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With its wide boulevards and baroque architecture, St Petersburg is seen as Russia’s most westernised city.

No surprise, then, that it is home to one of the country’s most international business schools: the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University.

Key to its success is its outward-looking approach, says Kai-Alexander Schlevogt, professor of strategic leadership at the school.

“Close partnerships with top business schools abroad helped familiarise the institution with international best practice and build valuable networks with outstanding educators,” he says, pointing to the joint executive MBA programme with HEC Paris as a particular success.

Sergey Kozlov, deputy head of the individual banking division at Banque Société Générale Vostok, echoes that viewpoint. When he enrolled for an EMBA as the financial crisis struck Russia, he was not sure if the qualification would change his life, but he felt he needed a more international perspective on business. A year after he graduated, the banker has been promoted and moved to Moscow from Yekaterinburg on the eastern side of the Ural mountains.

Travelling to Paris, Brussels, Tokyo and St Petersburg as part of his EMBA broadened his view of business, Kozlov says. The people he met from Russia, France, the US and Ukraine, working in roles as varied as washing-machine distribution and public service, opened his eyes to different business challenges. “I was the only banker on my course,” he adds.

The modular course structure enabled him to learn about new business strategies and then travel back to the Russian provinces to put them into practice. “I had a chance to get back to business and implement the knowledge I got from the programme.”

The knowledge he gained about business ecosystems helped him develop partnership networks between the bank and estate agents and car dealers, and learning about new approaches to reporting systems gave him a clearer idea of what was happening in the office once he put them in practice. The results were more and better-quality loan applications for the bank and a promotion for Kozlov after he graduated.

The school has four courses that are taught in English, and attracts 100 exchange students from around the world as well as about 40 visiting professors a year, says Valery Katkalo, the dean, who has been a champion of its international approach.

The school was launched in 1993 as the first such institution inside a major national university, in order to support Russia’s transition to a market economy. It was founded in partnership with the Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley, and several global and local companies, led by Procter & Gamble.

Eighteen years later, the school’s board includes chief executives and top managers from P&G, Gazprom, Sberbank, PwC and others, enabling the 4,200 alumni to draw on a global network of expertise. This seems only fitting – Peter the Great founded St Petersburg to open Russia to the outside world, and the school is continuing the tradition.

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