Reaffirming the value of a global outlook

IBS-Moscow was quick to return to offering an in-person international module as part of its EMBA programme earlier this year. Programme Director and Associate Dean, Ashot Seferyan, explains why. Interview by Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Amid continuing uncertainty over international travel, the Institute of Business Study Moscow (IBS-Moscow) was able to run an in-person international module for its executive MBA (EMBA) students in April. The decision was a ‘difficult but very powerful’ one for the message it sent the business community, according to the School’s Associate Dean and Programme Director, Ashot Seferyan.

As an established provider of business education in Russia, the decision taken by IBS-Moscow seems significant in showcasing the importance the country places in the value both of international and in-person experiences at this level of study. 

IBS-Moscow is, after all, Russia’s oldest Business School and forms a principal part of Russia’s largest educational institution – the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). Its EMBA, of which Seferyan is the Founder, was launched almost 20 years ago.

In this exclusive interview, Seferyan tells Business Impact why the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t removed the need for a global vision in business and outlines IBS-Moscow’s approach to forming international partnerships with other Business Schools. This includes factoring in how a country’s particular strengths and expertise suit the skills that are currently most in demand from managers in Russia. 

The EMBA programme at IBS-Moscow RANEPA includes a compulsory international module. Why do you feel it is important to offer your students an international dimension to their studies in this way? 

In a global world, you must have a global vision. There is only one way to truly gain insights into the economic and cultural peculiarities of a country or region – you must travel and learn from the citizens of that country or region. And we always choose the best Schools as partners. This philosophy was taken as a core ideology from the beginning of the EMBA programme at IBS-Moscow.

In April, you were able to offer an on-campus international module in Dubai, in spite of continuing restrictions in many parts of the world. How did the School go about this and what lessons did you learn for offering this type of module, as the problems associated with Covid-19 continue?  

The decision to have an international module this April was a difficult but very powerful one. At that point, ours was the only programme in the world to take a risk in providing an overseas education and to take on the responsibility that this involves. On one hand, this decision sent a message to the business community that strong leaders can overcome even the difficulties of the pandemic. On the other hand, sharing the experience of how to behave in the ‘new normal’ has been essential for all our students and has given them some new ideas of how to reshape their businesses.

Global experiences are often said to improve a person’s understanding of the world around them and their appreciation of cultural differences. Can these experiences also help Business Schools to develop more responsible and socially conscious leaders in your opinion? If so, how? 

The social responsibilities of a leader are based mostly on cultural heritage. Good examples from outside a country could inject a much broader understanding inside a society but it is also a responsibility of a Business School to bring these ideas into its educational programmes and promote them among alumni and the wider community.

London Business School is the latest School with which you are partnering on the international module, but in past years this module has been held at leading Business Schools in Switzerland, China and Spain, among others. Why has the School chosen to vary the international School host rather than to keep one established partner? 

People differ and countries differ too – their culture, history and vision create a unique experience. This is why we have to change venues from time to time. 

Another reason is much more economic and managerial. In different countries, you can learn a different approach. For example, Italy is famous for its entrepreneurial spirit, the Netherlands for having strong SMEs, China for its tremendous transformation from socialism, and the UK for its global vision on strategy along with its heritage. 

Taking our students to different countries gives them an option to get the best experience. But when you change venues because the economic situation in your country demands specific knowledge, then you can benefit even more.

Aside from international exchange, do you think Business Schools will need to focus more inwardly (and therefore less ‘globally’) than they have been in their teaching in order to address domestic industry needs, post-Covid-19?

Life is global and the economy is global too. The pandemic did not heavily change this situation. Local economies have probably gained some advantages because of lockdowns and specific logistics. But, on the whole, businesses are competing on a global level. So, Business Schools must attract professors and business experts who are knowledgeable of both local and global issues.

The global financial crisis of 2008 has been linked to an increase in applications to Business School, as people decided the time was right to reassess their career goals and pursue personal and professional development. Have you observed any similar impact from the Covid-19 pandemic? 

At IBS-Moscow, we have definitely noticed an increase in demand for our programmes. But I would not link this upward curve just with a financial crisis or Covid-19. Taking our EMBA programme as an example, I can say that the increase in enrolment started in 2017. One of the reasons was the big infrastructural projects taking place inside Russia at that time because of the forthcoming FIFA World Cup [held in summer 2018]. 

Later, global economic changes supported the demand for managers to retrain and upskill. Covid-19 has most probably added to this demand. Previously, we enrolled about 60 EMBA students a year but, since 2018, we have enrolled about 100.

Business Schools are often encouraged to play a greater role in their local and regional communities. Has Covid-19 inspired any new events, activities or initiatives with this in mind? 

I do not think that Covid-19 has had such a big influence. Having lockdown and other barriers in our usual life, we had to transform our behaviour inside our networking communities. 

In many cases, Business Schools have used the fact that people are working from home – and therefore, have got additional free time while not travelling to and from their offices – to offer a number of short educational products. This is giving them a means of offering continued education and could also be an opportunity for our Business School.

What’s next for the EMBA programme at IBS-Moscow? A return to fully in-person classes as soon as possible or a hybrid format of in-person and online learning?

As the Director of an EMBA programme, I am aware that education at this level is very much based on networking and the sharing of an experience among students. This is why we returned to in-person classes in June 2020. 

Of course, we could use online formats for masterclasses and other forms of additional short meetings with businesspersons or interesting speakers. But our core programme is, and will be, delivered only in person.

How has the School been working to boost the global profile of management education in Russia and what remains to be done in your opinion? 

As a leader inside the country and an active member of international education networks, IBS-Moscow is trying to bridge these two sides. While bringing best practices from the west, we are at the same time promoting our local experience to the world. 

Ashot Seferyan is an Associate Dean at IBS-Moscow and the Founder and Director of its Executive MBA programme. Seferyan is also a member of the Board at RABE (the Russian Association for Business Education). He holds a PhD in managerial sociology. 

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: August-October 2021).

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