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Vienna Executive MBA Program: 15 Years of Growth

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Graduating class

A program that began with barely more than a dozen students has expanded its reach across the globe. Entering its 16th year, the Vienna Executive MBA (VEMBA) Program as awarded degrees to hundreds of European executives who have continued on to lead thriving careers.

The Carlson School emerges in Austria

In the late 1990s, demand for MBA degrees was increasing in Western Europe. Simultaneously, the Carlson School’s Warsaw Executive MBA Program was beginning to gain traction in Poland. Given the favorable outlook for MBA offerings in the region and the school’s initial success in breaking into international markets, the Carlson School began developing the VEMBA program to expand its global footprint.

“At that time in Europe, the MBA program of choice was tending to become an executive program. We had experience in doing these, and we had a good partner,” says VEMBA Academic Director and Carlson Global Institute Associate Dean Michael Houston.

The Carlson School partnered with the Vienna University of Economics and Business to design a globalized business curriculum that culminated in a dual executive MBA from both schools. Launched in 2000, the program achieved early success among mid- and late-career professionals seeking an advanced business education that allowed them to remain employed while proceeding through the curriculum.

“When I started the program, I still had room to grow in my career,” says Jesus Rodriguez, ’01 VEMBA, president of the inaugural VEMBA class. “The program showed me a new approach to management. The most important thing for me was not necessarily to get a better rank or higher salary. For me, it was to gain confidence.”

A rich history of international entrepreneurship

Fifteen years later, VEMBA students have leveraged their educations to pursue a variety of career paths. But according to Houston, a disproportionate number of the graduates channel what they learn into new business ventures. For example, since receiving his degree, Rodriguez has founded an energy consulting company.

“The idea for my company was born from the MBA program,” says Werner Horn, ’01 VEMBA, whose technology company now employs more than 50 people and serves clients in 35 countries throughout the world. “The program forced me to draw back from my daily work. It widened my eyes and enhanced my knowledge.”

VEMBA students also become better prepared to address challenges that span the globe. The most recent class explored business trends and emerging issues in India, Russia, China, and the United States.

“To achieve my goal, I wanted to attend a truly international program and improve my academic knowledge,” says Bestegül Toköz, ’15 VEMBA, a consultant based out of Turkey. “The program gave us an inside look at management within companies on all these continents.”

Faculty welcome opportunities to teach abroad

The VEMBA program has also intellectually enriched numerous Carlson School faculty throughout the years. Not only do they exchange international business knowledge with the students, the educators adopt new teaching approaches to better connect with learners of different cultural backgrounds.

“From a European perspective, it’s good to experience the teaching capabilities of American professors. Compared to an average European professor, their approach to transmitting knowledge is different,” says Horn. “We had professors who were not used to teaching executives—in some cases, the students knew more than anybody else in their areas, and they would exchange views with the professors,” says Rodriguez.

Since VEMBA’s inception, Carlson School faculty members have been eager to spend a week in Vienna and have embraced the challenge of teaching an entire course in four short days.

“Our faculty who teach in Vienna come back and consistently give valuations of the students that they’re among the best students they’ve taught,” says Houston.

Outlook is bright for Vienna graduates 


Today, the VEMBA program is among the top Executive MBA offerings in Europe. The class of 2015 included 44 business leaders representing 18 countries who celebrated commencement alongside hundreds of U.S. students and paved the way for the next cohort of executives to join the global Carlson School alumni community.