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Next week Scottish-born Alexandra Wersun, 23, a graduate in south Slavic languages from Nottingham University, will be in the tiny Slovene resort town of Bled learning about management.
But rather than embarking on a full-blooded, time consuming and expensive MBA, she is taking a nine-day seminar, the Discover Management Programme, which is designed to give young graduates of any discipline a glimpse into modern corporate leadership.
“I only graduated last year and at the moment I do not have a very clear idea of where I wish to go in career terms,” she says. “As I feel that I am pretty good at organising things, I think that management is a promising area for me to explore; however the precise area I might like to work in is far from clear. This is why I have opted for the DMP.”
Most of her fellow students attending DMP, expected to number close to 60, voice similar thoughts. “I want to learn more about economics and business and I expect to enlarge my cultural horizons, meet new people and deal with new points of view,” says Veronika Pegan, an Italian mathematics student.
Since its inception in 2002, DMP has been reaching an ever-wider audience of young graduates, says Tanja Zabukovnik, public relations manager at IEDC Bled School of Management, which hosts DMP.
“This is the most international programme at the school,” Ms Zabukovnik says. “We expect around 20 nationalities to be present this year, from the Netherlands and Spain to Azerbaijan. It’s sold out every year.”
The course is the brainchild of J.B. Kassarjian, professor of management at Babson College, Massachusetts, and professor of strategy and organisation at IMD Lausanne and the author of several award-winning case studies.
“Danica [Danica Purg, dean of IECD] challenged me to come up with something for graduates,” he says. “She gave me a clean slate and I went crazy for a weekend designing this programme, which is based on case studies and interactive teaching.”
Since Prof Kassarjian’s own theory of leading change involves “a sharp challenge”, which necessarily requires “a hard stretch” on the students’ part, DMP kicks off with a simulation in which participants must form and run their own company.
“It forces everyone to start working and producing ideas from the very beginning. It’s all very intensive,” says Mitja Mazej, a Slovene engineering student on last year’s programme.
Most students, used to studying alone, also find the team-work a novel and valuable experience. “This was a very important aspect of DMP for me,” says Sabina Caris, a graduate in international affairs from Trieste and another 2007 participant. “I learned how to work and behave as a member of a group, to ‘sacrifice’ personal interests and to combine knowledge and skills to reach the common goals.”
Somewhat surprisingly, some two-thirds of the intake is made up of graduates in business administration or economics. Given that DMP is an introductory course, such students might be thought to have little to learn from the programme.
Not so, says Nenad Filipovic, academic director at IEDC, who says the curricula of business administration and economics courses at many European universities are very academic, with little practical input from real companies. “They get a lot of finance, economics and technical stuff, maybe some marketing and operations management, but they get very little about leadership or about the multi-dimensional view, how to look at the managerial job from a holistic perspective,” he says.
DMP deals with such subjects and with people-related, soft issues, which universities typically fail to address, Prof Filipovic argues.
In spite of attracting students from across Europe, a high proportion – 60 per cent in 2007 – are from Slovenia and other former Yugoslav Republics. Prof Kassarjian says that central Europeans are often “far better informed” than their western counterparts. More pertinently, nationality is of little import since the intakes have been consistently improving in terms of ability and insight since DMP began in 2002.
“The participants last year were clearly of a higher calibre [than previously] the main reason being that many of them were direct recommendees of past participants,” he says.