Vytas Gruodis, director of the Baltic Management Institute in Vilnius, believes that Lithuanian entrepreneurs are just as capable of business excellence as those anywhere else.
"Look at the fine buildings going up in Vilnius and all the new businesses that have been created - many of them are world class," he said. "All of this has happened in a very short time thanks to intelligent and motivated people."
His mission is to foster executive education to make sure the trend continues. "Over time, BMI can unleash hundreds of high-caliber leaders on the business community," he said. "Think of the effect that will have on society and the economy."
Gruodis returned to Lithuania in the early 1990s after several decades living abroad. Like his friend and compatriot Valdas Adamkus, he was forced to leave the country as a young man during World War II. After a few years in South America, he settled in Canada where he became a successful entrepreneur.
Though he could have retired to an easy life in a warm country, Gruodis belongs to that class of people for whom achievement does not come to a full stop at a predetermined time in life. When he returned to Lithuania he became Omnitel's very first director, then headed the Open Society Institute in Vilnius and was for several years Lithuania's most vocal international business promoter and salesman as head of the Lithuanian Development Agency.
He's often asked when he plans to return to Canada but always replies that while he gained much living there and has great respect for that country, his "coming back" was to Lithuania.
He is held in high regard by the business community for his work as the development agency's head but admits that he eventually grew weary of "battling government bureaucrats" and was happy to take the BMI position when it opened up. "This is a fun and very rewarding job."
BMI's program is structured to serve students who want to earn an executive master of business administration without interrupting their careers. Individual courses are taught using the case-study method, during intense weekend cycles, by faculty who travel to Vilnius from BMI's European partner schools: Paris' Haute Ecole Commeciale, Copenhagen Business School, Belgium's IAG, the NHH in Norway and Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. Students maintain contact with professors by e-mail and telephone.
The school attracts top managers, mostly in their 30s and 40s, who want a small class size and direct access to the best European professors -a maximum 45 students can enter the program each year. While in Lithuanian terms the tuition is high -just over 10,000 euros for 18 months of study - earning an executive M.B.A. abroad is significantly pricier (up to 50 000 euros plus travel expenses and time away from work). At the end of the program, students also have the option of submitting their final semester thesis for an accredited M.B.A. from Vytautas Magnus University.
Instruction is in English -the only such M.B.A. program in Lithuania -which attracts a small but growing number of foreign students.
Because of its weekend format, Gruodis hopes to recruit more students from cities within driving distance -in Latvia, Poland, Kaliningrad and even Belarus.
According to Haute Ecole Commeciale professor Jean-Paul Larcon, who circles the globe teaching international strategy, BMI's students tend to work harder than the average European executive M.B.A. student and, though less argumentative overall, are very stubborn when they know they are right.
"They are serious and amaze me by their perseverance," he said. "Another important difference is that because they live in the 'new Europe' of great opportunities, they rise much more quickly to upper management positions than executive M.B.A. students in Paris or London. So they have different needs and attitudes."
"I didn't regret a single day of studies," said Vilija Railaite, a former marketing executive who now operates the Saldo Group, an events organizer. "Before I worked only by using my intuition, but the high quality of studies and emphasis on theoretical knowledge gave me broader skills to use in my career."
She also has fond memories of her classmates, with whom she keeps in regular contact.
"We're always comparing notes and consulting each other when we have problems," Railaite said.
BMI sells potential candidates on its cohesive and well-organized alumni association. Its roughly 100 members have their own private computer network for staying in touch and, in addition to serving as an informal business consulting network for each other, the group holds monthly lectures and social events.
"The feedback I get from fellow graduates is valuable in my work," said Ruta Kaupinyte, a human resources consultant.
"The program was intense. I even had to take a few days off work occasionally just to keep up with the workload," she said.
Kaupinyte said that the case-study method used at BMI was an approach that translates well to the real world of business, as she is always using the analytical skills she acquired to frame her clients' needs.
BMI is also working on a new M.P.A. (master of public administration) program, that will be geared toward top-level civil servants.
"As we move closer to EU membership, this program will be of critical importance," said Gruodis.