Two Distinctive Paths of Transformation: Insights from GEMBA and EMC

Kenji Kishi

From 2018 to 2019, I went through the INSEAD Global Executive MBA (GEMBA), then from 2021 to 2023, I enrolled in the INSEAD Executive Master in Change (EMC).

These five years were literally a transformational journey, and I would like to share my view on how each programme benefits you and give you a better insight on which programme might suit you better (or both perhaps).

The easiest way to describe these two programmes is that the GEMBA works for the brain and EMC works for the heart.

The other way I describe these two programmes is that GEMBA gives you breadth and EMC gives you depth. 

What does it mean? Let me explain.

1. What do we learn through GEMBA?

Through GEMBA, you are constantly challenged to think outside of the box and expose yourself to what is unfamiliar to you. A lawyer goes through data science, a CFO is required to come up with a marketing strategy. Besides, you always team up with classmates from different industries and different positions to tackle the assignments together. The tension can run high, but without collaboration you won’t be able to meet the target. 

In the end, I must say that some of the knowledge may not be relevant to you, but through this experience you are forced to change the way your brain processes information and the attitude you communicate with other professionals, which transforms you to be a better leader.

You will be constantly amazed by the insights of your classmates.

Through the classroom discussions, during breakout sessions, and during lunch and dinner, you have countless opportunities to learn from others, and to inspire others yourself.

One of the many group assignments during the GEMBA

I still remember during the application process, one of the alumni interviewers told me “It is important to contribute”.

Indeed, it is all about reciprocity, and even though in the beginning I wondered how I could contribute, many people appreciated me for what I did, and the fact that I was part of the class. This creates strong friendships, and four years after graduation, we are still in touch. 

Besides, GEMBA alumni can visit the campus to gain new knowledge every summer, and to connect with other alumni as well as current candidates. In summer 2023, I participated in one of the programmes, including events outside of the classroom, and I connected with countless of open-minded people. This is also a priceless advantage.

2. Why EMC?

Then why did I pursue EMC? I decided to apply to the EMC because of the GEMBA. These two are perfectly complementary.

After the GEMBA, my view of the world has completely changed. I have tools and knowledge to advance my career and explore unchartered territory. But what makes me fulfilled and how do I want to spend the rest of my life?

When I started to think about these questions, I heard about the EMC. What I gained through GEMBA helped me realise what I didn’t know, and that’s why I decided to deep dive inside myself through EMC.

3. What do we learn through EMC?

OK, so what is EMC all about?

C stands for Change. What do you think of when you hear the word “change”? I think there are a million ways to answer. In fact, the expectations of my classmates from this programme were so diverse. For example, I was more focused on raising my self-awareness which resulted in changes inside of myself, whereas some of my classmates wanted to learn practical skills of change management. 

There are two types of change we can learn through EMC:

1)    Change happening inside of you to become a leader more authentic to yourself, and unlocking your hidden capability.
2)    Change you enable in your organisation together with people you are working with, by navigating each of them and the whole organisation to its full potential.

A typical INSEAD EMC classroom scene
A typical INSEAD EMC classroom scene 

Unlike in the GEMBA, there is little framework. There is nothing like ‘5F analysis of an industry’, and we do not evaluate NPV of transformation. We learn a lot of psychological tools and principles, but we need to use them in real environments and explore what works for which occasion. Each case study of us is so raw and unique. Often, it is required to piece the learnings together to enable change. 

But its ultimate target is people. Every single change is carried out by human beings.

Without paying attention to people, no strategy or financial plan can be executed the way we expect them to be.

That’s what I discovered by studying both programmes.

4. What are the differences between GEMBA and EMC?

Part of the uniqueness of the GEMBA, which differentiates INSEAD from other schools, is the LDP (Leadership Development Programme). In addition to a number of modules, we have the opportunity to learn how to thrive as a leader. There are group coaching sessions, in which members support and learn from each other, and it is also a meaningful experience.

But EMC goes much deeper to individually redefine each person’s definition of leadership. More importantly, there is a psychologically safe environment in EMC, where we are free to express what comes to our mind.

It is very helpful because often we need to look back at unpleasant memories in order to find out why we think or behave the way we do, and everyone is so caring to help us go through. That makes EMC so transformational, and classmates create strong bonds through the journey.

You can build important relationships in both programmes.

Looking back, I describe my friends from GEMBA as buddies, and those from EMC as comrades. I can’t say which one is better because they are different. One thing for sure is, both friendships are priceless. 

INSEAD Executive Master in Change
In front of the Fontainebleau castle with some of my dear GEMBA buddies

GEMBA consists of around 250 participants across three campuses. EMC consists of around 35 participants in one campus. The size of the cohorts could influence how close your friendships become, as well as how diverse they can be.

The average age of a GEMBA participant is 38, and in my case the age ranged from the early thirties to the fifties. In the EMC, the average age is 44, mostly because a certain maturity is necessary to be able to contribute to the programme. It is one of the reasons why the atmosphere of these two programmes is different.

INSEAD Executive Master in Change
With my EMC comrades

It is important to reach out and hear from alumni about how the class goes to have a better understanding. 

5. Which one is right for you?

If you’ve already made up your mind and this article helps you to have firm determination, I am glad.

If you are wondering, “Which one should I take?”, the answer is (you will hear this a lot at INSEAD) “It depends”. 

It is important to look at yourself. What career stage are you in? What do you plan to do in the future? Is it clear or vague? What do you want to gain from these demanding programmes? 

After you have better clarity, I suggest you look for alumni within your organisation or on LinkedIn and ask for their experience. Every alum I met was so kind and passionate to share their honest opinion. If your expectation is aligned with what you hear from them, it must be what you are looking for. I’m sure it will be a life-changing journey.

If you are ambitious to conquer both, I suggest starting with GEMBA, and then going for EMC. In my experience, GEMBA cultivated my way of thinking, and it helped me to smoothly immerse myself in the learnings of EMC. That’s why I believe these two are complementary.

I hope this helps identify which programme is suitable for you. I am happy to communicate with you if you are looking for advice. Please feel free to reach out through my LinkedIn Account.