ArmInfo. Interview with Dr. Bert Wolfs, director of SBS Swiss Business School
In October 2009, SBS Swiss Business School became the first in Armenia to start an MBA program. Director of SBS shares his views on the prospects of Armenian economy and the ways to apply business theory in local conditions.
Have you witnessed enough interest towards MBA courses in Armenia?
We’ve been able to recruit the first group of MBA students in Armenia. Today we live in a globalized world, and countries no more live on their own. We did a market research, which revealed changes in the Armenian economy, particularly the tendency to acquire more professional skills. People want to know more about the best practices of international businesses. In our curriculum, instructed by a combined local and international faculty, we try to provide the best practices.
Why did you choose particularly marketing discipline for Armenia?
We’ve worked with the rector of RAU, Mr. Armen Darbinyan, who is respected both in Armenia and outside. Armenia is a small market, but located on the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It’s a market of a great potential, because Armenia has got very good native products – water, juices and fruit, and I think local entrepreneurs are capable to do more business internationally, therefore we think it’s a good way to train managers locally. We don’t want managers like to go for a year to Switzerland and practice their studies in a foreign economy. The advantage of this program is that theoretical concepts are immediately applied in practice, so you can see how and why they work.
How do you find the level of Armenian students?
I’m very pleased with their professional skills. I’ve got experience of teaching in CIS countries and ……, and I’ve been positively surprised with Armenian attendants. The most important thing for me is that they are willing to learn. It’s not parents or someone else who urges them to go and study. You see that people are driven by themselves, they want to study more and more.
What plans do you have for further development of MBA business school?
We would like to recruit more students. Now we are recruiting the second group, and we hope to enroll two groups a year. What we have to do is also to know how we are teaching the program in Russian, and later we may develop a mixed curriculum in Russian and English. We have to teach ourselves better as well, to know more about Armenian practice.
What are the qualities that the students obtain when they’ve finished the studies?
First of all, we try to change their personality. When I say that, everybody laughs at me. But the reason I’m saying that is every student that attends the courses is a specialist in a particular area of business. Throughout the courses, they have input from different industries and parts of the world, and they can take things, which are good for them, and apply them in their own environment. They also have to learn to make presentations. Some of the attendants, particularly those with engineering education, feel uncomfortable about that, because they had never done it before. And when they do that, it helps them to improve their communicative skills. Hopefully, they also understand they have to become better listeners, to be able to listen to their customers.
How is a graduate going to use his knowledge in Armenia, when the demand for marketing skills in the country has much to grow?
Our task is to provide them with maximum concepts and practices. Certain of them may not work in Armenian environment, but every student has to take into consider which concept might be employed and does they need to be adapted to the local market. This is the student’s decision. One more advantage of Armenian market in comparison with advanced economies is that it still has room for growth, while saturated markets don’t. They only can go down, and the only way for the Armenian market is to go up.
Let’s hope so… Enrolling people for MBA course, one may notice that people consider them worth of money only for an opportunity to work abroad or in a local branch of a foreign company. There’s an evident lack of belief that proprietors of local companies will appreciate an MBA certificate.
Here, in the first place, you advance in several skills. You get a better view of accounting, finance, marketing, and management. When you have succeeded all the courses, you must write a thesis that has to be focused on Armenia. You must apply the concepts you have learned to the local environment. Therefore I would feel very sad if the graduates would later leave Armenia. That’s not the purpose of the courses.
What opportunities would attract you, if you had an intention to start a business in Armenia?
Armenia has a rich cultural background, which can stimulate the growth of tourism industry. So the government should support it by helping people to develop the local infrastructure. Besides, you have an advantage of cost: tourists are not going any more to Spain, even Croatia becomes too expensive, so they are going, say, to Bulgaria, where leisure is cheaper. It’s one of unique features of Armenia, which is hard to find anywhere else. You have to promote your advantages, if you want to bring people here. On the other hand, there are certain products that you can export worldwide – one of them is clean water, the scarcity of which is evident in a lot of other countries.