The Case for EMBA Sponsorship Part 2 - Building Your Case for Sponsorship: Investment & Return

In the final part in the blog series discussing The Case for EMBA Sponsorship, Danny Szpiro, Dean of Executive Education at The Jack Welch Management Institute discusses building your case for sponsorship following on from your research. Read part 1 here >>

If you have done the research described above then you are now ready to start building your case for sponsorship. The main focus of this request for support should be to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) your employer can expect thanks to sponsorship. In this section of this document we will address both parts of this analysis: investment and return.

Investment - Time Commitments

The investment portion of the ROI analysis is more straightforward than the return analysis. In general, your employer’s investment takes two forms: time and money.

An important theme that runs through the analysis of the investment of time to earn an MBA degree in an Executive MBA program is that while you are asking for your employer’s support for time away from the workplace you are also prepared to make a significant commitment of your own time. Most Executive MBA programs include residential sessions away from your workplace where a classroom experience is the venue for learning. That said, a great deal of the time commitment to earn an MBA degree is outside of the classroom as well. This includes, for example, reading, preparing for classes and case discussions, preparing for examinations, working on projects, and team meetings. When discussing your commitment to devoting the time necessary to be successful in an Executive MBA program you should ensure that your case for sponsorship highlights (a) that you are prepared to make that commitment of your time and that (b) aside from the residential sessions you will use your personal time for these activities without requiring more time away from the workplace. This point highlights your investment and commitment to the process.

What will likely be a more focused area of the discussion regarding time commitments is the time you will need away from the workplace to attend the residential sessions. These immersive experiences, where program participants can focus on the courses and the learning process, are a critical part of the Executive MBA process. Providing you with this time off clearly represents a significant investment by your employer. In preparing your case for sponsorship you should address this aspect of your request by showing you have considered the impact of your absence from the workplace for these sessions and you have identified various ways in which your work responsibilities can be addressed while you are away.

Of course, this does not mean you can commit to the same activities and the same deadlines as when you are in your workplace - that’s simply not possible while attending an Executive MBA residential session. But it does mean that you have to plan ahead. Considering the following:

  • What projects or deliverables can you accomplish before departing for a residential session?
  • What specific tasks or deliverables can you advance to a point where a colleague or team member can complete that work without your continued participation?
  • What (limited) work might you still be able to do while attending a residential session (e.g., conference calls, selected deliverables)?

When discussing these time commitments with your employer, the three main messages in your case for sponsorship should be:

  1. There will be time away from the workplace required (be specific: how many weeks; which specific weeks?),
  2. While you are asking your employer for this time, you are also prepared to make a significant commitment of your own time to this process (e.g., devoting a portion of your holiday time to cover the residential sessions, working in the evening), and
  3. You have planned ahead to try to make your absence from the workplace as smooth as possible with respect to activities and deliverables.

Investment - Financial Commitments

In general, the financial commitments for completing an Executive MBA program include: tuition fees, living expenses during residential sessions, and travel-related costs. Tuition fees are known in advance and the other costs can be reasonably estimated before the start of a program. You should collect this information and prepare a budget, including the timing, for the financial commitment necessary to complete an Executive MBA program.

Earlier, this document addressed the necessity to identify a specific Executive MBA program for which you will seek sponsorship. In the event that your employer poses the question regarding a less expensive program you should be prepared to address that by speaking to the value and outcomes of your preferred program. We will discuss this more in the section on returns below.

Of course, the ideal situation would be if your employer agrees to financially support you for 100% of all of the costs associated with your preferred program. However, you should prepare for a different response based on analysis of your own ability and willingness to make a financial contribution to earning an MBA degree.

Unarguably, there are benefits for an employer to invest in developing managers to enhance their skills and abilities to contribute to the success of the organization. At the same time, a manager who acquires these new skills and abilities will also enjoy the associated benefits through accelerated career advancement. Be honest with yourself: your interest in earning an MBA is driven in part by your own career goals and aspirations. If you are prepared to agree that the benefits of having an MBA are shared between you and your employer than you must consider if you are also willing to share some of the costs. The discussion of a shared financial commitment parallels the shared time commitment mentioned above.

