A Dual Identity

Moscow School of Management Skolkovo balances a global focus with local realities.

A Dual Identity

Moscow School of Management Skolkovo's building was designed by British architect David Adjaye. (Photo courtesy of Moscow School of Management Skolkovo)


In 2006, a group of Russian and international businessmen founded the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo with the goal of creating a world-class institution that was both globally focused and grounded in the realities of a developing economy. That dual identity continues to shape the school today.

“The founding partners laid down four values for the school that define our identity and stay relevant now—openness to the world, entrepreneurial leadership, lifelong learning, and partnership,” says the school’s dean, Marat Atnashev. With those precepts in mind, the school strives to educate transformational leaders for the region, connect Russia with the world, make an impact on business and society, and offer lifelong learning opportunities with a strong experiential focus.

Soon after Skolkovo’s founding, administrators took steps to ensure the outside world would take the new school seriously. Not only did they pursue international accreditation and enter the MBA program rankings, they invested heavily in the school’s physical infrastructure.

“Back in 2006, there were no modern university buildings in Russia,” Atnashev explains. To design its new facilities, Skolkovo commissioned British architect David Adjaye, whose audacious plan was inspired by avant-garde Russian artist Kazimir Malevich. The Calvert Journal, which covers culture and innovation in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia, and Central Asia, has called the building “reflective of both the rebellious nature of Russian art and the innovation agenda of Skolkovo.”

Even so, administrators understand that the outside world will view the school as a very young institution from a developing nation. They know that they must both lean into and shape that perception. “Russia’s image in the world often influences attitudes toward us,” says Atnashev. “This encourages us to pay more heed to our own reputation and to understand that the global academic community often sees us as a representative of the country.” Skolkovo’s leaders know they bear responsibility for creating a “holistic and constructive” image of the country—and their school.


One of Skolkovo’s most important tasks has been to develop a faculty model that suits its youthful age and the realities of the country’s emerging economy. Formal tenure-track contracts don’t exist in Russia; in addition, Russian legislation demands that the qualifications of all international appointees be regularly reviewed—and sometimes re-defended by the applicants.

“We have adapted to this restriction by offering a variety of long-term contracts to international faculty. Some might be for three to five years, others might be open-ended,” says Atnashev. “In addition, we are building a partnership with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which facilitates a joint appointment model of international faculty with strong academic backgrounds.”

Currently, Skolkovo has 36 core faculty employed on a permanent basis, 42 part-time adjuncts, 44 visiting professors, and 40 teaching and research assistants on short-term contracts. The biggest advantages to this faculty model are flexibility and breadth of offerings, notes Atnashev. “But the weaknesses include the need for additional alignment among the program faculty and the difficulty of planning teaching assignments, since visiting faculty have to balance the teaching commitments they have to Skolkovo with those they have to their own institutions.”

To make sure faculty teaching aligns with the school’s vision, Skolkovo provides extensive academic oversight of all programs, and academic directors regularly debrief participants to be certain the contributions of individual teachers create a cohesive whole. The school also hands out teaching assignments well in advance to avoid scheduling conflicts with visiting faculty. In addition, the school makes a deliberate effort to include visiting and short-term faculty members in curriculum development. “Non-core faculty members participate in the design of courses and contribute to writing cases,” says Atnashev. “They also work closely with academic directors and research project leaders.”

To remain competitive in the future, the school not only wants to develop its existing Russian faculty, but also to attract more international professors. The school constantly scouts for new prospects through existing connections, conference presentations, online courses, and research publications.

New faculty members are extensively briefed about the program they will be teaching, the “cultural particularities” of the class, and the teaching philosophy of the school, says Atnashev. In addition, the school has introduced a personal development plan for all faculty members, based on their experience, teaching and research interests, and current evaluations. Junior faculty are supported by scholarships to PhD and DBA programs as well as mentorship from senior faculty. The school also runs internal workshops and programs on continuous improvement. For instance, the Leaders as Teachers program helps professors develop their skills in pedagogy and curriculum design. Says Atnashev, “This task is probably the most challenging and most important to the school’s long-term success.”


