One reason for taking my MBA in Singapore was that most of my fellow-students would be coming from India, China, and south-east Asia; I would be learning from them all kinds of invaluable cultural experiences and insights. That also happened in the classroom: as well as the normal MBA fodder taught in every business school everywhere, Nanyang Business School offered a course in Sun Zi’s Art of Strategy, taught brilliantly by Professor Wee Chow Hou, an authority on the application of Sun Zi’s insights to business strategy and management.
Sun Zi is, of course, well-known internationally, even if he’s perhaps not as widely read as he deserves. Still, as I tried to tell my business students at Swansea and elsewhere, Chinese companies are now active in all markets – and Chinese managers are guided by the principles laid out in The Art of Strategy, and in other classic Chinese texts. If you plan to be active in management in a market or sector where Chinese firms are also active, it can only benefit you to be aware of, and understand, their philosophy. More than likely, understanding these texts will also make you a better manager.
So when I came to Russia, it struck me that there must also be great Russian strategists, and texts on Russian strategic thinking. I’d never heard of any, though – part of the general ignorance about Russia which sadly exists throughout the West.
I asked around, and the name that kept coming up was Alexander Suvorov. You can read his entry on Wikipedia, but basically he was a general under Catherine the Great and the two subsequent Tsars – and he was a winner. He fought in over 60 battles, usually with a disadvantage in numbers, and never lost. He organised armies of serfs into proactive, disciplined forces in which even small units were capable of independent decision-making and action – which was completely unheard-of at the time, when European armies simply lined up in front of each other and fired away until one side or the other ran away!
Suvorov wrote a manual on his techniques, which he called The Science of Victory. There are very, very few translations of this in English, and such as exist are not easily available in the West – or, indeed, in Russia! However, not so long ago, a solitary book appeared in the Anglia Bookshop next to the Fontanka Canal, and I snapped it up. It was plainly meant to be, because they’ve never restocked it – it was just the one copy, full stop!
I’ve started reading it, and it’s really good material, anticipating much of what we teach in business schools today by a couple of centuries. To try to raise some awareness of this Russian genius, I’ll be intermittently posting chapter summaries, with a commentary on the lessons to be drawn by contemporary students of business and management theory.
The text I have is Alekxander Vasilyevich Suvorov: The Science of Victory, in the “Great Military Leaders” series from Eksmo Publishers, Moscow. It has a foreword by A. N. Lukirsky, and was translated by EGO Translating Company. Publication date 2013.
Lukirsky A. N. Suvorov and the Science of Victory
Dragomirov M. Introduction
Works, Letters and Documents
The Science of Victory
Letters and Documents
- Pugachev Revolt (1774)
- Taking Crimean Armenians to the Don (1778)
- Russo-Turkish War (1787 – 1792)
- Planning a new Turkish campaign (1793)
- Military and Hygeinic Measures
- Polish Revolt (1794)
- Italian Campaign (1799)
Aphorisms and Maxims
Suvorov’s Service Record Presented to St Petersburg Department for Minting of Medals in Commemmoration of the Taking of Izmail
Contemporaries about Suvorov
Image Credit: “Joseph Kreutzinger – Alexander Suvorov” by Joseph Kreutzinger – former image source ; actual image source This is an illustration from the book Russian portraits of the 18th and 19th centuries: Edition of Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich of Russia, printed in 1905-1909 as a catalogue of a 1905 exhibition. All images are in the Public Domain due to age.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.