How three into one makes the perfect MBA

Arthur Andersen aims to gain a lead over its rivals by a partnership with two business schools.
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"I think this will be a real differentiator," said Philip Randall, the accountancy firm's recently appointed UK managing partner. He predicted that this development by Arthur Andersen, a firm already heavily committed to training, would give it a great advantage over its rivals. "Clients will be very impressed, and will see the effect in the added dimension brought to their work."

The UK arm of Arthur Anderson is stepping up its commitment to training by launching an MBA programme in conjunction with Manchester and Warwick business schools - two of the most important in Britain.

The initiative, announced on Monday, comes in the wake of last week's news of the planned merger between Coopers & Lybrand and Price Waterhouse, which would create an international firm to overtake Andersen Worldwide as the biggest global professional services firm.

The business schools say they will gain by forging closer links with each other and - through Andersen - having the opportunity to test out research and obtain practical experience.

Partners as well as managers from both fee-earning and support areas of the firm are among the first 56 students beginning their courses at Manchester and Warwick business schools next month. Membership of the course is based on this year's applications by 10 per cent of the eligible 900 people in the firm, and Andersen anticipates the course numbers rising to 70 next year and 100 in the following one. The company will start off accounting for about 12 per cent of the intake of each school's part-time MBA intake, rising to about 25 per cent.

The Andersen students will study for their MBAs part time over four years, spending the first two years on block courses together at either Warwick or Manchester, studying the schools' compulsory core subjects. In the final two years they will join the open MBA programmes and select courses from a wide range of options offered by the two establishments. On completing the programmes, the participants will be awarded MBAs from whichever school they attended for their core subjects.

The arrangement is part of a recent trend for business schools and management development centres to offer corporate MBAs and to pool their resources in an effort to meet companies' needs. Manchester already runs a similar programme for the computer company IBM, and Warwick has a long-standing arrangement with British Steel, while the Ashridge Management Centre in Hertfordshire has teamed up with Cornell University in the US to serve multinational companies.

Mr Randall explained that the move had been prompted by an extensive review within the firm to assess whether "training and core competencies were properly positioned". The firm, which is renowned for its investment in training facilities, such as the St Charles complex close to the international organisation's Chicago headquarters, already has a spread of internal and external training, but decided that an MBA was "the right next step" on the grounds that MBAs offered training of the sort that accountants have traditionally lacked.

Warwick and Manchester were chosen because they both had elements that appealed to Mr Randall and Andrew Pauley, the firm's training manager, when they visited and interviewed a selection of highly-rated schools in Britain and continental Europe.

Andersen hopes that the first part of the programme will reinforce the extensive networking that is seen as such a strength of the firm; personnel from different geographic locations, disciplines and levels will benefit from working together, and mixing with people from other organisations in the second part will broaden their experience and knowledge.

Mr Randall said that care had been taken with the design of the course modules to ensure that the disruption to participants' work and home lives was minimal. And he stressed that the structure should mean that business units did not lose valuable people for long periods, and would enable participants to apply what they were learning almost immediately.

Though the UK firm had taken this lead on its own, Mr Randall said that other parts of the organisation, which last year reported that its 100,000 people had earned revenues of nearly $10bn, were watching it with interest.