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October 1, 2009

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Russian MBA program blazes new trail

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 glass and steel, US$250 million campus just outside Moscow's city limits, the school this month launched its full-time, 16-month masters in business administration program, with classes temporarily in the five-star Baltschug Kempinski hotel near the Kremlin.

Vanhonhacker 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.

The speakers will provide the students with real-life examples of the challenges they could face in 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.

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


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