вторник, 24 мая 2011 г.

“SKOLKOVO as Everest” – an interview with Andrei Volkov, the business school’s Dean

Here is the translation of the “Business Excellence” Journal interview with Andrei Volkov, Dean of Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO (the original text in Russian can be found here)
In his interview Andrei Volkov speaks about the business school’s distinctiveness, the history and main prospects of its development, its students and faculty.

There have been no world-renowned business schools in Russia. The Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO was created as an attempt to become one. Though such understanding of the school’s misson and aims would be too simplified. In order to set the record straight we have met one of the founders of the school and its Dean – Dr. Andrei Volkov.

- Andrei, how did the idea of the school come up?
- The idea came up five years ago as a result of the three men's talk – Vladimir Mau, the Dean of the Academy of National Economy under the Government of the Russian Federation, Ruben Vardanian, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the investment company “Troika Dialog”, now the SKOLKOVO President, and me. According to Ruben Vardanian, Russian business was in need of a new generation of entrepreneurs in order to make the next step in its development; the existing landscape was not satisfactory for some reason or another. Vladimir Mau, who manages several business schools (there is almost a dozen of them under the Academy of National Economy), thought of creating an ideal school, a school of a new type – historically, economically, philosophically and sociologically biased. It has appeared to him that broadening of cultural horizons of those who make decisions in business is crucial. As for me, for the past twenty years I have been working with innovations in education and first of all in efficient education for the modern person, their abillity to make decisions under comlicated and uncertain conditions.

So when we exchanged our opinions we were quick to come to the mutual understanding. Ruben Vardanian took over the management of the process and started to search for those who could become partners in creating the school.

- There are more than 150 business schools in Russia and more than 5000 in the world. What are unique features and advantages of SKOLKOVO?
- First of all, this school was founded by private business. People have invested their own money into the project which doesn’t promise quick profits. This needs a certain vision, certain mindset, and an ability to think 20 years ahead.

Secondly, we are oriented to the emerging markets. This is neither a good thing, nor a bad one. Russia belongs to the emerging economies even formally; our market is unusual and needs of new competences, according to the Western standards.

Thirdly, our work is based on a project approach. We build our education process not on cases and lectures, but on real projects, both Russian and international. I would say, this is a key unique feature of the SKOLKOVO business school. Here is an example. Several Russian and multinational corporations already invite our students to develop a strategy of launching a new product or service for them. Recently our students have worked on the project of bringing into operation new Sheremetyevo airport terminals, and this project was very successful. Sometimes we see unsuccessful projects as well and clients may not accept the result, but anyway this kind of work is a great educational and real-business experience at the same time.

- What happens in case of success? Does the client pay for the students’ work somehow?
- There is no financial commitment between the school and corporations. In case of a successful project the company may invite the students to work for them after graduation. We must take into account one very important factor – the school is only five years old, our first graducation took place in only 2010, so it will take several years to learn how many students would go working for the corporations, how many would start their own businesses and how many would join the public sector.

- Many of your students come to SKOLKOVO in order to start their own business afterwards but the tuition fees are quite high – around 90 thousand euro per programme. Hence they already have their own business and some money saved, don't they?
- Yes, or they take a student loan.

- So they hope for a quick pay-off?
- I suppose everybody hopes for a quick pay-off, though things may develop differently. Some people go up, and some fail. The essence of entrepreneurship is to be able to take risks. Business is never predictable. You may draw a nice business plan, invest a lot of money, create a successful company (say, in tourism) – and then suddenly a the civil corporation occurs in Egypt… The world has come into an era of market instability, successes and failures of the whole industries – and you cannot foresee such risks.

- Some of your students plan to work in a non-profit sector. What do they plan to do exactly?
- In the government sphere, for example in the Presindent’s Administration. Some plan to work for various foundations and galleries. By the way, I myself do work for a non-profit organization – I head the Russian Mountaineering Federation – and I feel a great pleasure of creating some real business without the goal of making profits.

