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Strategies & Market Trends : Countries

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From: Sam Citron10/1/2009 1:43:10 PM
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With Help of Russian Business Leaders, M.B.A. School Opens in Moscow

MOSCOW — A handful of top Russian business figures have created a Master of Business Administration program that tackles the issues they faced themselves: bribery, relentless bureaucracy and imperfect laws.

Supporters of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo say it will fill an important niche by getting students ready for the unpredictable, sometimes corrupt world of emerging market economies.

“We’d like to change the whole model,” said the school’s dean, Wilfried Vanhonacker. “It doesn’t make sense for us, nor are we interested in competing with Harvard. That’s a business school of the past, I have to say. But a business school of the future has to be different.”

With construction not quite finished on its $250 million glass-and-steel campus just outside the Moscow city limits, the school began its full-time, 16-month M.B.A. program this month, with classes temporarily in the five-star Hotel Baltschug Kempinski near the Kremlin.

Mr. Vanhonacker, the former director of the doctoral program at the Insead business school in France, said that developing economies provided the biggest business opportunities but schools did not prepare students to work in them.

“We looked and we didn’t see any business school preparing this talent, even though in most corporate sectors this is where we expect the growth to come from,” he said.

Other business schools do offer some focus on emerging markets. Insead, for example, offers field work in China, India and Middle East. Loïc Sadoulet, academic director of the Insead Africa Initiative, said one optional course focuses on developing countries and deals with issues like foreign direct investment, corruption and health.

The Skolkovo program includes classroom courses in management theory but also will invite dozens of guest speakers to provide the students with examples of the challenges of emerging economies. And part of their training consists of working at companies solving real-world problems.

After three months of studying management theory, students will be placed with a government department or company in Russia, China, India or the United States.

“It’s learning by doing, not learning by acting or playing,” said Serge Hayward, director of the M.B.A. program. “We’re trying to put them in an environment where they are going to function rather than tell them about this environment.”

Mr. Hayward said that he had considered asking officials in police agencies and private security companies to speak to the business students, and might even invite an organized crime boss to talk about the challenges of management.

One of the aims of putting students into the world of business and government, Mr. Vanhonacker said, is to break down their preconceptions. “We want to shock them that there is a reality out there which is very different from what they think it is,” he said.

Last week, 40 students in their 20s and 30s, most dressed casually in sport shirts and jeans, listened to a professor, Pierre Casse, lecture on leadership. Mr. Casse used a hypothetical murder case to illustrate how judgment depends on a person’s point of reference and how leadership is about rallying people around one reference point.

Julia Davis, an American student, said she had chosen the Moscow school because it was a “forward-looking” institution with no preconceived notion of either business education or the nature of the global economy. Ms. Davis said she was glad the Skolkovo instructors talked about topics like corruption, flawed legislation and the role of ruling political parties in emerging economies.

Among the patrons of the school are some of the biggest names in the Russian business world, like Ruben Vardanian, founder of Troika Dialog investment bank, as well as global companies like Credit Suisse and industrial giants like Severstal, the Russian steel maker.

Roman Abramovich, the billionaire investor and owner of the Chelsea soccer team in Britain, donated 26 hectares, or 64 acres, of land for the campus.

President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, who has spoken of the need to fight corruption, sits on the advisory board and spoke at the program’s inaugural ceremony. Mr. Vardanian said that only private money had been involved in starting the school, but approval from the higher authorities had spared the project bureaucratic hurdles that it might otherwise have faced.

Although there are M.B.A. programs at a handful of universities in Russia, few of them attract professors with global credentials and most of the programs are taught in Russian. Classes in Skolkovo are conducted in English.

Skolkovo’s training is not cheap. Fees for the full-time M.B.A. program, including accommodation and flights to India, China and the United States, are €50,000, or about $74,000. The sum will sound daunting for many in Russia, where the national average for a monthly salary is 18,000 rubles, or about $600, and 33,000 rubles in Moscow.

Alexandra Dronova, a student, said she had chosen Skolkovo because she wanted an education relevant to life in Russia. “There’s not much point to be educated somewhere in the States,” she said. “There are excellent schools there, but how do you apply this in Russia?”
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