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Kremlin-connected oligarch Roman Abramovich laying the cornerstone of the new Skolkovo Business School near Moscow in 2006.

Kremlin-connected oligarch Roman Abramovich laying the cornerstone of the new Skolkovo Business School near Moscow in 2006.

In a recent post, I wrote about the role of universities in fostering the “liquid networks” that many sociologists believe are necessary for fostering innovation (to say nothing of personal satisfaction).

I wrote about how four post-Soviet countries have made dramatic progress in fighting corruption and moving beyond other Soviet-era governance habits by including large numbers of foreign-educated people into the highest levels of government. At the same time, Russia and the other 10 post-Soviet countries have very closed government circles and have made little progress in reshaping their political cultures. (To be fair, perhaps it would be best to put Ukraine and Moldova somewhere in the middle.)

The post also described a new Russian effort to attract foreign-educated Russians back to Russia to push forward that country’s “modernization effort.”

As a follow-up to that post, I noticed today on the website of the Russian business daily “Vedomosti” this piece on Russian business education. It seems to capture the futility of working within the closed system of Russia (I remind you that not a single member of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s cabinet has any foreign education at all).

Sergei Aleksashenko, who is director of macroeconomic research at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, was asked to recommend a good business school in Russia. This is his response in full:

Good day, Pavel!

Unfortunately, I cannot help you. Not because I don’t know about Russian education institutions, but because, in my opinion, they do not teach what you really need to conduct business in our country. The entire point of business education is to study examples (cases) of how other businesspeople resolved various questions. Ultimately, business is largely built on typical situations, although without business instincts a person is unlikely to risk doing business. Without a certain, natural-born sense, one is unlikely to build their own “Social Network.”

So, Western business schools have at their disposal hundred and thousands of cases. They invite the heroes of these cases into the classroom and through contact with them students can get answers to the questions that are troubling them. In the final analysis, this is what these students are paying their money for.

And what about Russian business schools? You, of course, understand that there is no point in studying the successes of those who got ahead during the initial redistribution of Soviet-era shares, if only because that moment in the history of our country (one likes to believe) won’t ever come again. It is also pointless to seriously study the successes of various “friends and comrades” of the tandem or those of members of the cooperatives that they were part of. If you weren’t there (in those cooperatives), this is of no use to you.

If you lay aside these “successful” cases, then what skills are necessary to succeed in business in Russia? The ability to give bribes? The ability to find the right protection? The ability to “saw off” or “siphon off” the good bits? The ability to negotiate with bureaucrats and to give him the right stake? The ability to “come to terms” with the tax inspector or the customs office? All these are definitely important, but it is hardly likely that anyone is going to discuss these things openly. And what remains of Russian business if you through out all these cases? Are there a lot of cases left? I’m not saying that there aren’t any. If you really search, you might come across a dozen or so. But you can’t build a business education on a dozen cases. As statisticians say, that isn’t a representative sample.

And that is the sad story of Russian business education.

One of the witty commentors on the "Vedomosti" Facebook page wrote that the best business school in Russia is the Academy of the Federal Security Service. Considering the prevalence of its graduates among Russia's business elite, that reader might have a point. After all, within days of returning to Russia after being exposed as an illegal "agent of influence" in the United States, Anna Chapman landed a sweet post as investment adviser to the president of FundServiceBank. As London's "Daily Mail," noted: "It did not escape attention last night that the initials of the bank, FSB, are also those of ­Russia’s spy agency."

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