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MBA program tackles real-world problems

Construction on the $250 million glass-and-steel campus of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo nears completion Sept. 20 just outside Moscow. The school is aimed at preparing managers for a business world in which they may confront weak laws, corrupt courts and predatory bureaucrats, according to the school’s dean, Wilfried Vanhonacker. AP Photo by Mikhail Metzel

Construction on the $250 million glass-and-steel campus of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo nears completion Sept. 20 just outside Moscow. The school is aimed at preparing managers for a business world in which they may confront weak laws, corrupt courts and predatory bureaucrats, according to the school’s dean, Wilfried Vanhonacker. AP Photo by Mikhail Metzel

Nataliya Vasilyeva
AP Writer

Moscow — A handful of top Russian business figures have created an MBA program that tackles the issues they faced themselves: bribery, relentless bureaucracy, 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,” says 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 Moscow’s city limits, the school recently launched its full-time, 16-month master of business administration degree program, with classes temporarily in the five-star Baltschug Kempinski hotel near the Kremlin.

Vanhonacker, the former director of the Ph.D. program at France’s INSEAD business school, said that developing economies hold out the biggest opportunities. But business schools don’t 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,” Vanhonacker said.

Skolkovo includes classroom courses in management theory, but invites dozens of guest speakers to provide the students with real-life examples of the challenges of emerging economies. And part of their training consists of working in real companies solving real-world problems.

After three months of studying management theory, students are 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, MBA program director.

Hayward said that he is considering asking officials in police agencies and private security firms to speak to the business students, and might even invite an organized crime boss to talk about the challenges of management. “We’re trying to put them in an environment where they are going to function rather than tell them about this environment,” he says.

One of the aims of throwing students into the world of business and government, 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 in casual dress such as sport shirts and jeans, listened intently to Professor Pierre Casse lecture on leadership. Casse used a hypothetical murder case to illustrate how judgment depends on one’s own point of reference, and how leadership is about rallying people around one reference point.

Student Julia Davis, an American, says she chose the Moscow school because it is a “forward-looking” institution that has no preconceived notion of either business education or the nature of the global economy.

Davis says she was glad to find Skolkovo instructors talking about topics rarely discussed in conventional MBA classrooms — such corruption, flawed legislation, powerful bureaucracies and the role of ruling parties in running emerging economies.

Among the patrons are some of the Russian business world’s biggest names: Ruben Vardanian, founder of Troika Dialog investment bank and entrepreneur Roman Abramovich as well as global companies such as Credit Suisse and industrial giants such as Russia’s Sevestal steel.

Classes in Skolkovo are conducted in English, the business world’s lingua franca.

Fees for a full-time MBA including accommodation, flights to India, China and the U.S. come to $74,000, comparable to prices at leading business schools globally.

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