It could be the Robinson College in Atlanta. But, the setting is actually more than 7,000 miles away in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic. The MBA is a unique program for working professionals offered by the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy (ASOA), a leading public universitiy, in cooperation with the Robinson College.
Begun in 1998 as the result of a grant from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the ASOA's MBA program fills the void for advanced business education in a nation just now coming to grips with a market-based economy. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, conventional business curriculum was unheard of and largely unnecessary.
Today Baku, a city of 3 million nestled by the Caspian Sea, has the potential of becoming one of the world's leading oil-producing countries. With big oil comes the need for a workforce with the proper business background.
Teaching the Teachers
But it is not the curriculum which makes the Robinson-Azeri partnership so unique. It's the way the curriculum is delivered.
Bijan Fazlollahi, associate professor in the Institute of International Business, who spearheads the program for Robinson, said, "What we are really doing here is taking the Oil Academy's best faculty regardless of subject and turning them into business instructors. It's like the ancient proverb says, 'Give a man a fish, and you feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."
But having Robinson faculty also teach on site adds considerable credibility to the program. Among those who have taught at the ASOA
in addition to Fazlollahi are Robert Elrod from decision sciences, Dileep Mehta from finance,
Fred Jacobs from accountancy, Chris Lemley and Sevo Eroglu from marketing, Deborah Butler
from management and Judy Quick, a BellSouth Corporation executive and temporary instructor in international business. Quick also helped design the business plan and worked with local officials in establishing the program.
While Fazlollahi has been the key cog in shaping this program, the head of the MBA offering for the Oil Academy, Rafik Aliev, can be credited with much of its current success. A member of the Academy of Sciences and a noted researcher, Aliev is very high on what the Robinson College has brought to his country. So, too, is ASOA Rector (President) Siyavush Karaev who said, "The Robinson partnership has accelerated business education at this institution and in our country."
To assure the program stays on track, ASOA has established a business board of advisors, including high-ranking executives from major companies and organizations in Azerbaijan. They include Khoshbakht Yusifzadeh, vice president of SOCAR, the national oil company of Azerbaijan, Storm Olsen Steinar, vice president of operations for Statoil's Caspian Region, and Graham Scotton, vice president of the BP Group.
The agreement with the ASOA is actually the second for Robinson with an institution in Azerbaijan. In 1996, the College began a working relationship with Khazar University, the nation's first private institution, through a grant from the Eurasia Foundation. The two-year master's program at Khazar focuses on finance and international business.
In commenting on the future of the program, Robinson Associate Dean H. Fenwick Huss, a major proponent of the College's international programs worldwide, said that all signs are positive for long-term success. "With sound ideas, local support, the promise of continued federal funding and Robinson's expertise present, there is no limit to what can be accomplished."
- Gary McKillips