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Program History

The Stanford MSx Program was established in 1957. Originally named the Stanford Program in Executive Management, it was envisioned as an intensive one-year educational program that would bring together future business leaders and future teachers of business.

The first class, which graduated in 1958, included six PhD candidates — the future teachers — and six corporate managers, rising stars sponsored by their companies. “It was one of the very early efforts to bring people together with quite diverse experiences,” said former Dean Robert Joss, Sloan ‘66, MBA ‘67, and PhD ‘70.

Alfred P. Sloan, longtime chairman and CEO of General Motors and a philanthropist, provided early financial support through the Sloan Foundation. During the first 10 years, the foundation funded the participation of PhD candidates, in an effort to make sure future teachers had exposure to the interdisciplinary foundations of general management. Because of this support, the program came to be known for several decades as the Stanford Sloan Program.

The program evolved with the requirements of the business world. Originally granting only a certificate of completion, the program has offered a Master of Science in Management (MS) degree since 1977. In its early years, “we didn’t have examinations, but we learned an enormous amount,” said Karl Ruppenthal, Sloan ‘58, PhD ‘59, an airline pilot who was part of the first Sloan class. The change to a degree program increased the level of academic rigor, which increased faculty enthusiasm.

As business went global, so did the program. In the early 1980s, about one-quarter of the students were international. Today, more than 60% of Fellows are typically from outside the United States; the Class of 2015 represents 26 countries. The survey of graduates shows the progression: Overall, 28% live outside the United States, but that figure is higher for more recent graduates. About one-third of graduates from the 1990s live abroad, as do 40% from the 2000s.

Until 2001, the program accepted only corporate managers who were sponsored by their organization. Since the program was opened to self-sponsored students, the mix of participants and backgrounds has evolved. Now sponsored students from Global 500 companies take classes alongside experienced entrepreneurs and professionals from more diverse industries, providing a fertile learning environment.

In 2013, the program became the Stanford Master of Science in Management for Experienced Leaders, or Stanford MSx. The name change reflected a renewed focus on the diversity and experience of the Fellows entering the program. It also established an even more pronounced link with the larger Stanford Graduate School of Business and its commitment to driving positive change through collaboration, innovative thinking, and real-world experience.

A Tradition of Innovation

The program has grown from the first class of 12 in 1957 to 89 Fellows in the Class of 2015. Yet it retains the intimate feel that fosters lasting relationships among its students. “I can’t think of a program in the world that would create stronger bonds,” said John Steinhart, Sloan director from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. Because the students are in midcareer, many come to Stanford with their families, who also form lasting friendships.

The curriculum has been refreshed to stay at the forefront of the management field. It provides more opportunities for Fellows to take classes throughout Stanford University, tapping into the schools of engineering, law, medicine, education, and earth sciences. And the school now provides self-sponsored students with more targeted and relevant career-planning resources.

While much has evolved, the program still offers elite managers, whether employees of major global corporations or self-made entrepreneurs, the chance to reassess and broaden their focus at midcareer without the distractions of work — a chance that is available almost nowhere else. The impact this can have is tremendous.

Indeed, a recent survey of alumni found that more than half of those who graduated in the 1980s have been CEO, president, or founder of a company, and more than 30% are managers at firms with revenues of $4 billion or more. Almost 40% work at companies with more than 5,000 employees. And they are loyal — almost half have remained with one organization since graduating.

“The main product of the program is confidence,” said Tom Steding, Sloan ‘81 and chairman and founder of Quadrix Partners. “You have seen the best and mingled with the best, and now you know what they know. You go forth and play in the business management field with confidence that you know what you’re doing.”