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NORTH BAY – Sonoma State University will offer the North Bay’s first locally based public university executive MBA program starting in January.

Professionals in the North Bay will for the first time have the opportunity of earning a master’s in business administration with the new executive MBA program.

When Dr. William Silver, dean of the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University, joined the school last fall, he started conversations of having an executive MBA program.

For the previous 10 years before joining SSU, he served as lead to the master’s program at the University of Denver, and he brought that experience to the table when organizing the new program at Sonoma State.

The program, said Dr. Silver, is intended to serve the region’s business community and is targeted toward people who are running functions in an organization such as marketing, operations, production or perhaps an entire enterprise. “It is designed to help them deliver business results,” he said.

The first cohort of approximately 25 students will begin in January 2010. The 18-month program will take place on alternating Fridays and Saturdays.

“That way, the commitment is from both the person and the organization they work for,” said Dr. Silver.

In addition to the weekly classroom meeting, there will be a 12-day international business experience where students will travel overseas to a developing economy and to an established economy.

There will also be a four-day off-site team-building experience where the students will learn how to sail.

Dr. Silver said this is a perfect place for a hands-on leadership experience because one person can lead the team, and communication is required. Also, the program is tailored to the needs of the community.

“We focused on sustainable development, hospitality and tourism, the emerging tech industry, banking and health care,” he said.

He said it could be a challenge choosing the people in the first group. “You want to put the right mix of people and industry in the room.”

Currently, professionals who want to get into an executive MBA program have to go to the Bay Area. Programs at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley and USF are the closest offerings.

The price is also competitive at about $35,000. In the 16 classes, the breadth of the program is covered. There are the same core accounting, finance, marketing and operations classes that a traditional MBA would get, but with the executive master’s there is more emphasis on leadership strategy, management and financial management.

“These are the skills that will help them run operations and grow business,” Dr. Silver said.

Dr. Silver and Dr. Robert Eyler, chairman of the Department of Economics at Sonoma State University and director of the Center of Regional Economic Analysis, along with other faculty put the program together. “I am really excited about the hands-on aspect of the program,“ said Dr. Silver.

He made the comparison of a professional to an athlete. “The athlete spends 90 to 95 percent of their time practicing, and the rest on the field. The business professional gets no practice; 100 percent of their time is spent on the ground. This program gives them that practice field.”

Terry Lease, the department chair for business administration, said this program will be a great benefit to those people who worked their way up into high positions but don’t necessarily have the education.

“This will help fill out the background,” he said. “Another benefit is the cohort model. Business leaders will be in some ways competing with each other, but they also will learn from one another.” Information sessions on the program will begin in August.

For more information on the executive MBA program and the informational meetings, e-mail emba@sonoma.edu, or call 707-664-2220.