Of course, the opportunity to personally commit to some portion of the cost of earning an MBA depends not simply on your willingness but also on your financial ability to do so. As you create your case for sponsorship you should be prepared for this possibility. In other words, you should be prepared for the possibility of making a financial commitment to this process along with your employer. You should analyze what portion of your personal savings, loans from family members, or loans from financial institutions you can access if necessary to make this personal commitment. It is possible that without some personal financial commitment that, at best, your opportunity to join your preferred Executive MBA program may be limited or, at worst, you will not be able to join an Executive MBA program at all.

There are some specific financial arrangements that could be offered by you, or be part of the offer by your organization, that you should consider and prepare for:

  • You might initially cover the costs of the program and then receive a refund from your employer upon your successful completion (this could be at specific milestones, like after each half of the program, or a delayed refund until the program is completed),
  • You might agree to a “retention” clause where you will personally refund your employer’s investment if you leave the organization before a certain amount of time after finishing the program (e.g., 1-3 years).

To summarize, when analyzing the financial commitments necessary to complete an Executive MBA program and incorporating this analysis in your case for sponsorship consider the following:

  • Create a detailed budget showing the amount and timing of the financial commitments for completing the Executive MBA program,
  • Be prepared (whether as part of the initial request or as part of the negotiations) to discuss a personal financial commitment to the Executive MBA process,
  • Be prepared to address your employer’s financial risk with various conditions around financial support (e.g., refunds, retention contract).

Returns - The Heart of Your case for Sponsorship

All of the work you have done to research the Executive MBA space and analyze the investment necessary for you to earn an MBA has been to make an informed case for the ROI your employer will enjoy thanks to sponsoring you. Accordingly, articulating the returns is truly the “heart” of your case for sponsorship.

The most compelling returns you can offer your employer will be those directly linked to the needs of your employer. In this way, you can tailor your case for sponsorship by linking the outcomes of an Executive MBA program with the specific contributions you can make to address your employer’s needs.

While you can likely list several challenges facing your organization today off the top of your head, a more structured analysis will be helpful in putting these challenges in context. One popular method to examine an organization is called a SWAT analysis. The acronym stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You should begin thinking about your organization’s needs through the lens of this sort of analytical framework. Specifically, try to identify:

  • What current Strengths of your organization (e.g., corporate social responsibility, ethical decision-making) can be bolstered or complemented with the skills and abilities you can acquire through an Executive MBA experience,
  • What Weaknesses does your organization face today (e.g., leadership skills, employee evaluation and motivation, strategic thinking) that could be eliminated with the skills and abilities you can acquire through an Executive MBA experience,
  • What new Opportunities could your organization pursue more effectively (e.g., international expansion, diversification, partnerships, acquisitions) if you had the additional skills and abilities that can be acquired through an Executive MBA experience, and
  • What Threats does your organization face today, and in the future (e.g., new market entrants, new product introductions, competitive pressures) that could be more effectively countered thanks to the skills and abilities that you can acquire through an Executive MBA experience.

(Note: In applying SWOT analysis it is appropriate to consider how your organization’s strengths can create opportunities and, similarly, how your organization’s weaknesses can lead to threats.)

Once you go through the process of carefully analyzing your organization you should have a list of what your organization needs right now and in the immediate future in order to be successful. Ideally, you should be able to prioritize these observations in a manner that the senior management of your organization would find insightful.

The next step in identifying the ROI for your employer is to demonstrate how specific characteristics of the Executive MBA experience will leave you prepared to address the issues you raised in your SWOT analysis. The following is a list of the benefits and outcomes of sponsoring a manager in an Executive MBA program from an employer’s perspective. You must find those that are strongly linked with your analysis:

  • Develop General Management Insights

Most managers begin their careers by specializing in a topic. That could be a technical topic, like engineering or IT, or it could be a functional specialization, like finance, marketing, or human resources. A distinguishing feature of senior management, however, is a general management perspective. It is critical for senior managers to understand the “big picture” of an organization and how every decision will impact or involve every part of the organization. A well-designed Executive MBA experience includes a strong core of courses across the fundamental business disciplines. In this way, an Executive MBA program graduate is exposed to an integrated and balanced view of how all of the parts of an organization should interact. Your case for sponsorship should highlight how your decision-making responsibilities and abilities will be enhanced through the Executive MBA experience thanks to this general management perspective.

