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With a flash of orange hair and a deep, gravelly voice, Danica Purg, 64, the founder and dean of IEDC Bled School of Management in Slovenia – arguably eastern Europe’s best-known business school – has a way of getting things done: her own way.

From press-ganging professors from other schools to teach in her programmes to courting publicity on the world stage, Prof Purg is one of the business school world’s most indefatigable proponents.

This year she became one of only three Europeans to win the Educator of the Year award from the US-based Academy of International Business since the prize was established in 1984. Among her achievements cited by the organisation is her commitment to using forms of art in management teaching, something that initially seems quite anomalous given her personality and background.

But she stands her ground. “Art is a tool for leadership development … it helps you become more creative, innovative and inspired. It promotes reflection.”

She adds: “Does music manipulate emotions? Does leadership manipulate people?”

At her school, art hangs on its walls, and Prof Purg has appointed both artists and musicians in residence. The atmosphere is almost at odds with the austere history of the school, established in 1986 when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. As its founding director, Prof Purg has spent the past 25 years steering it through different political regimes. Where appropriate, she uses the history of the region to build programme material – for example, when she takes course participants out of the school to experience the war-torn former Yugoslavia first-hand.

One of the school’s more unusual programmes is the President’s MBA, designed for very senior managers in the region. They are given a personalised degree with coaching and personal development work to boot. It is aimed at those who developed their managerial skills in a different era. “In the socialist times we didn’t have management education as part of our world,” explains the director.

All courses are taught in English, including the three executive MBA programmes, the five general management programmes, the two summer schools aimed at university students, and the customised programmes for companies.

But Prof Purg still has hurdles to overcome. Not least of these is the faculty – her school cannot pay the salaries that US or western European business schools can afford. At present, 80-85 per cent of courses are taught by professors from other business schools.

Prof Purg defends this model. “We are free to choose the best faculty for the programmes. These professors have been coming to the school 10-15 times a year to teach.” But she acknowledges she would like to build the faculty up to about 25 next year.

The dean also aims to develop capacity for management teaching in central and eastern Europe. Eighteen years ago, she set up Ceeman, a management development association designed to bring together schools in the region.

She set up a teaching academy within Ceeman with money from George Soros, the billionaire investor. Roughly 400 professors and lecturers have been through the academy so far, and Ceeman has also set up its own accreditation services. Thus far, 14 institutions have been accredited. The universities from the former eastern bloc are the hardest to turn around, she says. “We want to work for the professionalisation of management. We have to sow the seeds of quality.”

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