Innus Receives Latvia's Highest State Award

Honored as moving force behind creation of Riga Business School

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: December 9, 2005 This content is archived.


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Voldemar Innus poses with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, center, and his wife, Rudite Innus, after receiving the Order of Three Stars.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It's not an easy task, building a business school from the ground up.

But only 15 years after Voldemar A. Innus, vice president and chief information officer at the University at Buffalo, first proposed the idea of creating a Western-style business school in Latvia, the Riga Business School at Riga Technical University is one of the most respected business schools in Europe.

In recognition of his efforts during the past 15 years, Innus last month was awarded the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia's highest state award, for distinguished and longstanding service to the country.

Innus, of Williamsville, received the award from Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga during a state ceremony Nov. 11 in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

Innus was in good company: Others from the United States receiving the award were Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus.

During a recent conversation with the Reporter in his Capen Hall office, Innus, who was born in Latvia and whose family immigrated to Canada when he was a child, called his work with the Riga Business School (RBS) "one of the most satisfying things I've ever been involved in."

Innus said he got the idea for starting a business school in Latvia when the Soviet Union broke up in 1989. "When I looked around, there were not a lot of Latvians with backgrounds in business," he said. Since he had a degree from the UB School of Management, "I had an idea back then of getting a project going that would help develop a Western-style business school in Riga."

Innus said he received a lot of support from Stephen C. Dunnett, vice provost for international education. After a number of trips to Riga and discussions with the rectors of the University of Latvia and Riga Technical University, it was decided to develop the school at RTU.

Innus worked to promote and sustain a close working relationship among the institutional partners in the project -- UB, RTU and the University of Ottawa.

He also played a key role in securing seed funding for RBS from Latvian expatriate organizations in North America and, later, major implementation grants awarded to the UB School of Management from U.S. federal agencies, including the U.S. Information Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The project received a total of $3 million in grants from the U.S. government in the early 1990s, and another $1 million from the Canadian government, he said.

Step by step, the Riga Business School took shape.

The first course, "Introduction to Economics," was taught in Fall 1991 to 12 students by a Niagara University faculty member of Latvian descent who was on sabbatical at the time, Innus recalled.

"We had no faculty, we had no building, we had no students," he remembered. "All of it started from ground zero."

Over the years, Innus said, officials put together a plan for faculty development, faculty training, the school's administrative structure and an English language center. All instructional materials are in English, Innus noted.

The school at first almost exclusively used faculty from the U.S. and Canada, with most coming from the UB School of Management. Faculty trained by RBS slowly were blended with the visiting faculty, and now 90 percent of the school's faculty is hired by RBS. And many of those, Innus said, have Western-based training and hold either an M.B.A. or a Ph.D. degree -- many from UB. In fact, the current rector of RBS, Janis Grevins, earned his M.B.A. and Ph.D. from the UB School of Management, he added.

RBS, which now has an enrollment of about 500, offers a full-time day MBA program, as well as professional and executive MBA programs. The school last year held its 10th commencement ceremony, which was attended by Latvian President Vike-Freiberga. Of the 500 graduates of the school, Innus estimates that 70 percent hold leadership positions in government and local and international enterprises.

Innus remains closely involved in RBS, making frequent trips to Latvia to assist in the school's management and strategic planning. He continues to serve as chair of the RBS advisory board, and says he'll stay involved "as long as they want me to."

As for the future, Innus says the goal is to introduce an undergraduate business program, and eventually develop a doctoral program.

The trip to Riga to receive the award last month was "very unique for me," Innus said. During the 15 years he's been involved in RBS, he's made 40 or so trips to Riga, and while there, spent all his time at RBS.

"This time was nice -- I was able to enjoy the city and the event itself. That was really different," he said.