How to Create a Successful Global, Online MBA: The Case of ESMT Berlin’s Online MBA

ESMT Berlin

ESMT Berlin is the only top-10-ranked European business school offering a fully online, global MBA. So what makes their online MBA unique? A talk with Chengwei Liu, associate professor and faculty lead, and Rebecca Loades, director of ESMT’s MBA programmes, discloses that an innovative programme structure and highly diverse student body are what makes the programme so distinctive.

Chengwei Liu is the faculty lead of the Global Online MBA and is an associate professor of strategy and behavioural science at ESMT. Rebecca Loades is the director of ESMT’s MBA programmes. Both believe in the transformational power of education and, in this article, they share what makes the Global Online MBA unique.

Prof Liu says the motivation behind the program was to enable more students to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of ESMT’s world-class faculty so that they can have greater impact in their professional lives.

An innovative program for the innovators of the future

A part-time MBA is often taken by people who would already be busy enough without additional study demands — ambitious people ready to invest in themselves and accelerate their professional development. That’s why ESMT has structured its online MBA in a highly flexible way, where students can access the majority of the material online at a time that suits them. To add extra flexibility, the MBA can be taken over a period of up to five years.

While there are other flexible MBAs online, what makes the ESMT Berlin Global Online MBA stand out is the design of the programme.

Loades says: “We have structured the programme very differently from our competitors. Each module has been developed to address business challenges in an integrated approach.”

For example, core modules will enable students to make better decisions, to understand more about their organisation or market, and to create strategic advantage.


Since students are doing their MBA part-time while working, they can immediately apply what they’ve learned,  Loades says.

Or, as Prof Liu puts it, they “can apply whatever they learn to actual business challenges in real time.”

And students can expect more from the online programme than just watching videos. Loades says: “We’ve created an impactful learning environment. Every moment has been developed with intention, and to maximise learning.” Faculty at ESMT work closely with learning designers to optimise the learning journey and create a blend of independent study, interactive exercises, and group work.

Working in teams is an important and essential feature of the online MBA, With students coming from more than 45 different countries, teamwork takes place virtually and offers a rich and psychologically-safe environment to develop virtual communication and leadership skills.  The combination of learning about effective virtual communication and digital leadership, and applying that knowlege is powerful and very relevant to how we work today.

A unique curriculum

One way ESMT ensures the investment is worthwhile is through ongoing programme development.

Aside from a unique structure, the content and curricula of the course also stand out, Prof Liu says. The professors teaching in the Global Online MBA are the same world-class faculty as teach in our other MBA programmes.  Students are therefore learning from thought leaders.

And to ensure that our courses include the latest research, they are reviewed and updated after each iteration.

To help understand the integrated approach taken by ESMT Berlin, consider the module Making Wiser Decisions Under Uncertainty. Upon completion, students will be able to apply quantitative techniques to decision making, address organisational issues that can prevent effective decision making, and holistically evaluate the implications of managerial decision making.

As Loades frames it, students are investing personally and psychologically in the program and they deserve a world-class experience.  After all, by choosing to study while working, students are choosing to reallocate time away from other things in their lives. One way ESMT ensures the investment is worthwhile is through ongoing programme development. Feedback is requested throughout the programme and used to inform improvements and updates for the following class.

An online MBA for online leadership


The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online learning. We were all forced to become comfortable with technology-mediated interactions and barriers to adoption were lowered.

“This almost overnight shift to hybrid work demonstrated that managing people and teams remotely requires a different skillset.  Students in the Global Online MBA program develop that muscle from day one.  Virtual collaboration is at the heart of the program and one of the first courses studied, Global Virtual Teams, has been designed to help students improve communication and leadership skills when interacting in mainly, or exclusively, virtual environments” – Rebecca Loades

While the MBA can be taken fully online, students can join us for Experience Weeks. This July, two-thirds of the first cohort came to Berlin, and Loades says it was as if “they had known each other for years”. To Loades and Prof Liu, it’s evidence that meaningful connections are being forged throughout the programme.

That shows in the way the students work together. While ESMT makes sure to arrange both professional and social gatherings, the students spontaneously and voluntarily do the same. For example, students support each other through voluntary tutoring sessions to help their classmates understand principles and concepts.

Diversity and accessibility as a key to a successful MBA

Diversity and accessibility are at the core of Loades’ and Liu’s approach to designing a successful online MBA in a number of ways.

Loades shares that they price the programme in an accessible way to ensure the broadest-possible inclusion. To make sure every student can join live sessions, every session is offered twice, so they cater to every time zone and no one feels left out. Besides that, ESMT Berlin has invested in online education technology, so that the insights and programmes from ESMT can be shared as widely as possible.

These efforts have resulted in a highly diverse and international learning environment with ambitious students from all around the world, stretching from Vancouver to Sydney.


And, according to Prof Liu and Loades, the diverse environment is helping students massively. As Prof Liu says: “It really excites me how diverse our students are. And it definitely benefits the programme as well as the students that people from all over the world join.” Loades adds that being exposed to the perspectives and values of different cultures is helping their students prepare for international careers as they work together and navigate the challenges global teams can expect to experience.

Corporate partnerships also allow for a diversity of nationalities and purposes. Prof Liu and Loades tell of their partnership with the BMW Foundation, which helps ESMT offer ten scholarships to displaced women from Ukraine to study for the global online MBA – upskilling that they can eventually take back to Ukraine to help rebuild the country.

Another partnership that ESMT has made to diversify its programme is with Allianz Insurance, which sponsors 10 students each year, of which seven are social entrepreneurs that get their global online MBA sponsored.

On success

Most people, if not all, starting an MBA or even thinking about starting one are people who have a high drive toward success in their professional life. So we conclude by sharing how Loades and Liu define success.

Loades says that, for her, success is “when I see our students transform through their learning and development. Because I think education is unique in its ability to genuinely transform lives. And seeing our students do that, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Prof Liu says: “I have a very short answer. Helping others to succeed. That’s it.”


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