Business School Brings Global Experience To The Boardroom


Directors of companies in the aviation, shipbuilding and nuclear industries have commissioned education programs tailored to their specific corporate needs.

A French business school is helping Russian companies to transform their management systems by training directors and senior managers in executive skills, from leadership and hiring, to supply chains and corporate responsibility. The training takes place locally, and in southwest France.

In just 20 years Russian companies have emerged onto the international scene with barely enough time to develop a business culture or renew management skills.

Many companies still suffer from the legacy and habits of the planned economy: for example, lacking knowledge of how to attract staff in a competitive market, or how to motivate workers rather than reflexively trying to coerce them.

That's the experience of Laurence Crespel, director of Executive Education at Audencia Nantes School of Management. Rather than export its MBA program to Russia, as several competitors do, Audencia is building direct connections with companies and developing specific programs for them. Crespel says the needs of Russian companies go much deeper than educational qualifications.

For executives trained in French, British or American business schools, this may come as a surprise. International experience and an MBA are often regarded as the best way to spread management best practice. But Crespel disagrees: "You cannot come back from an MBA in the US (snaps fingers) and try to implement the leadership model you learned there. This is why we believe strongly in tailor made executive education to improve the model step by step."

The Russian side suffers from similar misapprehensions. The idea that companies can modernize by acquiring high technology is widespread. "You can buy technology. The question is how to manage it. You can even buy knowledge but practice, experience you have to learn and to share. Russian companies want to share practice with European companies but our mission is to accompany them to transfer skills in real life. The question is: how do you apply what you learn from others, and how do you implement it in real life?"

Audencia Group Executive Education works with about 30 Russian companies, ranging from Rosatom to the shipbuilder Krasnye Barrikady. Audencia arranged for 12 Rosatom directors and HR managers to visit Paris in June for meetings with directors of French companies, focusing on recruitment and talent management. These include Alstom and Airbus, which is not in the same sector but has similar issues with recruitment and development of talent.

In Soviet times, engineers, like all professionals, were assigned the company they would work for, and companies would receive their allotment. The legacy is that today many large Russian companies have little idea how to find or attract talent.

One of the first topics on which directors at Rosatom asked for advice was talent development. However recruitment specialists regard Russian state corporations as a closed door. While western multinationals routinely use recruiters to identify candidates, state corporations still tend to work through friends, references and contacts.

Crespel says many Russian state corporations are not yet ready to make their hiring process more transparent. "Thirty years ago engineers just dreamed of working for a company like Rosatom. Today they do not. They are dreaming of working for international companies."

Russian companies do not know how to respond. "I think we have a lot of explaining to do. In the US, UK, France or Germany the companies pay for their brand image in the universities: they sponsor student activities, research projects and work placement programs. They are paying business schools and universities."

Natalia Burakova has worked with Audencia since January as the Moscow point person for Russian companies seeking executive education. She says many Russian corporations now have staff and a budget for engaging with students. However they are trying to reinvent the wheel instead of adapting the experience of other countries to their needs. "We should show them the benchmarks so they can adapt this experience to their needs. It would take five or more years to do this alone, but they can do it much more quickly by discussing this with HR in European companies. We haveresearch. It does not tell them how to do it but it shows examples of how it can be done."

Audencia introduced Rosatom directors to the campus managers of European companies, corporate staff who dedicate their whole time to developing relationships with business schools and universities.

A related issue is retention of talent. "Russia has a very low rate of unemployment so companies have to attract new employees and retain talent," says Burakova. "Russian companies understand that they should provide a map of development for their staff, not just pay money. It's not enough."

Start-ups, high-technology and business incubators are another area in which Audencia's educators believe Russia can learn from international experience. "The challenge for student innovators in Russia is when you write to your business incubator you need to provide your own business planning, which is not usually a job for innovators or engineers, so we guide them how to develop the business side not just the innovation side," says Burakova.

Audencia ran a technology transfer seminar, with its partner, the engineering school Ecole Centrale, for technical universities in Russia to show how to implement new innovations in practice. This included how to set up business incubators and how to prepare your business planning. A second seminar is being prepared with the University of Astrakhan and Bauman Moscow State Technical University. It also works with Skolkovo school of management, and the innovation center, to implement innovative systems of knowledge.

"Theoretically we can deal with any subject," says Crespel, "but we choose to focus in Russia on what we think the main needs are: Leadership and change management, talent management, corporate and social responsibility and supply chain management because that's what Russian industry wants to know about."

Through its contacts with Russian executive education agency Mako, Audencia has worked with the United Aviation Corporation to redevelop supply chain management and in the autumn of 2012 Audencia received more than 30 managers from UAC to provide a special course in supply chain management in aviation. Audencia's home city of Nantes includes several big plants, including two Airbus factories with which it maintains good relations. Situated on the Atlantic coast, it also has a shipbuilding industry.

Trust And Force Are Key Issues In Business Culture

Learning to be Directors, not dictators, is a slow process says Laurence Crespel, head of executive education at Audencia Nantes School of Management.

Can you give some examples of the Russian business culture, the good and the bad?

We are in touch with Russian companies every day, and one of the main things we are asked is: they want to know how to force people: how to force people to believe in CSR, how to force people to be innovative; how to force people to stay in the company, in order to retain people. This for me is a big challenge because in the world nowadays and where Russia is now, you cannot force people. This does not work. And this is may be our biggest challenge: to make the company understand that you cannot force people any more: you have to motivate them, to attract them, to convince them so that they engage themselves in your company. But forget forcing people. This is a huge challenge.

Other people remark on the power vertical in Russian companies in which all decisions go to the top. Do you see this as a problem?

I'm not a specialist in leadership but I think that we have to be very careful with our occidental model of more participative and more open, less hierarchical models. I think this will move slowly because this is strongly implemented in the culture of the country.

Isn't it a challenge to take a hierarchical management style, where the tendency is against the free flow of information, and adapt it to supply chain management, where transparency is vital?

This is not purely training but collective coaching so we are working with the management committee on what they believe should be the role of their managers in Krasnaya Barricady, not just with a rival shipbuilding company in another part of the city but between their own managers. They will define what the role of managers should be, based on the theory, but also based on the history of the company, its culture, its objectives what should be the role of managers. After that, we will build an adapted executive education program for their managers.

You are not going to gain, in just 20 years, this experience that was developed over 400 years. That is why the main demand from companies is not theoretical knowledge but show us how it works in practice. That's why they want to meet other companies and managers and to share practices.

So you want to be working with the companies in daily life?

For example we had a seminar at the end of May in Astrakhan with Krasnye Barrikady ship building plant. This is a good example of a company that decided, when it was privatized, to invest a lot in modernizing technology.

They export 80 percent of their production, which is extraordinary in Russia and they are very good at developing their technical skills and they are now going for the next step which is developing the business culture in their company and they are focusing on their managers. We are working with the management committee on leadership and change management.