Open Access
Spearly, Jeffrey L.
Graduate Program:
Workforce Education and Development
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 17, 2006
Committee Members:
  • William J Rothwell, Committee Chair
  • Albert Vicere, Committee Member
  • Wesley Edward Donahue, Committee Member
  • Fariborz Ghadar, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Executive Education
  • Executive development
  • Custom Executive Education
Understanding client needs and interests, and doing so in an ever-changing and rapidly evolving marketplace, is essential for any business. The field of executive education is no exception. University-based, general audience executive education programs have been a mainstay of the executive and leadership development process for over 50 years, and play an increasingly important role within organizations. Evaluations and judgments are routinely made about providers, with decisions based upon a variety of factors and desired outcomes. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, executive education providers with a clear understanding of the decision-making and selection processes employed by clients will prove most successful in their efforts. Research regarding the selection of custom executive education providers was conspicuously absent. Therefore, the significance of this study lies in its contribution of knowledge regarding specific factors that influence the selection of a partner or provider of custom executive education as well as the role of universities within this industry. This study sought to explore client investment in custom executive education, identify and rank the key factors that influence provider selection, and explore the role of universities in executive development. Utilizing an on-line survey process and follow-up telephone interviews, the study targeted Fortune 500 companies and sought the opinions of key decision makers in executive education and development in their respective organizations. Study findings suggest that university-based executive education is alive and well, and remains a vital resource for professional development within many Fortune 500 organizations. The study validates prior predictions that the growth trend for custom executive education programs would continue, accompanied by increasing levels of investment. Of note and concern, however, is the continued growth in prominence of for-profit consulting organizations in the marketplace. Study participants reported that universities are most valued for their breadth and depth of content expertise, research insights into best practices and alternative strategies, program design, teaching experience, expertise in learning methodologies, and flexible, cost-effective solutions. Alternatively, universities are often viewed as impractical, providing academic perspective without corporate experience. The study reflects a continuing redefinition of executive education and executive development. Market demand is shifting from education, to education with consultation to supporting implementation, to an evolving era of assessment and consultation with education as a by-product based upon deep partner relationships. For some providers, a new business model may be needed, including the ability to build and maintain consulting relationships and conduct organizational assessments of corporate strategy, leadership challenges, and culture, with efforts resulting in true custom program design based upon client needs.