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THE EXECUTIVE MBA // Work, study, get ahead

Nazaro Propati figured it would be tough earning a master's degree in business administration while managing an operations group for a major bank.

He just didn't figure it would be this tough.

Nearly every weekday at his Tampa Palms home, Propati rises at 4 a.m. He fixes a pot of Maxwell House dark roast coffee and studies for several hours before going to his office at Chase National Corporate Services in downtown Tampa.

The pre-dawn hours are prime study time for Propati. His wife Stephanie and infant daughter Daniella are still asleep. It's so quiet outside that the sound of the lawn sprinklers coming on startles him sometimes.

Propati takes off every other Friday to attend class. The other weeks, he has class all day Saturday. And he spends many weekend nights studying topics like total quality management and advanced corporate finance.

To make his schedule even more hectic, Stephanie gave birth to Daniella last August, in the same week he started the 20-month executive MBA program at the University of South Florida.

Is all the stress worth it? Propati, 30, thinks so.

"It hasn't been easy, but I have an opportunity here to maintain a full course load while keeping a job," he says. "To not succeed isn't an option."

Propati is one of 60 students enrolled at USF's executive MBA program. The program, which has graduated more than 350 students since 1981, is aimed primarily at middle-level corporate managers and senior professionals who want to earn an MBA degree while still working full time.

Most of the students come from corporations operating in the greater Tampa Bay area, such as Barnett Bank, GTE, IBM, Salomon Brothers and Tropicana.

Participants say the program is demanding, especially for those who don't have academic backgrounds in finance and accounting. But they believe having an MBA will give them an edge for future promotions, and the additional education can help them on the job.

And it apparently matters little that USF's business school doesn't have a stellar reputation. To them, the degree is important, not where they earned it.

Besides, USF's executive MBA program is the only one of its kind in Tampa Bay. (The University of Tampa offers a part-time MBA program, but unlike USF, it doesn't cater to professionals' schedules.)

May 15 is the application deadline for the new fall class of 35 students, and program director Marian Hill expects about 80 applicants, all of whom must get approval from their employers to apply.

Out of this group, about 30 won't get accepted because of low Graduate Record Exam or Graduate Management Admission Test scores, or won't get financial backing from their employers, Hill said.

Another 20 or so will have second thoughts and withdraw their applications.

The program costs $26,900, but about 70 percent of the sponsoring employers pay for some or all of the cost, Hill said. Chase Manhattan Bank, for instance, is paying 100 percent of Propati's costs.

By contrast, Tampa doctor Michael Yarnoz is paying for the program himself.

"The program fees are a substantial amount of money, but I think it's worth it," said Yarnoz, 58. "(The program) is opening my mind to subjects I've never studied before."

Yarnoz was an open-heart surgeon for 25 years, but a disability now prevents him from performing surgery. He is still a senior partner in a Tampa physicians group, and having an MBA degree "will make me a more effective business partner for my group," he said.

For scheduling convenience, Yarnoz chose the executive MBA program over a companion program at USF designed specifically for physicians, which costs $29,900 and consists of six two-week sessions spread out over two years.

The cost of USF's executive MBA program is comparable to that of similar programs around Florida. For instance, the program at the University of Central Florida costs $22,900, while at Jacksonville University, it's $27,200.

Elsewhere, Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., charges $30,700, and the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania charges a whopping $76,000.

While the USF program isn't as prestigious as Wharton's or Northwestern's, it is still academically demanding.

Students have to earn 57 credits, with faculty from USF's business school teaching the classes. Course work is on such challenging subjects as managerial economics, financial accounting for managers, taxation for managers and international business.

"They start you out vigorously with an emphasis on accounting and statistics," says Robert Blain, 45, a senior vice president at Raymond James & Associates who graduated from the program last year. "The first semester was mind-boggling for me at first _ and I have a bachelor's degree in accounting from USF."

While most of the participants have a business school background, those who don't can take a primer course on accounting a few weeks before starting the regular program.

But since the students also have full-time jobs, USF tries to be flexible in its demands on their time. "Sometimes people will have to miss a class because of work or personal reasons," Hill said. "So occasionally we'll record a class for them, fax a quiz or test, or express-mail a class handout."

Students have to maintain a B average throughout the program. They also must complete either a summer overseas study program, which costs about $3,000 extra, or an applied research project.

This summer, participants will spend two weeks in Argentina and Chile. They'll visit chambers of commerce, local stock exchanges and the headquarters of South American companies that do business in the United States.

Only about three or four students drop out of the program each year, mostly as a result of job transfers, Hill said.

Those who finish the program say the rewards are many.

"I can produce high-quality reports with financial analysis as well as comprehensive marketing plans," says Apple Bass, 46, marketing services manager for GTE Telecommunications Services in Tampa, and a 1995 graduate of the USF program. "Before getting my MBA, I could not have done this work at this level."

Blain at Raymond James was promoted while still in the executive MBA program. Simply the fact that he was studying for his MBA probably helped him advance, he said.

"Self-satisfaction and self-preservation motivated me to get my MBA," he said. "In this day and age, you can't be 45 years old and not have as many weapons in your business arsenal as possible."

USF's executive MBA program

Cost: $26,900

Length: 20 months

Class schedule: alternating Fridays and Saturdays, August through April

Median age of enrollees: 32

Class size: 30

Faculty: University of South Florida College of Business

Admission requirements: bachelor's degree from an accredited institution; generally eight or more years of organizational experience with several years in a managerial or senior professional position; completion of Graduate Management Admission Test or Graduate Record Exam

Employer involvement: Employer must approve employee's application for entrance and, in some cases, will pay for some or all of the cost

Application deadline: May 15

Degree requirements: complete 22 courses; maintain B average; complete applied research project or participate in summer overseas study trip

Degree awarded: Master of Business Administration

Program established: 1981

For more information: telephone, 974-4876; e-mail, embabsn.usf.edu; Web, http://www.bsn.usf.edu/programs /mba/execmba

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