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Regular version of the site

‘I Have Really Happy Memories of Studying at ICEF’

Mikhail Savkin an ICEF alumnus is Global Strategy & Development Director at Schneider Electric in France. He talked to the HSE website about his education and his career. 

— Mikhail why did you choose ICEF when you first applied to university?

— The big attraction for me at ICEF was the Double Diploma and studying in English. I had already lived abroad for a while at that point and wanted to keep my language going at a high level. I passed the exam and was offered a grant to study at the Faculty of Economics. ICEF also offered me a place. My parents agreed it was worth paying the fees for the Double Diploma in English.

— What are your lasting memories of ICEF from those days?

— I have really happy memories of studying at ICEF. The teachers were good and the students were great. I was always a bit nerdy and I enjoyed every year of studying. I think it’s a sign of the high quality of teaching at ICEF that my feelings about it are still very positive. Even though I studied in world class universities later. Besides, it’s thanks to ICEF that I got a full grant to study at the London School of Economics, with all my fees and maintenance paid.

— Where did you study after that?

— I graduated from ICEF and went straight on to the Master’s at LSE. I don’t have such happy memories of that, by the way. Then, after working for a while I started an MBA at INSEAD in France which, to this day, I consider synonymous with the highest standards in education. But it wouldn’t be right to compare INSEAD with ICEF because an MBA is for adults and although the teachers at INSEAD are top notch, I was much more interested in the other students in my study team. They were all professionals already, so being with them played a huge part in my education. It just doesn’t work like that on the bachelor’s programme. But if someone asked me what I would change at ICEF to make it even better, I would suggest introducing teamwork and practical learning. It’s how they will be working in the future and the sooner they start, the better they will learn.   

— What made your impressions of LSE less positive than those of ICEF?

— There are objective and subjective reasons.

Firstly, I chose the wrong course. It was designed for people with a strong economics background. So there was a lot that I didn’t know.

Secondly, LSE doesn’t have a campus. After classes the students all go about their business. I didn’t make friends with anyone. That was a big minus.

— What happened in terms of your career after the Master’s?

— After LSE, I got a job in consulting with McKinsey. I returned to Russia and worked in their Moscow office for three years. They paid for my MBA and I went to study at INSEAD. The university is just outside Paris but the students are from all over the world. When I finished my MBA I stayed on to work in the Paris office and then decided to go into industry at Schneider Electric. My career as a consultant is a classic case. I came into a job in strategy which is a typical way to get into industry. They won’t put you in operations initially, but give you a couple of years to learn how the business works, get to know the heads of departments and decide which area you want to pursue. I got to know the team at Schneider when I was a  consultant for them. 

— Why did you decide to quit consulting?

— For two reasons. First of all I began to think, well, here I am, wisely giving out all this advice but I don’t have any responsibilities. If you believe in something, you want to see how your decisions come to life and take responsibility for them. I was consulting in the car industry and I decided to go back to energy efficiency which I find really interesting.

— What advice would you give to someone graduating from ICEF now? Apply for a Master’s in Russia or abroad? 

— I would always recommend studying abroad. It’s a very useful experience. It changes your view of the world. It’s enriching. I’m not saying you should stay abroad to work afterwards but study, yes, it’s worthwhile. If you have a Master’s from Europe or the US you can find a job in Russia just as easily as with a Russian Master’s. That’s not the case in France, they don’t recognise foreign qualifications, but we do.

— Where is the most interesting place to work?

— Everywhere is interesting to work. Working in different countries is also a good experience. Business is conducted in such different ways in different cultures. Russian and international companies have different approaches to consultancy. In Russia consultants substitute middle managers and work with them in partnership. In Europe they bring in a consultant to deal with a particular issue and when it is sorted out, that’s it, thanks and goodbye! In Russia there are more possibilities for improvement and this gives more room for manoeuvre. But all the same, whatever you want to achieve, it all happens much more slowly than in Europe. 

— What personal qualities are important for someone who wants to be a consultant?

— The most important thing is to be curious and to want to learn more

— What would you wish the many ICEF graduates who go straight into consulting after university?

— I would remind them of the work- life balance. There is a lot of work and it’s interesting but you need to have a life too. No one will say to you, ‘OK, you’ve earnt something, now it’s time to go home’. You have to deal with it yourself. Consulting gives you a good chance to find out about different companies, different industries, different businesses. But after a while you need to decide which area you want to work in, what you want to achieve and is it worth staying in consulting. I would advise asking yourself that question at the earliest opportunity.

Ekaterina Rylko, especially for ICEF, HSE.

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