Russia’s Answer to Harvard Business School: A Break With Tradition.


SKOLKOVO, RUSSIA — A business school created by Russia’s leading oligarchs presented diplomas to its first graduates and inaugurated a $250 million high-tech campus complex in a suburb of Moscow last month, seeking to stake out a role as the Harvard Business School equivalent for students focused on the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

“The whole focus of the program is to develop what we call entrepreneurial leaders for emerging markets and difficult environments, where a typical business school graduate would see all of the problems and none of the opportunities,” Wilfried Vanhonacker, dean of the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, said in an interview. “We want them to see the opportunities, recognize the problems, but grab these opportunities, run with them and do something with them.”

After the graduation ceremonies — which were for 21 executive M.B.A. students — students and visitors scurried around the mazelike, light-filled corridors to classes by professors like Pierre Casse, a former World Bank official and dean emeritus at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. The starkly geometric building, by the Tanzanian-born British architect David Adjaye, has skylights and walls of glass and was inspired by Kazimir Malevich, as a way to connect Russia’s artistic avant-garde with economic innovation, the school said.

Reproductions of Malevich’s works serve as murals in the dining halls, which look more like chic Moscow restaurants — dorm rooms look like a trendy boutique hotel — befitting a school whose founders include the billionaire Roman Abramovich. Suggestive installations made out of latex, by Alexandra Frolova, a contemporary artist, decorate several corridors.

Mr. Vanhonacker is a specialist in China, where he was one of the creators of the China-Europe International Business School in Shanghai in the 1990s. China is the BRIC country that weighs heaviest on Russia’s mind as an economy and system to fear and emulate, and a reminder of lost opportunities.

“Traditional business schools are not preparing the talent that is needed,” Mr. Vanhonacker said of the demands posed by the BRIC countries. “If they’re interested in doing investment banking or a consulting career, they’re probably better off going to a school like Harvard,” he said.

At the ceremony earlier this month, Viktor Vekselberg, the oil and metals magnate, told purple-robed graduates that the mission of the school, of which he is one of the founders, was to bridge Russia’s “big gap between new ideas and decisions that are generated and their practical realization in the real economy,” and link business and scientific innovation.

The business school shares a name and vision with the “innovation city” project proposed by President Dmitri A. Medvedev, a high-tech village that is meant to be a version of Silicon Valley.

The Skolkovo school emphasizes that it is a private venture. But Mr. Medvedev is chairman of the Skolkovo school’s international advisory board, and Mr. Vekselberg is co-director of the project to create the innovation city.

Mr. Vekselberg said during the ceremony that he hoped Skolkovo, where prices are on par with business schools in the West, will soon “have an international community of alumni on par with those of Yale and Harvard.”

The Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the main academic partner of the Skolkovo school in the United States. Skolkovo also has partnerships with the Indian School of Business, Fundação Dom Cabal in Brazil and Fudan University in China. M.B.A. students all have to spend time in the United States and in one of the other BRIC countries and develop a business project in Russia, as well as a social project.

New students at Skolkovo include Christian Graggaber, who is from Austria but has done business with Russia’s paper and packaging industry. He said he spent two years considering Skolkovo and decided to get his M.B.A. there as a springboard for starting a business connected to Russia and emerging markets.

“Skolkovo is the only business school that can provide all of these factors,” said Mr. Graggaber, who studied business administration at Bocconi University in Milan.

Mr. Vanhonacker and professors at the school said they don’t avoid, but even focus, on the subjects that make so many businessmen wary of Russia.

“We are preparing people for reality, so we’re not hiding anything,” he said. “There’s issues of corruption, there’s issues of lack of enforcement of the legal system, there’s issues about government interference, there’s issues about raiding, there’s a security issue, and so on. That’s the reality of Russia.”

Guest lecturers have included businessmen whose companies have been raided, and discussing the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed billionaire, is not taboo. A team of students did a project with a regional governor who spoke very frankly about how he bought the elections.

Andrei Goltsblat, a Russian lawyer who lectures at Skolkovo, said he taught students “how they can implement their honesty” in Russia.

“I think Harvard is quite standardized and predictable,” said Mr. Goltsblat, who took a course there last spring. Skolkovo’s advantage, he said, “is that it gives its students a particularly clear, practical understanding of conducting business in developing markets.”


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