior-level professors, come to campus for week-long residencies, and participate in online discussions, assignments and exams.
The programs core courses include accounting, finance, strategy and economics. Other courses offered include executive leadership, global issues in business, and a variety of electives.
“We have students who are traveling the world on business and they tell me that they can log in from their hotel in Hong Kong and participate, or from their room in London or Brussels and make contributions to the class web site,” Gropper said. “It accommodates that traveling professional, wherever they might be, whatever time zone they might be in. That’s why this program works well for them.”
It certainly works well for Gruber, an accomplished chef who says the program has developed a further understanding of the business world in an executive setting.
“My undergraduate degree is in culinary,” he explained. “I’m a trained chef. The last eight or nine years I’ve been in full-blown operational management. I sit on several boards. I heard the lingo on the board, I picked it up over the past five or six years, but it was foreign language to me. So I felt that the MBA would strengthen my global knowledge, business acumen, and lingo even to some degree.”
Gruber mentioned several EMBA disciplines specifically that developed his business skills, specifically strategic management and “tools for looking into internal and external analysis of the business environment.”
“I’ve applied several of those tools into what we are doing right now (on The World),” he said. “On the financial side, it was a benefit to me personally to look at the way that we have financially structured the company and how we fund the business and potentially use different methods of funding.
“The marketing side was good because that was one area in our company where we were a little bit weaker on. I was able to sit in discussions where normally I would listen to what they were thinking about and actually become more active and talk about different options. Some of them are new tools.
“I have been able to apply supply chain management. For a ship like us that travels the world and never repeats its itinerary, you really have to recreate the supply chain every week wherever we go in the world. There was a benefit to the course that I took on the supply chain side and I definitely picked up some ways of running a lean and efficient supply chain.
“Accounting was important to me because it was not part of my undergraduate studies, though ironically I have been so involved in budgeting and accounting. But that’s almost self-taught. So, I felt accounting, both financial and managerial was of benefit for me. There were some folks who were CPAs in our class and for them it was a complete refresher. For me, it was a course that I had to be challenged at.”
“I felt the economics classes were very good, especially the financial markets class with Dr. James Barth was fascinating to our business because we are a global player and we travel around the world and work with cultures from around the world with a good way of seeing what it is to be a U.S. business but feel global.
“Financial analysis was highly impactful for me personally. Investments was an elective course that I took. I felt it was more personally beneficial for my own personal investment strategies. Contract law was another elective that was impactful because we do so many contracts. There is not a day that goes by where we are not entering into some contract. It was interesting looking at how contracts are interpreted in not only the U.S., but around the world.
Gruber, who is out of the country “four to six months of the year” and calls Miami home, has worked in his current position at The World for the past six years. The World is not your typical cruise ship.
“The world is a private residential community, so it’s not like a cruise liner,” he explained. “It can be anywhere in the world. It constantly goes around the world. We never repeat an itinerary. We take the ship to all corners of the globe.
“It’s a lifestyle. It’s people that live aboard and travel the world. It’s the only one of its kind with highly-successful business-owners that come from 30 different nationalities. They make the world their home. It’s an interesting community of entrepreneurs that travel around the world together. You travel the world without leaving your home. It’s a private residential community.
What we sell is a lifestyle experience. You wake up in Rome, have an excursion, get back on board, sail somewhere else, stop, get off and play golf in Greece.” Gruber loves the high seas and the role he plays in guest relations, but he also ponders what he might do in the future.
“I don’t know when, but at some point I may actually revert into a teaching role,” he said. “The EMBA was just a next step where it potentially would set me up for a doctorate degree in the future. I would like to start own business. Further solidifying business acumen just helps you when you start to go through that process when you begin to set up a new company.”
To Gruber, hospitality and Auburn represent a perfect match.
“All the professors were accessible,” he added. “Even when I emailed them or needed something, it wouldn’t be more than 48 hours before somebody would answer me back. In most cases it would be the same day.
“I would sit around the table – listening to some of the faculty when we were on campus and they wouldn’t be talking about our group but they would be talking about past students and past people in the programs and almost looking at it like a wall of honor – remember that Auburn guy? – he’s at this place now. Did you hear about the one who has done this up in New York?
“So I really felt that there was a genuine care by the faculty to see the success of the student group instead of trying to get through as many students and get the revenue in. I work with a lot of universities from around with world with our hospitality program and I felt it. It’s that ‘southern hospitality.’ It’s a real big secret that you are keeping up there.”