Kester Eddy in Budapest -
When the leaders of Baltic business schools meet in Riga this month there will be little time for genteel talk in five-star hotel ambience. Instead, it's off to meet companies and find out how they really coped - or otherwise - with the recession, says Virginijus Kundrotas, president of the Baltic Management Development Association (BMDA), which is holding its 8th annual conference in the Latvian Capital on May 13-15.
"We all know that the Baltics were hit strongly by the economic recession. Last year I noticed that business enterprises were really looking forward to getting professional advice from their academic colleagues [on how to manage the situation]. But unfortunately, business schools and universities continued to do what they already had been doing," says Professor Kundrotas.
Partly because the schools themselves were caught up in the problem and suffered from declining revenues, they were unable to adapt to and address the new challenges faced by commerce. "The BMDA decided then that our next conference would focus on real partnerships between business and academia, which is why we have put dialogue between enterprises and academics at the core of the conference," he says.
As a result, the expected 80-strong conference delegation will divide into groups and spend one day visiting successful Latvian companies, quizzing management on how they have achieved results, despite the downturn. "Target companies include Air Baltic, which won international recognition by restructuring during the crisis, and Stenders Soap, a tale of how a humble 'grandma's kitchen' operation became a global legend. Another group will visit the Latvian National Opera to find out how to manage star personalities in a creative environment," he says, adding that back at the conference room, the visits will be followed by panel analysis.
Such new thinking is essential if business schools in the Baltic region are to develop and cope with competition from better-funded western rivals, says Prof Kundrotas. "Many schools have failed to listen carefully to their customers, and have not been ready create new content in their education and training. [Often] they lack confidence, as they do not know the real business world well enough. We aim to change that, and involve corporations much more in our activities in future," he says.
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