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MBA training in a scenic setting

The Bled School of Management was one of the first schools founded in central and eastern Europe.
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BLED, Slovenia -- Set amid spectacular Alpine scenery, Slovenia's Bled School of Management must be one of the most picturesque places to study business anywhere in the world.

Since Bled was established 19 years ago more than 30,000 students have passed through its doors.

Compared with the heavyweight institutions of the MBA world, the school is still in its infancy.

But when Danica Purg founded the school in 1986 the idea of a management training program was a radical departure from the socialist norms of the former Yugoslavia.

"In the beginning nobody understood what I really want to do," said Purg, now dean of the faculty. "So they were thinking that I was importing imperialism and I got quite a few political problems because of that."

Nonetheless, having spent time studying at several leading western schools including Harvard and Insead, Purg was determined to bring to the east what she had seen in the west.

"They didn't imagine that I had a dream, that I really had an ambition to build one of the best business schools in Europe, she told CNN.

"And, at the same time, they didn't realize that I wanted to contribute to the professionalization of business people and to life in general in Slovenia."

Nowadays, Purg is recognized as a pioneer. There are now almost 60 management training programs in eastern and central Europe.

More than 70 percent of Bled's 3,000-strong annual intake comes from beyond Slovenia with most of those from the former Communist countries of eastern and central Europe.

And with the accession of many of those countries, including Slovenia, into the European Union last year, the school is providing vital training in trade, business and economic issues for those working in the frontier economies of the new Europe.

"If one wants to get a relevant knowledge that's applicable in this market then, definitely, this is the place," says Deloitte and Touche employee Kresimir Kvaternik.

"You get a combination of the culture, and skills that are relevant for doing business in countries like Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia."

One positive legacy from the socialist past is the large number of female students at the school. Almost half of this year's intake are women, a statistic that the world's top MBA programs would envy.

"One of the many fun things I find is that there are a lot more women in management here than in western Europe," said Ron Meyer, a member of the Bled teaching staff.

"It has to do with the fact that finance in the past was something administrative, and that was something you leave up to women."

But while Bled may be a regional leader, it is not quite yet the international success that it would like to believe.

While staff such as Meyer, a visiting professor from Rotterdam may be bringing international expertise to the school, experts say the school needs to bolster its full-time faculty staff if it is to rank among the world's best schools.

"Faculty worldwide, good faculty, is a very competitive market at the moment," says Bill Ridgers, who rates MBA programs for the Economist Intelligence Unit. "And in order to attract the best faculty you not only have to offer top salaries, you also have to offer really good research opportunities."

Purg argues that the current MBA rankings system, which considers the average salaries of graduates, is loaded against her school.

"We have in this school many people from transitional economies, and in the transitional economies the salaries are not as high as they are in Singapore or in North America. And I think that we are a fantastic school without this ranking," she says.

Without rankings, western accreditations or a large full-time faculty, Bled is a business school making a difference to the economies surrounding it. For tomorrow's managers looking to capitalize on the new Europe's transitional economies, it's a good place to start.

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