Valdrin Lluka poses for a photo

How Valdrin Lluka is making Kosovo a better place to do business

Friday, February 7, 2020

Few Carlson School graduates can claim to be part of building an entire country’s government from the ground up. Valdrin Lluka, ‘09 MBA, can. 

Lluka grew up in Kosovo — a region then part of Yugoslavia that faced significant conflict culminating in a war in the late 1990s. After nearly a decade under UN governance and peacekeepers, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008. Many institutions for the fledgling state had been destroyed during conflict with the Serbs. Around this same time, Lluka was wrapping up his MBA and headed back to his homeland to help out — first building an impressive resume in the private sector before joining the public sector.

Currently, he serves as the Minister of Economic Development — promoting investment in Kosovo, advocating for schools, and developing solutions for natural resource conservation. Recently, the University of Minnesota recognized him with a Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals for his work.

Lluka sat down with the Carlson School to answer a few questions about his past, how he ended up in Minnesota, and why he’s still engaged as an alumni.

What made you interested in studying in the United States?

Kosovo, as a new country, had a lot of international assistance in almost every field, including education. As a result, USAID (a U.S. government agency for international development) established the Kosovo American Education Fund. The aim of the fund was to award a small number of scholarships to distinguished students from Kosovo who wanted to advance through a Master’s degree in the U.S. 

I went through a fierce competition, and, luckily, I was one of the eight to get the scholarship. The fund also assisted us in looking at different schools throughout the U.S. I had three choices, and after some research online, decided to go with the University of Minnesota and the Carlson School — a choice that I am still thankful for 13 years later.

Valdrin Lluka, winner of the Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals, poses for a photo with Phil Miller and John Ruzek
Valdrin Lluka poses with Phil Miller and John Ruzek after being honored with the Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals.

What did you find most valuable about your time here? Was there a particular class, faculty member, etc?

Coming from a war-torn country, the experience in the U.S. was completely new. I found it to be very rewarding in many aspects, but most importantly in education quality and friendship.

Kosovo’s education system was completely destroyed. High schools and universities were closed down by Serbian forces, and we had to attend them illegally in private homes, churches and mosques. The need for good quality education and for highly educated people was more important than ever, considering that our new independence meant we needed skilled people to build the state.

The education and the overall experience in the U.S. helped, shaped and prepared me to go back home and contribute in this state-building process, and that’s the most valuable part that I got from the Carlson School.

Most of the classes were good, but some were particularly good. Strategic Management, Financial Statements, Entrepreneurship, Pricing Strategy, Operations, Negotiations Strategies, Industry Analysis, Financial Modeling — just to name a few — were very helpful in my career. 

How has your education shaped your career?

Spending two years at Carlson School of Management was a turning point for my future personal development, as it prepared me to deal with real life challenges by giving me the much-needed education and problem-solving skills.

The education advanced my career by equipping me with the right knowledge and practical experience, which helped me make good decisions in all responsibilities taken so far. 

In addition, and of equal importance, was that it increased my confidence as a person ready to take big responsibilities after meeting so many highly skilled classmates and professors. 

Last, but not least, the U.S. is the best country in the world when it comes to building soft skills such as communication and presentation. I still remember the rules to build simple but very organized and easy-to-read presentation slides that Philip Miller [assistant dean of MBA & MS programs] taught us. This served to boost my career in the beginning, where I worked as the head of the Investment Promotion Agency, a government agency responsible for promoting Kosovo to foreign investors. Delivering presentations was a day-to-day job.

How do you use business as a force for good?

Business skills have been of great help to advance all organizations and businesses that I have led since graduating from CSOM. The way we treat people, how we set targets and how we work with different communities has helped me create a positive image throughout Kosovo for both myself and the organizations that I led.

The University of Minnesota recently recognized you with an award. How does it feel to be honored?

It was one of the best and most fulfilling moments in life. It makes me work harder and promote the University wherever I go and whatever I do. It will remain with me forever, and the award already has a special place in my home.

Why do you continue to maintain a relationship with the Carlson School well after graduating?

The Carlson School has been an important part of my life. It gave me the best education I ever got and some of the best friends that I continue to stay in touch with today. I look forward to advancing this relationship further by trying to bring more Kosovars to study at the University of Minnesota and to connect Kosovo’s public university with the University of Minnesota to advance our much-needed degrees in engineering and geology.