Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Professor injects Harvard approach at the Plekhanov

Picture a group of 18 English-speaking Russian students in a seminar room of a Moscow institute. Sitting in a horse-shoe-shaped circle, they seem barely aware of their instructor as they negotiate marketing strategies for companies they have only heard of and sales of products their domestic market has never seen. Divided into teams of six, the erstwhile managers negotiate fiercely with one another, aiming to conclude the best deals they can for their "companies".


The scene is unlikely in a higher educational system steeped in the theory-laden, anti-capitalist Marxist tradition. But for Douglas Coulter, it has been reality for the last three years.


Coulter, 51, has taught business case-study classes at Moscow's Plekhanov Institute, considered one of the country's leading schools of economics, and the Academy of Foreign Trade since September 1989. A teaching consultant in an exchange operated by the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR), he is the first and only foreigner to bring a U. S. business school classroom to Russia.


"I'd wanted to do this for a long time", he says, reflecting on the 2 1/2 years it took him to get to Moscow. "I just thought these classes were needed here".


A graduate of Harvard Business School and the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD), Coulter taught a preparatory course for foreign students entering Harvard Business School before coming to Moscow. The course focused on developing English language skills and introduced the business case-study program Harvard has built its name on -- learning by closely scrutinizing actual cases involving U. S. businesses.


With an ongoing interest in Russia, he got the idea of teaching his course here when reforms initiated the push toward a market economy. While at Harvard, he sought ways to bring the course here and worked ardently to learn Russian by plodding regularly through Izvestia. Finally, he found ACTR.


And his classes have been a hit, with more than 100 applicants vying for a place in each 18-person class. "The course teaches people to think on their own", Coulter says, comparing it to usual Soviet-style fare, which is heavy on theory and didactic lectures. "These are concrete cases. There is no theory. There is no right answer, and students are required to justify their decisions". This approach can be startling to students raised to regurgitate "The Answer". "They always want me to give them the answer", he laughs.


The homework is no picnic either: while assigned work for most Soviet university classes can be finished on the metro ride home. Coulter requires 60 to 80 pages of reading a week, weekly written case analyses, a semester-end marketing and business report and active participation in class discussion. Not surprisingly, he loses a few students every semester. But he defends his approach, insisting that it prepares his students to future demands in the business world. "This course transmits an immense amount of information about the market economy", he says.


In the past three years. Coulter has traveled to Ekaterinburg, Donetsk, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Ulyanovsk and St. Petersburg to teach his course. A pioneer when he arrived in 1989, he is a witness now of Russian higher education embracing the Western approach to the study of business. He says he wouldn't trade it for anything.


"It's fascinating. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to do this".