On October 1, 1995, Warsaw's unemployment rate was 14.3 percent. The buying power of the zloty, the national currency, was rapidly outpaced by inflation. But compared to 1989, when Poland first began its transformation from communist rule, the numbers were good. That day the Warsaw Business Journal reported: "A poll by the OBOP polling agency said that 42 percent of the population thinks the economy is expanding." By following its mass privatization scheme for state-owned businesses, Poland was seizing the initiative to transform itself."
Another change was quietly taking place in Warsaw's approach to business education. That fall, in a joint effort with the Carlson School, the prestigious Warsaw School of Economics offered one of Poland's first MBA programs, the Warsaw Executive MBA--an 18-month degree program in which Polish students took classes offered by visiting Carlson School faculty and faculty from the Warsaw School of Economics. "The Humphrey Institute [at the University of Minnesota] had obtained a grant from the United States Agency for International Development to help the Warsaw School of Economics convert its curriculum," recalls Michael Houston, Carlson School associate dean of International Programs. "We became very involved with that effort, and the Executive MBA program evolved from comfort on both sides with offering that degree."
John Fossum, professor of human resources and industrial relations, was one of the first Carlson School professors to visit. He remembers how new Warsaw felt. "It was very different," Fossum says. "You could walk across any main street and not have to worry about traffic because there were relatively few private vehicles."
Poland's rapid development has spurred an ongoing evolution in the curriculum of the Warsaw Executive MBA, says Dorota Serafi n, managing director for the program at the Warsaw School of Economics. In the beginning, Serafin says, "the MBA degree was not well recognized in Poland," and classes focused heavily on the public sector. "There was a lotto be done to help the evolving free economy and emerging executive education market," she says.
From the start, students were attracted by the chance to apply cutting-edge knowledge to their work places. "I had to go to class and face all of these people who didn't care all that much about theory," says Piotr Ploszajski, chair in management theory at the Warsaw School of Economics. "They wanted me to tell them something they didn't know, or to shine a light into a different corner of something they already knew. Making that knowledge transfer from academia to practice was when I fell in love with the program."