30 years dedicated
to the future

Importer of modern business education

Taking into consideration the conditions that were prevalent in Estonia at the end of the 1980s, Madis Habakuk, Ilmar Martens and Marshall Fitzgerald had come up with a previously unheard of business idea.

Firstly, to offer business instruction. Secondly, not to be limited by classical lectures, but instead to bring students into businesses, to see how business actually works. Thirdly, practical training was to take place in the United States and Canada, not Estonia, where one would have to quickly learn English in order to cope. Fourthly, students themselves – their employers, to be more precise – and not the state, paid for their studies.

The price of the course was tremendous: 33,800 roubles. It cost nearly ten times more than what was normally being charged for yearlong courses in Estonia at the time. Even so, Madis Habakuk made the bold decision and placed a hefty price on the course. Admittedly, this decision was reached after he had familiarised himself with similar courses in the West and calculated the attractiveness of the program to Estonia’s managers.

At the end of the 1980s Rein Loik was working as an assistant to the Minister of Education, and during the period 1990-1991 he was serving as Minister of Education, which meant that he was well versed in the dealings of EBS. Loik has remembered that there more opponents to the EBS concept than there were proponents.

In the collection issued for the 15th anniversary of EBS, Rein Loik provides the following account: “The only places where an education in economics could be acquired were at TalTech and the University of Tartu. The curricula at these schools was highly academic and rigid in nature. Habakuk proposed a much more energetic curriculum, one that included subjects with a practical value, for example marketing and management. Habakuk’s work was conceptual and was liked by many. In education circles there was still a great deal of opposition to the idea of EBS. He was forced to emphatically defend the structures of his curricula. I remember that when the school was created, Habakuk formed groups and took them to the west. This left many to question the kind of teaching that was taking place – Habakuk takes them abroad like tourists and then keeps the money for himself. Madis Habakuk had to seriously prove that this was not the case and that practical work is also learning”.

Regardless of the fact that Habakuk’s idea caused anxiety within education circles, it found fertile ground among its target group. Course sales were done individually and it soon became apparent that there were plenty of people interested in the yearlong course. Madis Habakuk has recalled that the first person who learned about the course was Jüri Mõis, a former co-worker at the Estonian Institute of Economic Managers. In 1988, Mõis was working as the Director of “Auto”, in the Transportation Department of the Estonian Consumer Cooperatives Republican Union. When the future member of Hansapank heard about the idea, he said that he couldn’t say anything today, but would have to talk to his director and would let them know what he thought of the matter tomorrow. The next day, Jüri Mõis said that the director would like to send two people to the course – himself and Tiit Pahapill.

A total of four people from the Estonian Consumer Cooperatives Republican Union attended the first EBS course. One of those, Toomas Abner – who was working at the time in a leading position at the Estonian Consumer Cooperatives Republican Union – heard about the new EBS course when he was taking part in a training session at the Institute of Economic Managers. Abner justifies his interest in participating quite simply: the meeting of supply and demand.

A yearlong course at EBS cost the same as a brand new LADA 2109.

Toomas Abner: “The end of the 1980s was a time where economists understood quite well that the economic model at the time would not be around much longer. In order to be able to start doing something in a new way, one required training. I had studied economics at Tartu State University, where we were taught the principles of a socialist economy. This won’t get you very far in a capitalist economy, since there was a complete lack of economic categories such as market, competition, entrepreneurship.

One-quarter of the curriculum had consisted of such “valued” topics as historical materialism, scientific communism, and the political economy of socialism. So when I heard about Habakuk’s new course, I felt that it met my needs. The tuition was a wildly exorbitant amount; however, I would like to say in praise of the Estonian Consumer Cooperatives Republican Union that a total of four people were sent to the course”.

Another man that Habakuk spoke to about the course was Ants Kapral, CEO of Marat. He also said that he would like to send some people to the course. When Habakuk said that the course was expensive, costing 33,800 roubles, then Kapral answered that even if it cost 300,000 roubles he would still send one man to the course.

The cost of the EBS course was indeed pricy: In Tallinn, the price for a brand new LADA 2109, was 34,000 roubles; a two year old car could be had for 22,000 roubles. A Grundig colour TV cost 8500 roubles at the electronics shop on Pika Street. This meant that Habakuk’s course was equivalent in cost to a brand new car or four imported colour TVs.

Speaking Marje Habakuk.

There were a fair number of interested parties, regardless of the rather steep price. Toomas Abner recalls that interviews were conducted among applicants at the Engineers’ house on Tõnismägi, to select participants for the course. A total of 29 men and women, who were no longer particularly young, but rather 30–40 year-olds with management experience, were selected for the course. They began their one-year study period in the group, which was called IB1 – International Business 1 – in January 1989.