“I like to think we’re not just a global business school; we are intergalactic,” says Professor Wilfried Vanhonacker, dean of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, whose new building looks more like a spaceship than an academic campus.
Prof Vanhonacker moved to Russia in 2008 after two decades in China, where he helped establish the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai, and his approach to teaching MBAs is, if not otherworldly, certainly revolutionary.
Most business schools focus on preparing students for careers in Europe and the US, while global growth now centres on the Bric economies, says the dean. Also, many MBAs are heavily theoretical and classroom based. The Skolkovo MBA focuses instead on emerging markets and experiential learning. It comprises four months’ classroom-based study and a year spent on projects in companies and government departments in Russia, the US and China or India.
Students also have to found a start-up, which is eligible to win funding from Skolkovo’s venture capital fund.
Multinationals will see most of their growth in the next 20 years in emerging markets where the business climate is volatile, says the dean. The Skolkovo MBA is designed to ready students for these challenges. “Traditional business schools were not preparing the talent the market needed – entrepreneurial leaders for difficult environments.”
Skolkovo’s approach is to give students experience of working in daunting environments, ranging from dealing with provincial Russian bureaucrats to living in a dormitory in a Chinese factory town.
“You will not learn anything about China or Russia looking out of the window of a five-star hotel,” says Prof Vanhonacker.
A coach provides one-on-one leadership development, while team coaching, stress management, communications, conflict management and motivation are also covered. “We put the students in groups to work together on projects in companies. We deliberately pick groups of people that might find it difficult to work together,” the dean says.
Kane Cuenant, a Canadian who previously worked as an analyst for Bureau Veritas, the French inspection group, says what attracted him to Skolkovo was the experiential nature of the degree. “I looked at a lot of schools in developed markets, but what they offered didn’t seem to give a real enough experience of working in emerging markets. The value of working with government officials in developing markets is something you just can’t teach in a classroom.”
The school asks applicants to submit three videos instead of the usual essay. “We are recruiting from the YouTube generation,” says Prof Vanhonacker. “You can tell a lot more about someone by watching a video than by reading an essay.”
Skolkovo’s first MBA class in 2009 had 40 students, with 33 in 2010; 21 students signed up for the 18-month executive MBA in 2009, rising to 37 in 2010. The school aims to enrol 240 MBA students and 300 EMBA students a year by 2014.