By Mica Schneider
Athens, home to world-famous philosophers and the city that started democracy, will soon add another intellectual feat to its list of accomplishments. In November, the Athens-based Hellenic American Union is expanding its educational courses to include an MBA -- the first degree to ever be awarded -- at its new Hellenic American University.
As its name implies, HAU has close ties to the U.S., and indeed it will enroll at least 15 MBAs this fall thanks to the state legislature of New Hampshire, which voted to charter the university in May, 2004. The connection to the Granite State stems from HAU's first president, Greek-born Chris Spirou, who was a chairman of the Democratic State Committee, the minority Democratic party leader in the New Hampshire House, and the 1984 Democratic nominee for governor.
Although HAU is located in Greece, Spirou had it chartered in New England so that the school would be forced to follow the "high-quality" accreditation and approval standards that other U.S. universities are forced to adhere to. "We want to provide the same quality of education that American institutions offer," he says, without requiring students to move to the U.S. to study. Spirou now spends 75% of his time in Athens, but he still has a residence in Manchester, N.H.
The new B-school will have some hallmarks of top U.S. institutions, such as strict admissions standards and the use of case studies. Still, Spirou says HAU professors will make the courses relevant to the Greek marketplace. He hopes the school will be a bridge between Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East, and he says classes will stress the needs of a multicultural workforce. "It makes no sense to have case studies regarding Chrysler or Microsoft when in this area, there are no employers [with more than] 10,000 employees," Spirou says.
Additionally, MBAs will be required to attend some cultural events. One item on the agenda: a film focused on issues facing Balkan women in the workplace. "Work is also a problem of culture, not only...of finance, marketing, or economic [issues]," says Leonidas Phoebus Koskos, HAU's executive vice-president.
The market is ripe for a B-school in Greece. The Graduate Management Admissions Council, the nonprofit that runs the Graduate Management Admissions Test, says around 1,675 Greeks took the GMAT in 2003. That's a 50% jump from 2001, and a big increase for this Southern Mediterranean country of only 11 million people.
Without a reputation to stand on, however, HAU will face some challenges from both local universities and other U.S. and European schools that are zeroing in on the Greek B-school market. For instance, in October, about 70 B-schools from a dozen countries will visit Athens for the World MBA Tour, an annual event run by QS MBA, a company that helps B-schools market their programs around the world.
Locally, Athens has the nonprofit Athens Laboratory of Business Administration, which was founded in 1992 by several Greek businesses. ALBA offers a one-year, full-time MBA program to around 60 recent college graduates and a part-time program to around 90 graduates. Dean Nickolaos Travlos says while interest in the Greek MBA market is high, it has reached a point of consolidation, and competition among Greek programs is very strong. "The quality of the programs will determine what program will remain in the industry," Travlos says.
HAU knows the competition isn't going to back down. So, it's banking on its American roots, as well as its multicultural component, to give it an edge. To get off the ground, the university hired four permanent B-school professors who have been trained in the U.S., Canada, or Britain. Some adjunct professors will teach basic business courses. Spirou plans to expand the faculty further, and he says HAU might someday also offer a bachelor's degree in business.
Other professors are lending a hand on a short-term basis. Ira Weiss, outgoing dean of the College of Business Administration at Northeastern University in Boston will spend two weeks in Athens this fall (he's joining North Carolina State University as B-school dean in December). Weiss will help HAU draft plans for a research center focused on economic developments in the Balkans and help the school apply for accreditation from the New England Association of Schools & Colleges.
Vicky Branika, a 42-year-old human-resources manager who plans to enroll at HAU in November, likes what school has to offer. "I want an MBA program...which is rigorous, not something short and easy," says Branika, who, along with her classmates, will receive partial sponsorship from the Hellenic American Union. She'll pay an inaugural tuition of around $15,600 to attend HAU, which could double in 2005. The union plans to review tuition again next summer.
A new academic endeavor in Athens, a metropolis that once teemed with intellectuals like Plato and Socrates, makes sense. "Greece should have been the education center of Europe, if not the whole region," says Spirou. "We need to bring opportunities to students who can't afford to pay the amount of money you need to go to England or the U.S. [to study.]"
The HAU B-school will likely have to graduate its first class before it can prove the quality of its program, but waiting until 2006 shouldn't be too much of a setback. After all, Athens has a 2,500-year history of civilization. The new university can certainly spare a couple of years.
Schneider is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in London
Edited by Suzanne Robitaille