  • Develop Leaders

One challenge that all organizations face is developing strong leaders. This is not meant to refer solely to the person in the top role, but to the entire senior leadership team. A well-designed Executive MBA experience has a strong focus on developing leadership skills and insights. Leadership is a complex topic yet the principles of leadership can be learned if carefully and thoughtfully incorporated into the Executive MBA experience. Your case for sponsorship should highlight how the future success of your organization depends on excellence in leadership skills and demonstrate how that is a specific outcome of your preferred Executive MBA program.

  • Practical and Immediately Applicable Skills

Often, people refer to the outcomes of a management training process by considering what happens after a manager completes the training. While that is a fine perspective, it overlooks the fact that practicing managers and professionals in an Executive MBA program bring new skills and abilities to their organization everyday while the program is underway. In other words, the returns to an employer begin immediately, not just after a sponsored manager completes an Executive MBA program. In addition, many Executive MBA programs include required projects for the application of management principles and techniques. By selecting your employer as the focus for such projects you can offer another form of payback before a program is complete. Your case for sponsorship should highlight that after every course, after each residential session, you will return to your role with new abilities and enhanced decision-making skills.

  • Best Practices from Peer-to-Peer Learning

Great business practices and ideas exist everywhere. When managers spend all of their time speaking with colleagues inside their organizations then it is difficult to learn about best practices that exist in other organizations, other industries, and other regions. A great Executive MBA program will attract a diverse set of participants. As a student in such a program, you will be able to learn from counterparts from other settings whom you simply would be unable to meet otherwise. In this way, a great Executive MBA program becomes an incubator for new ideas from new sources. Your case for sponsorship should highlight the unique opportunity for cross-pollination that a program provides and the opportunities it presents.

  • Internal Development versus Hiring from Outside

As organizations grow they need new managers and leaders. The choice that growing organizations face is whether to develop current managers or hire from the outside to fill this need. The search process in latter path is time consuming involves. Moreover, hiring from outside means a learning curve (and it’s associated inefficiency) for these new managers. In contrast, developing current managers for senior roles means working with people that already have a successful track record in the organization, have proven their fit with the organizational culture, and a very small learning curve to climb in order to be effective in a new role. Your case for sponsorship should highlight the added efficiency and speed an organization can enjoy when developing current managers.

  • Send a Positive Message - Retaining Talented Managers

All managers want to work in an environment where they are valued. The best managers can move to organizations where they can find that support and commitment. Your case for sponsorship should highlight that by supporting you in an Executive MBA program your employer sends an encouraging message to all managers. No organization wants to lose talented people and by demonstrating a willingness to invest in talented and deserving managers your employer should be more effective in retaining - and attracting - the best people.

  • An Environment Designed for Experienced Managers

By definition, an Executive MBA program is designed for experienced managers and professionals. If you are well suited for that environment then other setting or development programs that would ask you to learn with junior managers or inexperienced classmates would not be focused on the best form of learning for you. Your case for sponsorship should highlight that the Executive MBA experienced is specifically designed for managers at same point as you in their careers.

  • Networking Benefits

Your time in great Executive MBA program will be spent in the company of managers from other forward-thinking organizations. The contacts you make should translate to real opportunities for your employer. New partnerships, new markets, and new ideas can all be formalized thanks to the network you forge through the process. Your case for sponsorship should highlight how real opportunities for your employer can have their start with the network of classmates, alumni, and faculty you will meet in your Executive MBA experience. Given that the largest of these three groups should be alumni, this heightens the need to select an established, highly-regarded program that includes a large pool of well-paced alumni.

  • Forging a Partnership with a Leading Business School

As your employer learns more about the Executive MBA experience at your preferred program that opens the door to other forms of cooperation with your chosen business school. An organization committed to developing managers can also identify targeted topics where training is required. A leading business school will be able to partner with your employer to assist with development needs broadly. Your case for sponsorship should highlight the opportunities that developing a partnership with the right business school can serve.

As you go through this list of potential benefits for your employer, you should be identifying those that most clearly connect with the results of your SWOT analysis.

One final comment regarding benefits: you should enlist the staff of your preferred Executive MBA program to help you with constructing your case for sponsorship. One great input into this preparation is the concrete examples and evidence they have collected regarding the success that graduates and their employers have experienced in the past. Supplementing any statement you make regarding program outcomes and benefits with facts supplied from the program can only serve to strengthen your case for sponsorship.

