Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Helping leaders’ careers take off: Emirates and WBS

Helping leaders’ careers take off: The custom partnership between Emirates and Warwick Business School

When Emirates wanted to develop a senior leadership programme that would help staff reach new heights, it turned to WBS for help.

The aviation industry is more used to turbulence than most, but it was still sent into a tailspin by the global recession of 2008.

By June of the following year, the Civil Aviation Authority was reporting a 13% drop in the number of people using UK airports, as the International Air Transport Association forecasted that airlines would lose £5.7bn in 2009 alone.

With the clear skies of hindsight and memories of Covid lockdowns still fresh, you could say that the challenges have never vanished since, only evolved.

Economic crises, environmental concerns and increased competition have combined to make keeping a commercial aviation business up in the air a relentlessly difficult proposition.

Clearly, this is no time for the autopilot; airlines need leaders with talent, experience and conviction.

Emirates certainly think so.

Since 2011, the Dubai-based company has been sending staff on an Executive Leadership Development Programme (ELDP) designed and delivered in partnership with Warwick Business School.

A close relationship

Emirates’ aim was to establish a programme that would turn high-potential people in senior functional roles into effective managers who could help deliver on its ambitious growth plans. 

But the airline was in no mood to rush. When it came to picking a partner, Emirates spoke to no fewer than 10 potential providers before selecting Warwick Business School (WBS), an academic department within the University of Warwick, for the task. 

Long-term collaboration was central to that decision. 

Emirates wanted to find a business school prepared “not just to develop and support the programme, but also to keep looking for opportunities to add additional benefits from the relationship – supporting the participant’s ongoing development throughout and after the programme”, said Paul McCarthy, Client Director at WBS.

Together, Emirates and WBS began by defining six specific objectives and forming a joint steering group that would craft a programme relevant to the target population, the organisation and the strategic requirements.  

“Senior stakeholders from Emirates and faculty from the business school came together to explore how to devise the structure needed to create a challenging experience and deliver organisational capability through individual development,” Paul recalled. 

The result is a programme offered to cohorts of 25 Emirates employees every year, who often praise it for bringing business challenges to life in interactive ways. 

Selections, connections and qualifications

In building the programme, WBS helped ensure that strategic thinking is elevated to a business level, inviting attendees to consider the challenges and opportunities that come with managing a highly interdependent organisation. 

After a rigorous selection process, WBS and Emirates conduct an induction in Dubai to clarify the objectives for each cohort and agree personal development plans for each individual. 

Two modules of face-to-face learning in the UK follow, bookended by individual coaching and group webinars on the WBS learning platform.  

Participants are also brought to the Warwick campus for five-day residential modules that allow them to delve deeper into an educational mindset.  

Here, Emirates and its staff benefit greatly from the other commercial connections of WBS; partnership networks are exploited to expose learners on the programme to the experiences and learnings of other businesses that share the values and qualities Emirates expects and wishes to provide to its customers. 

Another key differentiator is that – unlike most customised programmes – participants are offered the chance to gain an academic qualification.  

Those successful achieve a WBS Post Graduate Award in Organisational Leadership, which gives them credits that can be taken forward to a full MBA. 

In it for the long haul

For Paul McCarthy, providing a qualification that benefits staff’s career prospects not only aids retention, but reflects the long-term nature of Emirates’ approach.

“They’re looking for people to bring back that difference of thinking and change what the business does so they can beat the continuously shifting pressures,” Paul said.

The Emirates Group has also pledged to continue the ELDP in the years to come, with success measured against the improved performance that participants bring through their day-to-day roles, their progress into more senior roles and wider financial returns.

Such a commitment to developing new leaders should help Emirates stay on a smooth course no matter what.

And at an airline that responded to easing pandemic restrictions by carrying 10 million passengers on nearly 35,000 flights to 130 destinations this summer, there are already plenty of role models for the next generation to look up to.

Interested in collaborating with Warwick Business School?