- There are well-known politicians and businessmen among the founders of the school – Roman Abramovich among them, who actually has no higher education, but that fact didn’t prevent him from entering the top-five of the most successful Russian businessmen. So is it really important to receive a business education or may be just a talent is good enogh?
- I have a PhD in technical sciences, so it would sound strange if I say that education is useless. (Laughing.) Actually this question is a philosophical one. That's the way the world wags – everybody should go to school and receive a high school diploma, then a Bachelor’s degree, and MBA, and so on. That is not only a tradition, but also about a status. Though receiving a diploma and receiving knowledge is not the same. Actually everybody gets what he comes for, sometimes both, plus networking that is really important for business. Let’s look at Harvard, for instance. People come there to get the unique connections and relations which make a social capital, sometimes much more significant than a material one, that is “closed in a box”.

In the modern world we see a value of the Degree diploma decline. At the same time there are schools which do give knowledge and skills of managing people, working in multicultural environment, project mamangement, creating large-scale programmes. Such schools give an outstanding opportunity to acquire your own vision and learn to understand lots of things. That education is expensive enough, and its price will only grow. As for our school, we try to build the educational process in the way that could enable the students boyh to achieve good results and to fail in real projects. Failures are more important because they let them benefit intellectually and gain useful experience.

- What selection criteria do you set for the students?
- We have three main requirements. First of all, an applicant must have some managerial experience, not less than three years. It is a plus if they have some entrepreneurial experience. And a plus if they have some failure experience. Constant success usually benumbs the feeling of reality. Secondly, they must be fluent in English, as all the lectures are given in English. Thirdly, they must have an understanding of the reasons why they need such kind of education. The latter factor is checked during the personal interviews with the founders of the school, its management team and heads of the programmes. You may be surprised but we do say “no” to a lot of candidates. For example, if a person wants to enter on a career in financial markets, he had better go to the London Business School – one of the best ones specialize in that sphere. We have a slightly different specialization – we are a management school.

- I noticed many international students in the school.
- We have students from all over the world – from Canada, USA, South Africa, Chezh Republic, UK, India, etc. During the whole education process they live at the Campus hotel and communicate with each other. There are private and corporate students (receiving serious investments from their corporations) among them. After graduation many of them receive good promotions.

- Who are the school faculty members?
- Mostly they are the professors of world renowned business schools, such as London Business School (UK), IMD (Switzerland), INSEAD (France), Harvard, Stanford, Columbia University, Chicago Business School (USA). We try to invite the best faculty; and not because we don’t trust our own nationals. The history of the Russian business is too short – 20 years is a too short period of time for accumulating and analyzing the experience – compared to the Western business history of approximately 70 years. Besides, our professors are practitioners who work for and counsult multinational corporations, and thus they are good at understanding today’s business realities.

- Do you face any difficultines due to the difference between the Western and Russian business?
- Sure we do. The experience of the Western business is impossible to completely apply to the Russian market, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to learn it – we do. You need to understand some alternatives in order to make something of your own. That is very important. You always need to make a creative analysis and creative construction of the business, schemes, ideas, proposals, processes.

- Do the Western professors give any rebates on the Russian business specific character?
- They definitely don’t. They warn us in advance that they have great knowledge of how to do business at French corporations, for instance, but have absolutely no understanding of how that works here. They are ready to share their knowledge and tell what lessons we can have from that and how we can apply them to our risks.

- What attracts the Western professors in SKOLKOVO?
- First of all, they consider our school to be a one-of-a-kind educational project. Secondly, there are not so many schools that work in a format different from European or American. In that sense Russia is interesting for them as another market type. Besides our education is not just about lectures but more than that – communication with people who do business themselves. Thirdly, their work is paid according to world standards.

- You said once that in the future, in 15-20 years, no one would be surprised to see SKOLKOVO side by side with Harvard and Oxford…
- That is my strongest wish.

- What is required for that?
- To have your own vision of what kind of people are needed for the business, how to educate them, and follow your way. It may sound simple, but actually it is very hard. The world always says to  newcomers: “You will fail; you must do it like we have been doing that for 50-70 years, don’t invent anything new.” It is always hard to create a new brand – you may really fail. At the same time you always have a chance to succeed. And I believe in that chance.

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