Interview with Alexey Shulepov (CEO of SKF) about his EMBA experience in SSE


Vsevolod Krylov: You studied at the Stockholm School of Economics in Russia for 2 years, it is a very long period and during this time many people say that their mindset changes. Did you experience something like that as well or maybe you heard other people around you notice that you started to think or communicate in a different way?

Alexey Shulepov: Well first of all for me these 2 years had flown over as one day, when you said that it was a long period, I realized that it like it was one day in my mind. There were quite a lot of changes during that time in my life, so the School, surely, helped me to rethink some things. But I’ll tell you that, when I came to school, we discussed a lot of stuff, if changes would happen and how quickly, we were given statistics that almost 70% of program participants change their jobs either during program or after graduation, but some radical change – it is not my case. I continue working in 3M same as I was when I started studying. And in general I actively tried to bring what I have learnt and what I have gained as an experience into my daily work, it was also about my personal life and, of course, not only business.
What did I find useful? I often say to my employees: "Let's go out of the gates of the church and see how rich the world is.” The School has helped me to do this a lot. I cannot say that during the program I gained some phenomenal theoretical knowledge. It turned out (well, again, in my case) that I had known almost everything for some reason, either because I had had such experience beforehand or because I had had such good employers, who had let me gain knowledge while I was on the job. But the SSE gave me the chance to look at things from the position of other companies through the communication with various counterparts, with my group mates, getting knowledge in the dialogue on how other companies operate, also while listening to guest-speakers, to professors with their cases – all that gave me the opportunity to see how diverse the approaches can be, to what extent companies behave differently in the similar situations. And receiving this knowledge, accumulating this experience through communication with people, possibly, and I am even sure, that it prevented me from making some mistakes in my daily work of making managerial decisions. And secondly I think I've become more perceptive to changes, innovations, new approaches, and several times I received feedback from my colleagues, so that it became easier to negotiate with me and to offer new things.

Vsevolod Krylov: Have I understood you correctly, that the School for you is not mainly the knowledge, but rather a way of thinking?

Alexey Shulepov: Yes, it’s absolutely right. There is definitely new knowledge. You know, it is similar to a multilayered cake. For it to be tasty there should be a good crust, good butter, good cream. It is very important for all of the elements to match, only then the cake is delicious. Baking just a good crust is not enough. It is same here. I think the School, at least at the time of my studies, had a good balance between theoretical knowledge, practical cases we worked with and visits to companies, and there was enough time for us to communicate with each other, because we, as a group “stewed in our own broth” and with time this broth was becoming richer and richer. I think we did not really need the School by the end of the program. And maybe that was the point.

Vsevolod Krylov: And what had brought you to the Executive MBA program in the first place?

Alexey Shulepov: My basic education, let's say, is not very good in terms of the image of the degree I’ve got and I have always questioned the fact, if said education gave me good theoretical knowledge. Firstly, I was curious to double-check it. Secondly, I was lucky with my employers and, to a large extent things I knew about business, marketing and management were what my employers gave me as well as corporate institutions, large programs, in which companies invest in order to develop their employees, by giving them new knowledge. Many thanks to my pre-previous employer Nestle, where I got much of my knowledge about marketing and management. I wanted to double-check to what extent things learnt in practice and knowledge I had received in work process are consistent with the academic school’s content. In other words, the first reason is that I wanted to impose practical knowledge and skills on the theoretical base, and secondly, I wanted to broaden my horizons.
You know, I was asked if I did find anything in the process of studying, that for some reason did not meet my expectations? I was lucky, I had no such experience. I mean, I didn’t have any overexpectations, I was not hoping the School would turn me into Spinoza, or that the next day I would become the second Bill Gates or someone like that. I knew that I am what I am anyway, and I wanted to make myself a little more sophisticated, to improve myself.

Vsevolod Krylov: And how did you approach the choice of a business school and why SSE?

