As vice-president of the oil-field services of Russian energy giant TNK-BP, Evgeny Bulgakov might have been forgiven for trying to engineer a different outcome to his EMBA company project. The performance-management tool he created while studying at Insead, the international business school, gave his employer the necessary evidence to exit this business.

At the time, TNK-BP’s oil-field services business employed roughly 60,000 people in 82 different legal entities, providing internally and externally supplied services worth more than $2bn per year.

But there was little transparency or objectivity regarding its performance. Bulgakov created a system for measuring the performance of contractors in service sectors such as drilling. He used specially designed scorecards, algorithms for analyses of data and generated benchmark and progress reports.

“It dramatically improved the transparency of the in-house service business, enabled us to prioritise our restructuring efforts and assured the quality of divestment decisions for our own service companies,” says Bulgakov. “It also provided a basis for efficiency-improvement planning with regard to external contractors.”

For Bulgakov, the project tested what he had learnt about organisational behaviour, finance, competitive and industry analysis and accounting. Synchronising the milestones required by Insead with the natural pace of the project was, he admits, a challenge. But he valued the opportunity to discuss his work with faculty and EMBA colleagues. “To explain what your project means and what problems it solves forces you to decode corporate language, and convert your cumbersome jargon into clear and concise messages.”

Now vice-president of a subsidiary that delivers more than 40 per cent of TNK-BP’s crude production, Bulgakov recently found himself assisting a colleague with his EMBA project. “What I found revealing was that even though I consider myself an expert in the field of his project, I learnt a lot, frankly. EMBA students and their projects deliver lots of value.”

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