A Lunch that Launched a Global Philosophy: The Formation of the Duke Program for Manager Development in Russia


Signing the agreement to deliver the program are Keller (right), J.B. Fuqua (center) and Russian official Abel Aganbegyan

This post can be read in Russian here.
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Tom Keller, former dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, still remembers the moment more than 25 years ago when the school’s namesake, J.B. Fuqua, proposed an idea that would prove to be transformative to both the institution and the lives of many.

“He about knocked me out of my chair when he proposed it. I was down in Atlanta visiting J.B., and we had lunch one day which was a common pattern. He said to me, ‘Tom I think we can reduce world tensions if we start a program for Soviet managers.’ And I said, what do you mean, how would we do this?”

J.B. Fuqua explained to Keller that providing business and management training to Soviet managers would help them better deliver products in a global market.

The two began to formulate their proposal for a program and presented it to Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet Union’s Ambassador to the United States. His interest led to a meeting with Leonid Abalkan, deputy prime minister and director of the Institute of Economics of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

“We met with him at the Kremlin and he began to pave the way for an agreement,” said Keller.

With that final approval, J.B. Fuqua donated four million dollars and the Duke Program for Manager Development in Russia was born.

The cooperative education program between the school and what was then the Soviet Union was designed to teach the country’s managers how a free-market economy operates and how firms make decisions affecting research, production, sales, marketing and foreign trade. In doing so, hopes were that the program would also encourage beneficial relationships between political, educational and business organizations in the two countries.

In a 1990 press release about the launch of the program, J.B. Fuqua stated, “The cooperation of the United States and the USSR in developing this educational program for Soviet managers is an important first step forward in promoting a positive, long-term business relationship between our two countries.”

Keller recalls the program was the first of its kind with several unique characteristics, including the fact it was designed jointly by the United States and Soviet Union and implemented a multi-year, long-term approach to teaching successive groups of managers from the region. The groundwork laid by the program would help Soviet academics design their own programs to benefit future managers in the country.

Twenty-five years later participants from the program talk about how it changed the way they look at business processes and organizational strategy.

When asked how it affected his personal and professional life, Vasily Prokin, now general director at a Russian telecommunications and technology company, said, “The program changed the angle at which I was looking at many business processes. It helped me understand how my colleagues from the West view business. The personal result for me was the ability to build a successful career in the Russian office of Sprint International.”

The program also helped define the school’s philosophy to reach across differences and geographies to foster meaningful relationships and collaborations.

“This program put the school on a tangent toward internationalization. This was clearly the event which caused us to get seriously focused on international efforts,” said Keller.

The school is hosting a reception in December in Moscow where program participants will reunite, and the Fuqua community will celebrate the impact of the program and the 25th anniversary of involvement in the region. (A summary of the event is posted here)

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