Dressed conservatively in a sweater and slacks, Yuri Milner looks like any other Wharton MBA candidate. But, unlike many of his classmates, this first-year student from Moscow has no plans to pursue a position in a prestigious Wall Street investment banking firm or in a Los Angeles consulting outfit. Milner, the first Soviet citizen ever to study at Wharton, instead intends to return with his degree to the Soviet Union to take advantage of the developing free markets. "My idea is to be in the most useful place in the proper time," Milner said. He said he wants to be "like a bridge" between the developing markets in his country and those in Europe and the United States. Until a year and a half ago, Milner says he was "a different man." After earning his master's degree in theoretical physics from Moscow State University, Milner took a job as a manager at a small "independent" company -- Milner hesitates to use the word "private" -- organizing business forums and conferences on topics "of interest to both Russians and Americans." This company soon began a business night school, under the auspices of Moscow State University, which hired two American professors, one in business and one in English. He then decided that he wanted to learn business the way Americans learn it, which of course meant crossing the ocean. He contacted Decision Sciences Professor Aron Katsenelinboigen, whom he knew from his childhood in Moscow. Katsenelinboigen, who has been in the U.S. since 1973, said he has known Milner since Milner was a baby. He said he thinks Milner has a bright future in business if the Soviet economy continues to liberalize. "He has many advantages," Katsenelinboigen said. "In addition to knowing the language [English], he has a very sharp mind to formulate problems and to analyze them." Katsenelinboigen also said he thinks that Milner's lack of experience in Soviet economics helped him at Wharton. "His mind was not spoiled by Marxism," he said. "They spend too much time on it in economics in the Soviet Union." Katsenelinboigen does not expect many Soviets to be able to follow Milner's example of studying at American universities, but because of the high costs, rather than the Soviet government's red tape. Milner said getting government permission to study in the U.S. used to take an "infinity," but his case was expedited with "fantastic speed." "This is the result of perestroika," he said flatly. Milner said he is grateful to John Enyart, director of admissions for the Wharton Graduate Division, who helped him navigate the American bureaucracy. Enyart said Wharton was "absolutely wowed" by Milner. "He was surprisingly articulate about his reasons for wanting a U.S. MBA, more so than many of my American applicants," he said. "He's the first the Soviet citizen to come to the Wharton who is not an emigre," he said. "It is important for the Wharton School to have as diverse a class as possible." He added that diversity is becoming important to business schools because there is more international trade than ever. Milner said the Wharton MBA curriculum challenges him. "It's a hard subject in the sense that its a broad subject," he explained. "The concepts themselves are very simple," he continued. "You don't have a very diverse mathematical derivation -- it is broader than physics but less deep." Milner becomes animated when he speaks about his homeland. "Day to day, they are living worse and worse," he said of his stalwart countrymen. "They are very afraid of the winter because we had food shortages even in autumn." Katsenelinboigen said he is not sure that Milner will be able to succeed in business when he returns to the Soviet Union. He warned that "Stalin, too, sent many people to the West, before the Great Tortures," and that there is little stopping Gorbachev or his successors from following the same path. But if the liberalization taking place in the Soviet Union continues, Katsenelinboigen thinks Milner "could achieve a lot." "In this case," Katsenelinboigen concluded, "he could have a great future."Comments powered by Disqus
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