Financial Analysis of Returns

This document has made the point several times that you should consider your case for sponsorship as an investment opportunity for your employer. Essentially, you are asking your organization to invest resources today in order to experience benefits - a return on that investment - in the future.

Organizations make investment decisions all the time. In fact, it is highly likely that your organization has a standard process for the financial analysis of investment opportunities. The common type of financial metrics for capital investment opportunities includes indicators called Payback, Internal Rate of Return (IRR), and Net Present Value (NPV). All of these techniques compare an investment of capital today against the expected future returns in order to see if the investment is worth making. In crafting your case for sponsorship you should consider using the same capital investment analysis tools and techniques already used by your employer to reinforce that your request is an investment opportunity.

Of course, all capital investment analyses are based on expected future benefits. In other words, there is always a need to estimate what those financial benefits might look like. While such forecasts are not simple and always involve uncertainty, one approach is to determine a break-even point where an investment pays for itself. This is likely the most straightforward way to include financial analysis in your case for sponsorship.

The quantitative techniques in IRR and NPV calculations are beyond the scope of this document. Payback, however, is the most common and widely used form of financial analysis for capital investments and is also a simple calculation. Payback is an estimate of the amount of time the incremental cash inflows (e.g., net incremental revenue, net incremental cost savings) from an investment takes to equal the amount invested. Typically, organizations that use Payback to evaluate capital investment opportunities establish a threshold time period under which investments look appealing. Here is a basic example of applying Payback analysis for sponsorship in an Executive MBA program:

EMBA Investment $80,000

Target Payback Period 4 years

Required Annual Incremental Benefits

($80,000/ 4 years =) $20,000

What this simple calculation indicates that your organization would have a 4-year payback period if the new skills and abilities you can bring back to your organization thanks to an Executive MBA experience could generate an incremental $20,000of benefits annually. In other words, sponsorship in an Executive MBA program would pay for itself in 4-years if this sort of incremental benefit was realized.

The next step in your financial analysis of Payback is to put this incremental annual benefit in context. For example, if you are responsible for an operating budget of $1,000,000 in your current managerial role then finding new opportunities through an Executive MBA program to reduce operating costs by just @% per year for four years would lead to the target Payback. Similarly, if you are in a sales position and responsible for a $1,000,000 sales budget then an increase in net revenues of just 2% per year for 4-years would lead to the same Payback period. Of course, incremental cost savings or net revenues of just 4% per year would cut the Payback period in half to 2-years.

Obviously you need to adopt this Payback calculation to your setting and use the numbers that make sense. In general, the result of incorporating a simple financial calculation in your case for sponsorship can serve to demonstrate to your employer that their investment in you will generate great financial returns quickly.

Making your Case

While your case for sponsorship must include a discussion of the ROI for your employer, any description of the future is going to be based on estimates and forecasts. This is unavoidable, but you should strive to make your forecasts of the benefits for your employer plausible and comprehensive. To summarize, the ROI section of your case for sponsorship should include the following:

  • A comprehensive description of the time commitments and financial commitments for the successful completion of the Executive MBA program (detailing what you are requesting in terms of time and money and what you are willing to invest in terms of time and money,
  • An analysis of your organization’s needs based on a thorough examination of the internal (strengths, weaknesses) and external (opportunities, threats) that your organization is facing,
  • A thorough explanation of the many different benefits that sponsoring you in an Executive MBA program creates for your employer and linking these to the needs previously listed,
  • A financial analysis of the time required for the organization’s investment in you to pay for itself and then begin generating positive returns.


An Executive MBA program is a transformative process that leaves every successful graduate changed. In speaking with EMBA alumni, the word they use all the time to describe how their Executive MBA experienced changed them is, “confidence.” Earning an MBA is a challenging process and meeting that challenge does indeed create a sense of confidence in one’s ability to meet all other career challenges and opportunities. I encourage you to pursue your aspirations for new knowledge and career advancement through an Executive MBA program.

I hope that this document can serve as a useful guide in composing an effective case for sponsorship. We believe that the ideas and steps shared in this document can contribute to your success in seeking sponsorship.

Remember, you will never know if you don’t try!

Good luck!

Daniel SzpiroThis blog was written by Daniel Szpiro, Dean of Executive Education at The Jack Welch Management Institute.