Creating the right faculty mix enables Skolkovo to keep its programs fresh and responsive to the market. By deploying a wide range of non-core faculty with strong business backgrounds, the school can promote collaborations between practitioners and faculty and develop new educational offerings on the most current topics. To ensure those offerings continue to deliver value to students, Skolkovo follows four distinct strategies:

1. It adapts to market changes. Such changes can be particularly dramatic in emerging economies. As one example, at the time that Skolkovo was founded, many business leaders hoped to see more privatization and increasing competitiveness for Russian companies. Instead, the country became dominated by large state corporations, while international business barriers were created by sanctions and import substitutions, which favor domestic products over foreign ones. In response, Skolkovo diversified its program portfolio—for instance, adding classes about expanding into the public sector—to continue to fulfill its mission.

2. It emphasizes international content. Skolkovo maintains strong relationships with schools such as Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, IMD in Switzerland, and ESMT in Germany, particularly through joint programs and international modules. Recently, Skolkovo and HKUST launched a dual-degree EMBA program for Eurasia, while Skolkovo and IMD created a program called Leadership Identity Foundation and Transformation. The school also welcomed more than 300 participants from Chinese business schools for its “Understanding Russia” training programs.

Such international exchanges are critical to students’ understanding of business, says Atnashev. “Any product on the market is in competition with goods from Asia, Europe, and America, so it is a dead end for both businesses and academic institutions to limit their vision to a single country. Our task is to help students understand what is happening in the world and to show them that there are far more opportunities than they are exposed to in the day-to-day business routine.”

3. It integrates experiential learning into the classroom. Most courses include simulations, coaching, online elements, and real-life project work. For instance, the capstone project of the MBA is a consulting module delivered in partnership with McKinsey, and the final leadership module takes place under extreme mountaineering conditions at Kamchatka Peninsula on Russia’s east coast. Says Atnashev, “Students have to ascend Vilyuchinsky Pass, set up camp, spend the night in the snow, and descend.” Afterward, they reflect on the experience and all the changes that have occurred during the course of their MBA studies.

4. It provides opportunities for in-depth analysis. For some courses, particularly those delivered to executives and government workers, the school uses an educational approach it calls “the Skolkovo project method,” which consists of situation analysis, problem definition, goal setting, modeling, and organization design. This approach is particularly useful when executive education students work on consulting projects brought by governmental agencies and private or public organizations undergoing transformation. “Managers analyze the existing problem, consider the relevant experience, build development strategies with experts and moderators, and then defend their projects,” says Atnashev.

The school has also partnered with the government on large-scale projects with far-reaching potential. (See the “Building Communities” sidebar below.)


Can more established schools learn from younger ones like Skolkovo? Yes, says Atnashev—but the learning goes both ways. “We constantly adopt practices used by our partners and competitors, and I am sure that they do the same,” he says. “Our strength is our ability to adapt business processes promptly, to offer educational products that the market needs today, and to select practitioners and professors who have extensive practical experience.”

Atnashev points to another aspect of Skolkovo that he views as a signature strength and a source for innovation: its commitment to working for the betterment of society. “We believe we have a special role in promoting sustainability principles in Eurasia,” says Atnashev. This region is one of the most dynamic emerging economies in the world, he says, but it is facing a broad spectrum of sustainability challenges relating to rapid urbanization; human capital development; environmental pollution; deteriorating natural resources; inequality and disparity; and food, water, and energy security.

“Unlike ‘old’ and developed economies, emerging markets often lack established institutions of civil society that would ensure balanced development, so a broader share of responsibility goes to business,” says Atnashev. “We believe that the business leaders in emerging markets should adhere to a specific code of values, qualifications, and behaviors that allow them to maintain rapid growth while taking broader responsibility for social development and environmental consciousness.”

In such situations, he continues, business schools play a unique role—and that’s particularly true for new schools in emerging economies. “We not only offer educational services, but act as change agents setting new standards of doing business, providing an independent platform for an open dialogue on the burning issues for business and society, and developing tailor-made programs to ensure systems change toward a more sustainable future. Schools of management are uniquely positioned to inspire business and public sector leaders with powerful ideas and equip them with effective frameworks and tools for making real impact.”

This article originally appeared in BizEd's July/August 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].