On April 29, 2020 at the Graduate School of Management of St. Petersburg University (GSOM) an online defense of group projects took place as part of the Doing Business in Russia course. 34 foreign students presented seven business ideas with detailed business plans. The commission was attended by top managers of Russian and international companies Alexey Ivashchenko, Director of the IBM Representative Office in St. Petersburg, Kirill Melnikov, Marketing Director of Blago Group of Companies, Vsevolod Kuzmich, ex-Top Manager in IT Director in companies — Lenta, Gazpromneft and others.
The Doing Business in Russia course is aimed at international Master students who have arrived for an exchange semester. It is conducted in English at the beginning of each semester and is led by Olga V. Makarova, Senior Lecturer, Department of Strategic and International Management. The course is planned in such a way that only 1-2 Russian students take part in it, serving as guides, experts and communicators in the process of developing a business idea.
During the first two weeks of the semester, students study the Russian business environment in the classroom, listen to lectures by top managers of Russian and international companies, and visit Russian enterprises. In February 2020, students visited Hyundai and the Russian Standard distilleries. The course participants worked in groups on a business idea that could be implemented in Russia with the operational participation of foreign partners. After intensive work, the students worked independently for a month to submit detailed business plans with all the calculations for their defense. “I am glad to see that a bright future with the help of our future colleagues can become a reality. After a bit of tuning, some ideas that were presented by the students can be considered as working models,” said Alexey Ivashchenko, Director of the Representative Office in St. Petersburg, Director of Sales for the North-West Region of IBM Eastern Europe / Asia.
In mid-March, in the midst of their independent group work, foreign students had to urgently reorganize the processes into an online format. “Based on my 17 years of experience as a financial director in the departments of international companies in Russia, I can say that a good study of the idea and preparation of a business plan is always a big challenge even for experienced managers. And for students — this is a double challenge. They had just started to get to know the country, and to study the business environment, when they suddenly needed to quickly rebuild their entire group project and transfer field studies to an online format,” said course curator Olga V. Makarova.
Despite this new challenge, most participants in the course coped with their projects. Discussions at lectures on turbulent periods in the most recent Russian economy and the challenges faced by Russian businessmen partially prepared students for the idea that managers should be prepared for various upheavals and find quick solutions under unexpected conditions. “The overall quality of the presentations was high. This indicates that they know how to plan, develop ideas and them,” said Kirill Melnikov, Marketing Director of the Blago group, an alumnus of GSOM.
“The presentations were interesting and different. Some groups did a great job, some just good. But, taking into account the circumstances in which the students worked and the current situation, which has significantly changed our lives, I believe that the group has successfully overcome all difficulties, ” said Vsevolod Kuzmich, ex-Top Manager of IT Director of companies Gazprom Neft and Lenta.
Experience has shown that an online format of work can be no less effective than full-time, and the course can be conducted online without losing its most valuable component — interaction with representatives of Russian business. The first step towards the online format was made in the fall of 2019, when Olga Makarova took part in the work of the team of the Faculty of Economics of St. Petersburg University to create an online Doing Business in Russia course on the Coursera platform. She has prepared several case studies about companies in Russia for the course, which has interested more than 9,000 users since December last year, and with the help of which 413 users have already begun training.