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Harvard Business Professor Discusses Promoting Entrepreneurship in Russia


Clark Callahan P’18, managing director of executive education custom programs at Harvard Business School recently spoke to students from two Government courses, Visiting Assistant Professor David Rivera’s “Transitions to Democracy” and Associate Professor Sharon Rivera’s “Authoritarian Politics.” Callahan’s talk focused on his experiences in Russia in the early 1990s working for a program whose mission was to support Russia’s transition to a market economy by training entrepreneurs and teaching the basics of how to run a business.

Describing himself as “an amateur observer” whose talk would revolve around “recollections from a long time ago,” Callahan discussed, among other issues, the Russian participants and the program’s interactions with local government. In regard to the participants, he noted that his students simply didn’t understand basic concepts essential to the operation of capitalism such as marketing. “How do you explain a concept that is so unique to us?” he asked, adding that “if you grew up in a market economy, you know what I mean when I say ‘marketing.’”

Callahan’s program was located in the region of Nizhny Novgorod, whose governor at the time was Boris Nemtsov (a politician who would soon thereafter join President Boris Yeltsin’s administration and who in the 2000s would become one of the leaders of the liberal opposition to Vladimir Putin.) According to Callahan, the 38-year old Nemtsov “looked and spoke like an American; he looked like a guy who embraced the West. ‘This is the future,’ we all thought.” Callahan also said he believed that “Vladimir Putin almost certainly ordered Nemtsov’s assassination in 2015.” (Sharon Rivera has published an article on Nemtsov and his tenure in Nizhny Novgorod.)

Callahan’s talk – modeled loosely on the Harvard Business School “case method” and for which he prepared a mini-case that students read in advance – devoted a lot of time to addressing what he called the big question: what could he have done better knowing what he knows now? Two of the main lessons he draws from his experiences are that he should have educated himself and done more research about Russia before starting his teaching assignment, and that he should have been more flexible in terms of his course curriculum. In line with these lessons, Callahan advised the attendees to “do your research” in their own future efforts and not arrive with “an assumption set.” In addition, he said that “maybe we should have taught some comparative politics or economics instead of just business.”

Callahan’s daughter, Claire, is a member of the Class of 2018, and his eldest daughter Katie graduated in 2015.

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