Russia’s Premier Business School: Ready For ‘The Next Level’

Yuri Levin


First off, congratulations are in order on the 15-year anniversary of the school. Tell us what you have planned for the next couple of weeks to mark that anniversary.

Yes, thank you very much. 15-year anniversary is a significant milestone for the school. Founded in 2006 and financed by private investors, the school does not use any public funds and it has been in the black for the past 10 years.

Our Executive Education programs with more than 18,000 graduates, ranked number one in Eastern Europe by The Financial Times in 2020, grew by 20% despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we plan to make it to the top 50 worldwide with our EMBA program. As you can see, the school has accomplished a lot and is ready to move to the next level.

I would classify our objectives in three different groups. First of all, it’s all about intellectual leadership. We’ve chosen two major focus areas for the school: number one is everything that has to do with management analytics, digital transformation, and artificial intelligence; number two is sustainable development in a broader sense, including climate finance, ESG trading, sustainable supply chains, and hydrogen. And again, it’s no surprise these days to anybody because these are two fundamental topics in the world of business in general. The byproducts of these focus areas are clearly social innovation, platforms and ecosystems, and smart cities.

What about the other two groups of objectives? First, we seek to become fully Customer Centric by offering Life-long Learning solutions, which means “increasing satisfaction of students covering their full education life-cycle” and “becoming a platform for talented people that supports diversity and contributes to their success”. Second, we aim at combining Sustainability, Growth, and Experimentation and “becoming a leading Russian provider of technology-enabled education in management and business.”

This is important to us. The design of our product portfolio is changing. We’re in the process of developing educational standards and launching our, as we call it, LEGO factory. This factory will produce LEGO blocks (modules) according to the educational standards, for example, a block can be a two-day course, a corporate retreat, or a guest speaker.

On top of that we are going to use a machine learning recommendation engine that would design personalized educational tracks for both B2B and B2C participants. And the Lego blocks will be used to create personalized programs that would match these educational tracks. And you can imagine that this customer-centric transformation is fundamentally changing all the operational processes in the school.

At the same time you’re talking about doing all of this, you’re talking about an overhaul of the faculty too, right? You’re talking about bringing in a lot of new faces.

Absolutely. We’ve just hired five new faculty members in the areas of sustainability, digital transformation and analytics from the top global business schools. For the first 15 years, the school used what I would call a brokerage faculty model, like that of Duke CE. To build research, we need a solid base of full-time faculty in the focus areas, so in the future our model will combine resident full-time and visiting faculty from global business schools.

And, of course, one of our main priorities is personalizing an educational experience. As you know, the traditional educational model where people go to the university for four years, then they work for 10 years, and then they go get an MBA — it doesn’t work anymore. People always need to come back to school because knowledge becomes outdated extremely fast. Therefore, we would like to create a flexible format so people can come to school, pick up a few modules for six months, go back to work, come back again. And eventually, they accumulate all the credits to get a degree, or maybe just to get a certificate, or maybe they just come back to renew their knowledge without getting a degree whatsoever.

We would like to offer all this flexibility in terms of the content, but also in terms of the delivery format.

Another big prong in this multi-pronged approach is sustainability. Can you talk more about that and what you guys mean about sustainability? It’s not just about financial models, is it? 

We are changing the format of our MBA program. In addition to general management, participants will be able to specialize in one of the school’s three focus areas: digital transformation, sustainability, and social innovation — the hallmarks of modern graduate business education. The school is also launching several new programs including Master in Management Analytics, Master in Sustainability Management and Master in Social Innovation on top of the traditional MBA. The goal is to prepare functional leaders with deep understanding in these key areas.

In terms of sustainability, we are also launching an open enrollment program that would prepare Chief Sustainability Officers. These are people who would be able to develop a corporate strategy based on the sustainability principles. Because we feel that sustainability is something that should be embedded in the strategy.

What about gender equality in the faculty and in the student body? It’s not easy to achieve that, is it? But that’s part of your goal.

Yes, absolutely. It’s the quality of the school. We have a phenomenal campus, and it is an amazing building. But the quality of the school is determined by the quality of the people. The quality of faculty, the quality of researchers, and the quality of students. Therefore, our main goal is to bring talent to the school. And again, when I am talking about bringing the talent, I mean a diverse talent.

Since we’re talking of anniversaries, you’ll be one year on the job in November. What’s your year been like? Have the challenges been more challenging, have the bright spots been brighter than you expected? 

Well, it’s been busy in a good way. Clearly challenging, and Covid-19 made us innovate even more. Our revenue increased by more than 20% in the pandemic year. And for the next year we have an ambitious target to grow by 35%.

Going back to your question, it’s been challenging. It’s been extremely busy, but at the same time, it’s been rewarding. And I haven’t really regretted a minute about my decision to join the school. It’s a welcoming country, it’s a welcoming school. And we have many ambitious plans and it’s been so far so good.


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