Alexey Shulepov: It was a very pragmatic approach. I was looking for a school that would do the least harm to my personal life and work processes. The moment when I was choosing the period for education was a difficult one, there always are some compromises, but then I had very difficult period at work.
It always seems that there are work, family, different reasons that may not allow us to really dive into this process. It's a matter of decision-making and, in my opinion, prioritization. So I tried to consider the following parameters: family, work, and the amount of time that I can invest in learning process. And I started to do some research into what was available on the market. What were possible programs? And I chose several, which seemed to me would do the least harm to other processes - personal life and work. Well, then, I looked more carefully at the program’s content.
Again, working in the FMCG business, I saw how it worked. Nestle gave me the opportunity to work in Switzerland in the head office and get some first-hand experience from the best people in the marketing area, it enriched me a lot, but I wanted to put the theoretical base under that experience. And, having studied the program of the Stockholm School of Economics in Russia, I saw that, as a whole, it was a harmonious program without distortions in any area, which would give the chance to develop myself as a general manager, as the person who is responsible for all processes in the organization. And so the stars aligned. I liked the module system, which let me to be absent from work for a minimum of time, I was ready to devote time to self-study, I have no problems with that, and I was generally satisfied with the composition of modules.

Vsevolod Krylov: It has been 6 years since you graduated from the School, and it is more than enough time to forget people who appeared on the program, appeared for a day or two, I mean professors and guest-speakers. Do you remember any of bright personalities who made a strong impression on you during the program?

Alexey Shulepov: Well, that's not a provocative question, in fact, it's a fair one. At the same time, I wouldn’t like to offend anyone, all the teachers with whom we worked were excellent. In this sense, your selective work was very well-done, I hope it is at the same level now. But I'll probably express my own opinion and the opinion of the majority of my group here, we've discussed it many times, that the strongest impressions we had always had from invited guests - Novikov, Tildikov, Demin. These are the people, if we talk about our Russian reality, who gave us cases and told us stories that are not some kind “fiction”, from foreign reality, with incomprehensible acronyms and words, but from our particular Russian reality, and that seemed to us like "Yeah, that people do real things. Probably I can also act like this, can’t I?" that was particularly stimulating during the program.

Vsevolod Krylov: Do you keep in touch with your classmates?

Alexey Shulepov: Yes, definitely. We are constantly in touch, we have several groups in Whats app and Telegram, where we post questions to each other, give advice concerning business issues. I have several people with whom I am constantly communicating. Unfortunately, it is not the whole group, but it is definitely my own selection of people I can consult with and who I am happy to help. Surely, we communicate, meet with each other, sometimes we even have joined trips. For instance, we had skiing and sea trips, not the whole group, but gather with some classmates, yes.

Vsevolod Krylov: What can you advice be to people who are choosing a business school?

Alexey Shulepov: They should set exact goals for themselves. It's very important to understand why you need a business education. I don't want to offend anybody, but when we talked to my colleagues at the first session and discussed the reasons for studying, there were a number of people (a small number) who came to the School only to get the diploma. And that is exactly what you shouldn’t do, it's so boring and toxic, in that case you always have to push yourself to do what you don't really want to do. It's horrible. In my opinion, the most important thing is that you really want to do it. A person should understand, why she or he is starting it, so there is enough “fire” and energy for these 2 years, or better for even longer. Therefore, the first thing is to understand exactly why you are going to the business school. Secondly, to research the program carefully in order to understand how the program meets your today's and tomorrow's goals and targets.
There is one thing I tell those who ask me about the education at the School. I believe that the brain, like the muscles, need to be trained. We basically do that when we solve some cases at work, or when I help children with their homework, - so you read some school tasks, and some of them you solve immediately, some take time. Why? Because your brain is not trained for some type of tasks. When you come to school, unwillingly you train your brain in the areas, where it has not been trained before for years. At first, it is difficult like with physical activity - one push-up, two push-ups…five, and then you can do 20 in a raw.
Brain capacity is limited, so you have to train agility, it is like switching to a computer language. So, I think education mainly allowed me to train the brain for future tasks. I finished the program at SSE, and my work activity has improved and my brain capacity has expanded, and I've applied that, absolutely.

Vsevolod Krylov: What would you like to wish to the School?

Alexey Shulepov: Drive your way! I believe it is necessary to change constantly, get feedback from people like me, because you gave me a lot, but I am sure you can give other people even more.

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