Full-time MBA programs in the United States gained their initial prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Still one of the most common forms of MBA education today, students in these full-time MBA degree programs interrupt their career (typically after three years) and return to school for a two-year, on-campus experience.

In 1974, the University of Illinois took a bold stop to broaden its MBA offerings. While still retaining its day-time degree program, Illinois began offering an alternative format that retained all of its rigor, but could accommodate a new type of student - one who was more mature and who was also expected to remain in their demanding job assignment. At the time, we were only the second university in the world to offer such an innovative degree (the University of Chicago being the first).

To accomplish this new challenge, the ILLINOIS Executive MBA utilized a lock-step curriculum where one group of students would take all of their classes together throughout their entire experience. Rather than prepare students for managerial roles in functional areas like marketing, operations or finance, the Program began to see their students as prospective leaders who needed a broader understanding of all facets of business. Each course was still delivered by exceptional faculty, all experts in their respective areas, but now with the understanding that their students were preparing for a greater challenge.

During those initial years, faculty adjusted their teaching style to match the Friday-Saturday class structure that now defines the program. Classes were held in what is now called Wohlers Hall on the Urbana-Champaign campus and restructured to fit inside the University's semester calendar. Back then, students took not two but four classes at a time. Faculty learned to teach in specially designed class periods and adapted their class assignments to meet the unique experience levels of their more advanced students.

During those early years, ILLINOIS became a pioneer in utilizing the team learning concept - an idea that is now prevalent throughout business schools today. It became clear early on with this new program that the unique needs of this different type of student demanded a team environment. With heavy expectations from their corporate office combined with demands from home, ILLINOIS Executive MBA students needed more complex and integrated learning techniques - a type of support the team-model delivered. Many students report that they learned as much from the diverse backgrounds of their fellow students back then as they did from the faculty. Today, alumni from those early years recount how fond they are of their group and their classmates. Many continue to stay in touch on a frequent basis as part of an informal support network and relish in their collective personal and professional successes.

In the 1980s, the ILLINOIS Executive MBA Program began to see and appreciate the global nature of business well before this trend invaded most business curricula. It was then that Prof. Hans M. Schoenfeld began to form international trips to Germany and Poland to expose our executives to business culture and practice in foreign countries. Later, of course, other programs would begin to follow this model. For ILLINOIS though, this has long been a mandatory part of our degree and remains so today.

Of course today, the format of how we accomplish this global experience has changed. Our global experience is much more than a course and is instead a capstone experience throughout the second year of the program. All Executive MBA students work on real consulting projects involving real global companies and then travel to that area to deliver their final opinions and consulting advice. This cutting-edge experience is a clear, defining aspect of the ILLINOIS Executive MBA degree and as far as we know is unique among all nationally recognized Executive MBA programs.

The University of Illinois has always been a pioneer in computing and high-tech communication. In 1996 during the early days of the Internet, the ILLINOIS Executive MBA took another bold step by utilizing fiber optic cables to link students in two different classrooms at the same time: one still in Champaign, but the other in downtown Chicago. This first Chicago classroom was located on the 39th floor of 200 South Wacker and allowed residents from Chicago and northern Illinois join in. The students would remain in their respective classrooms in Champaign and Chicago and faculty would swap back and forth between the two cities to deliver their lectures.

It was also during this same period that ILLINOIS became an early adopter of video-capture classroom technology. Given that we were already sending video and audio between Champaign and Chicago, we began archiving those classes for later review. Initially, the intent for this video-capture was to support the busy student who might unfortunately miss a class. Yet we eventually learned that this was not its primary benefit. Students started incorporating the video as a normal part of their study technique to supplement their in-class experience. Today, this approach to video archiving is much more advanced and is deeply valued by nearly all of our students.

This dual location delivery mode came to an end in 2003 when yet another key change was made. After nearly 30 years of being housed on the main Urbana-Champaign campus, the Executive MBA Program was relocated to Chicago. A prominent Chicago bank moved part of their operations away from the 4th floor of their 200 South Wacker location. Of course, that location was the same building we were already in at the time and this new space was now just one floor above the campus' Illini Center. The College of Business took possession and renovated the space with state of the art classrooms.

It was in that 2003 move that some of the key program elements we see today were introduced. The Program moved away from a semester course structure into its current modular design where students would focus on just two courses at a time, each course now delivered with greater intensity. Greater support services were also added including the expectation that students would not only study together but also stay in the same hotel between class days and participate in more intense learning experiences. Because of the new space and the increasingly dispersed nature of our student body, the technology needs of the program also advanced and a standardized laptop computer became a normal part of the program.

It was also during these post-move years that ILLINOIS' skills through its Illinois Business Consulting unit (IBC) were utilized to migrate the global experience from an observational experience to a far more hands-on, active-learning consulting assignment. This in-house expertise has been critical to our success in delivering this unique aspect of our program. The expertise of IBC and their direct oversight is what allows our students to execute real-world consulting assignments with the professional level of accomplishment and expertise expected by our clients.

In 2010, the ILLINOIS Executive MBA remains a leader through innovative classes and programming. The Executive Leadership Development Program is the most recent innovation. While the program has always had a rich tradition of introducing students to key business leaders, this new program provides more structure and greater frequency to this key learning opportunity.

With a talented staff in Chicago, Champaign-based faculty from the College of Business have a great home at the Illini Center with which to deliver a phenomenal educational experience and the ability to reshape today's managers into future leaders.