Building business in Russia

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Course syllabus

MBA PROGRAMME, period 3/P4 July 2017


Stanislav Shekshnia

Course overview

Decade of a steady economic growth driven by structural reforms of the early 2000s and high hydrocarbonate prices had made Russia the second largest market in Europe. However, collapse of oil price and international sanctions turned the tide and Russian economy fell in 2014 into a prolonged recession. Some international companies such as General Motors and Deutsche Bank as well as Russian investors and operating companies such as Alfa group, Capital Group and Luxsoft left the country or significantly reduced their presence. However, other global players such as PepsiCo, Alstom, Boeing, Simens continued to invest in Russia. Helped with bans on some imports Russian agriculture, food production and some manufacturing sectors demonstrated solid growth. Not only Russian entrepreneurs, but foreign businessmen started hundreds of new businesses producing meat, cheese, vegetables, equipment for oil and gas industries, consumer goods and software proving that turbulent times create new entrepreneurial opportunities.

Building Business in Russia provides opportunities to look beyond the official façade of Russian business and gain some insights into how Russian and foreign entrepreneurs and corporations navigate the Russian economic maze. What is the trick of building a successful business in such a complex market place as Russia with its vast geography and extreme centralization, rich natural resources and poor infrastructure, advanced corporate law and weak enforcement, well-educated, but shrinking labor force?

The course is designed for students who are considering starting businesses in any part of the world, for those who would like to learn more about doing business in Russia, but also for people who are interested in developing insights into operating businesses and leading people in highly uncertain and ambiguous environments.

This is an experience based course. You will live for 5 days in Russia interacting with business people, scholars and students, moving around in local transport, visiting cultural monuments and enjoying Russian entertainment. You will meet, listen to, question and challenge Russian and foreign entrepreneurs and executives who are building companies in Russia, managers who work for them, investors, who finance their businesses and government officials, who regulate them. But most importantly you will immerse yourself into the operations of Russian entrepreneurial ventures by becoming a consultant to their owners and operators. You will meet INSEAD alumni to gain additional insights into living and working in Russia.

To interpret what is going on in contemporary Russia and how it could be applied to other contexts we will draw on strategic management, organizational behavior, cross-cultural studies, network science, and clinical paradigms.

Instructional methods

This course is delivered through a combination of action-based learning, guest lectures, Q&A sessions, group discussions and reflections. This course does not assume any previous background, but because of its intensity it will require some stamina and tenacity. It will also necessitate a high level of team work and reflexivity both on individual and group levels.


Shekshnia, S. The Unconventional Habits of Transformational Leaders, INSEAD Knowledge, December 30, 2015.

Shekshnia, S, Ledeneva, A. and Denisova-Schmidt, E. Managing Business Corruption: Targeting Non-Complaint Practices in Systemically Corrupt Environments, The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 95 (1), January 2017, pp,151-174

Fey, C., Shekshnia, S. The key commandments for doing business in Russia. Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 20 (1), January-March 2011, pp. 57-66

Kets de Vries, M.F.V, Shekshnia, S. East and West : Dialog About Leadership. Harvard Business Review Russia, June 2004, 24-33

From Russia with Blat: Can Informal Networks Help Modernize Russia?. Social Research: An International Quarterly, Volume 76 (1), Spring 2009, pp. 257-288


There are 3 components of the grade for this course

Grade component Component’s weight (%)
Class participation 20
Consulting project 40
Reflection paper/ video 40
Total 100

Class participation

Your meaningful participation in class discussions, Q&A sessions, and plenary and small group reflections is an important component of success of this course. We will reward questions and comments, which advance the collective learning of the group, active listening, collaboration, originality and sense of humor. We will have to penalize participants, who miss classes or parts of them, distract discussions or create other obstacles for collective learning.

Consulting project

We have selected four companies, which are interested in receiving some advice on building sustainable business from visiting INSEAD MBA candidates. We will randomly split you in four groups each looking at one of the four companies. Prior to your departure you will receive an information pack about the company you will consult with and a memo from its management outlining their expectations of your consulting intervention. You will have a one hour session with the company management in Moscow; three hours to prepare your recommendations and one hour to present them to the management. You will have to demonstrate leadership, analytical and facilitation skills in organizing your team’s work, preparing for the meeting with management, conducting it and getting maximum relevant information from it. We expect you to show knowledge of recent management theories and concepts, creativity and presentation skills in preparing and communicating your recommendations to management. Your grade will be based on the holistic assessment of these competencies by the receiving entrepreneurs and the instructor. Each team member will receive the same grade.

Reflection paper/video

To demonstrate your personal learning from the course you can opt for a traditional 3-page double spaced paper or a 3-minute long video clip. The goal is to give you an opportunity to articulate insights you have developed during your trip to Russia and elaborate on how you could use them in building entrepreneurial ventures and developing your business career. Remember this assignment is 100 percent about you, not Russia! Your grade for it will reflect the originality, relevance and integrity of the final product. Special bonus will go to creative works, so think about video! You will have to submit your reflection paper/video two weeks after your return from Russia.


This course will take you to two most important Russian cities – to its current capital Moscow and to St. Petersburg, the capital from 1709 to 1918, currently often referred to as a cultural capital of Russia. We will start with an optional dinner in St. Petersburg on Friday night and the course work will begin at 9-00 a.m. on Wednesday. We will adjourn in St. Petersburg at 13-00 p.m. on Thursday. We will arrange the train tickets St. Petersburg-Moscow, please, make sure you buy tickets to St. Petersburg and from Moscow.

INSEAD will arrange classroom space and will help you to book a room in a hotel that we recommend. For logistics purposes it is highly desirable that we all stay in one hotel both in Moscow and St. Petersburg. If you strongly feel about staying elsewhere, please let us know how to contact you. We will arrange transportation to and from our hotel to the companies we visit, and we will arrange transportation for all evening activities. Traffic is unpredictable both in Moscow and St. Petersburg and it is going to be your responsibility to ensure that you arrive on time for all sessions, if you are not staying with the group. You are responsible for transportation to and from Russia and for personal expenses. Please ensure you have made in advance some arrangement for the case of a sickness or another emergency. A complete logistics guide will be sent to you in advance of the course.

This course has been put together with invaluable help of INSEAD MBA’s 2012 Yulia Alikhanova, Dmitry Smirnov, Konstantin Polyakov, and Mikhail Vorozheykin, INSEAD MBA 2013 Pavel Dmitriev, and INSEAD MBA’s 2010 Gleb Frank.