Companies eager for global success are sending top managers back to the classroom

But a few institutions are now going further, offering courses that are global in almost every respect. Among them is Rotter- dam Management School (RSM), whose global executive MBA, which goes by the brand name OneMBA, and is organised in conjunction with four partner business schools, in North, Central and South America and Asia. Now in its third year, the programme recruits about 20 students each at Rotterdam, Kenan-Flagler Business School in North Carolina, the EGADE-ITESM school in Monterrey, Mexico, the Getulio Vargas school in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. According to Dianne Bevelander, the executive director of MBA programmes at RSM, the aim of the course is to enable students to "manage, source, sell and compete anywhere in the world".

The 21-month course starts every September, with a one week get-together in Washington DC, and there are three further weeks, centred at different locations, when the whole cohort gathers. The European meet, for example, includes three days each in Rotterdam and Gdansk in Poland, the aim being to compare the two ports' commercial operations, from supply chain management and sustainability standpoints. Students also gather at each of their local centres for a dozen or so extended weekend sessions.

The programme is aimed at people already well up the management ladder, in companies competing in, or with aspirations towards, the global economy. Rotterdam insists on a minimum of six years' managerial experience, but in practice, its students have an average of 11 years' management behind them.

Like most MBAs, the course is built upon a solid foundation of the core business functions, including finance, marketing, human resources and accounting, but each is given a global perspective.

The course lecturers assume basic management knowledge as a starting point. "We do all the functional areas, but take them to a much high level," explains Bevelander, "which means our lecturers have to have worked in business at the appropriate level, otherwise the course just won't fly." During the course, the students work in teams, both with colleagues recruited at the same institution, and, linked by conference calls and the internet, with members from the four other institutions. Throughout the course the teams change, again ensuring as wide a cross fertilisation of ideas as possible. Jose van Vreeswijk, due to complete the programme in Rotterdam next year, has already found the team-working useful for her job as a regional managing director for SSL Healthcare. "Changing teams taught me to appreciate the challenges that face my own team when I introduce change."

There is a handful of similar courses on the MBA landscape at present, the common component a North American element. The London Business School EMBA-Global, for example, is a joint operation with Columbia Business School in New York, the residential units evenly split between the two locations.

A three-way split is achieved in the Trium Global Executive MBA, a collaboration between the LSE in London, the Stern School of Business at New York University, and the HEC School of Management in Paris. And IESE Business School, with campuses in Barcelona and Madrid, has a course for executives that includes 12-day residential elements, five in Spain, one in Shanghai, and one in Silicon Valley, California.

Antony Maskrey, sales operations manager for Nike Iberia, graduated from IESE in 2004. He found studying with international students life-changing. "Applying the learning occurred from day one," he says. "Understanding business concepts outside of my day-to-day experience opened my eyes to the scale and scope of an enterprise."