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Oded Lotan — an Israeli importer of knowledge

The director of the Edinburgh business school talks to Jewishnews.com.ua about business education in Ukraine

He calls himself an Israeli and declares that he has cosmopolitan views. He believes that the reasons for the unique intellectual and mental potential of Israel are in part due to the diversity of cultures, ethnicities and opinions. He sincerely loves Israel and Ukraine. He sees Ukraine as being in a state of transition at the moment, and it has two options: either a drastic leap forward, or a swift decline. He hopes for the first option.

When he came to Ukraine in 2008 as an independent consultant, in order to find managing directors for two major Ukrainian companies, Oded risked not coping with the task. He says that on the market there simply were not any top managers with sufficient knowledge and skills, which were required to cover these positions.

Lack of finding good managers at all and the lack of western managing thinking in Ukraine pushed the Israeli consultant to study the local market of business education. Even a superficial analysis showed a free niche in this segment. He was given additional confidence by his personal experience in private education — he was the co-founder and the director of Israeli privаte university “ONO Academic College“ and represented Manchester Business School in Israel.

I told my partners at the time: ‘Look, Ukraine today is like Israel 10 years ago. The country drastically needs a new generation of directors, businessmen and top managers. We were among the first in Israel to open a private university, and it brought us success. We can repeat this in Ukraine,” Lotan recalls.

The partners supported the idea back in the winter of 2009, at the height of the crisis, and the Edinburgh business school was opened in Ukraine Despite its Israeli roots, the partners decided that the best solution for Ukraine would be the British MBA program. Firstly, Britishnessis a brand, the country has always been associated with high-quality education. Secondly, the local market required a “classical MBA”, when the foundations are taught, the theoretical side of business administration.

The decision paid off. In its first year, the Edinburgh business school received around 90 students. In its five years of existence, 100 Ukrainian graduates received full MBA degrees and there are around 400 students in the program. The cost of a full MBA program that lasts 2-2.5 years is around USD 25000.

In all the time that we have worked in Ukraine, only one western business school has opened a branch here. But we last the only one to offer MBA program in Russian,” says Lotan.

However, the lack of direct competitors does not please him at all: it is not an easy task to instill the culture of receiving an MBA among Ukrainian “adult” students. The idea of MBA in late 2009 was still strange to most of the Ukrainian businesses. And it would be much more effective to popularize the idea of receiving western education in Ukraine by the joint efforts of several players. On the other hand, Lotan admits that the Ukrainian market of business education is very small, and he assesses its potential at just 500 people a year. And 85% of all students are from Kiev. For comparison, in just one private university run by Lotan and his partners in Israel, 1,000 people study annually.

There are not that many people in Ukraine who can afford an MBA. It’s not a cheap product, after all. Although unlike Israel, where people pay for their education from their own pockets in 90% of cases, in Ukraine employees often study at the corporation’s expense — about 50-50. Every year employees of the Ukrainian office of JTI study with us.”

The British MBA education of EBS has occupied its niche of business education on the Ukrainian market. The plans for development are clear, the audience is known, and the methods of attracting students have been tested. It’s time to move forward.

Oded is now developing a new idea with his partners: to launch a program of Israeli business knowledge in Ukraine. As in the first case, they are counting on the brand of the country.

Israel is a recognized leader in technology and know-how. The innovative Israeli experience works equally effectively in different managerial segments: medicine, science, defense, the state sector etc. It is this knowledge of 'how to make an existing business work better' that we will offer to potential students.”

The new educational initiative will not compete in any way with the Edinburgh business school — they have different audiences. The Israeli program is primarily aimed at entrepreneurs, owners of businesses who want to bring a new quality and new vision to an already existing business, or who are looking for ideas to open a new sphere of business — incubators, IT start-ups development.

Oded is not yet prepared to talk about specific dates for the launch — the general instability in the country makes him take a more cautious approach to issues of investment. On the other hand, Oded opened his first business in Ukraine at the height of the financial crisis in 2009. After taking a risk back then, in the end he raised a deserved glass of champagne.

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