The Founder

The establishment of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga was to a large extent one man’s vision – Staffan Burenstam Linder (1930-2000). In the early 1990s when the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) regained independence after close to 50 years of Soviet rule Staffan Burenstam Linder, former Swedish Member of Parliament and Minister of Trade, served as President of the Stockholm School of Economics. He pushed the idea that a school of economics should be established, serving the Baltic countries and giving intensive training to a new generation of Baltic managers with English as the language of instruction. The Swedish Government supported the idea and so did the Latvian authorities. An intergovernmental agreement was signed in 1993 between the Stockholm School of Economics, acting on behalf of the Swedish Government and the Latvian Ministry of Education. Later that same year, the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga was incorporated with the Stockholm School of Economics holding 51 per cent of the shares and the Latvian Government through the Ministry of Education holding 49 per cent of the shares (the ownership structure is the same today).
In his address at SSE Riga’s 5th Anniversary in November 1999, Staffan Burenstam Linder recalls how it all started:


I first came to Riga in February 1992. Soviet soldiers were still around. I and my colleagues who accompanied me, among them Mr. Håkan Hederstierna, wanted to explore whether there was any interest in a joint venture between the Stockholm School of Economics, the President of which I was at that time, and the Ministry of Education to establish a School of Economics and Business on the university level in Riga. This School should serve Latvia and, hopefully, all the three Baltic republics. What we had to offer were the resources and reputation of the Stockholm School of Economics.


On the very first visit we met with Mr. Piebalgs, the Minister of Education, and we found a strong positive interest. I could go back to Stockholm to formulate more concrete plans and to begin what was not an easy task of persuading my Board at the SSE that we should open a school in Riga, of persuading my faculty that they should get engaged and committed to this task, and of persuading the Swedish Government that it and the Swedish Parliament should fund this new venture in the interest of peace and economic development in the Baltic region. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Carl Bildt, gave strong support to our efforts.


There was also the task of persuading the Latvian government that this school needed a prestigious building to provide good working conditions, to be able to attract continued interest from visiting faculty and to give the school a good standing for the future.


I still remember how very pleased I was when we first located the Strelnieku iela building. What is now a magnificent ‘art nouveau’ building was then in a terrible state. But as we can see, it held great promises. Securing resources for its renovation was a major challenge. In this context I wish to mention that the President of Skanska, the contractor, was very helpful in agreeing to a formula minimizing the risks for us in undertaking this complicated renovation of a terribly run-down building.


To be able to have an auditorium I wrote a letter to Mr. George Soros asking for a substantial donation. There was a quick reply, in principle positive, and after a number of twists and turns we could proceed to include what is now the Soros Auditorium in our construction project. I remember a final telephone conversation with Mr. Soros when, at a late stage of the game, his foundation had presented a number of conditions for the donation. I could not agree to these conditions and clearly said so. Mr. Soros then said: “Well, then I withdraw.” The conversation continued and again Mr. Soros said that he would withdraw. After some further arguments he said: “Well, I have already said that I withdraw my conditions.”


There was also all along the challenge to convince the Latvian Government and the Latvian authorities that we had no hidden agenda and were not just some kind of treasure hunters but had serious intentions to provide what was in essence a public service. This worked out as my good relations with Mr. Piebalgs – and I should also mention with Ms. Mara Katvare – had developed into mutual trust. Of great importance were also the reassurances which Mrs. Laila Freivalds could give. Before she again became Minister of Justice, she was closely collaborating with us in the preparation of this School. Her support was essential. I think Mr. Piebalgs stretched the legal situation when he concluded various contracts and agreements with us. Those were interesting days. And something important was achieved.


Renovation work could start late in 1993 – a year and a half after we had first visited Riga. The first class began work in the summer of 1994 and the building could be inaugurated in the autumn of 1994. …The Stockholm School of Economics in Riga was inaugurated by His Majesty the King of Sweden and the President of the Republic of Latvia, Mr. Guntis Ulmanis. On that occasion there was no cutting of ribbons. Instead a red-white ribbon and a blue-yellow ribbon were tied together. I hope that is the way it will continue.



The First Years

On July 11 1994, the first class of B.Sc. students was welcomed by the school’s first rector, Jan-Erik Vahlne. The renovation work on the school’s building on Strelnieku iela 4a was not completed so the first months were spent in the premises of the University of Latvia, Faculty of Geography. On November 8, 1994 the school’s building on Strelnieku iela was inaugurated in the presence of HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and HE President Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia.


The first class comprised 56 students, all of them from Latvia. The year after there were students from all three Baltic countries and the class size was expanded to 100, and a few years later to 115. The B.Sc. programme started as a 2 year programme with classes starting in early July and virtually without any breaks. In 1998 the B.Sc. programme was expanded into a three year programme that today is in line with the European Union’s Bologna higher education framework.



In parallel with the development of the B.Sc. programme, the school developed its Executive Education unit. Since the very beginning, the unit has served the educational of the Latvian and Swedish business communities as well as the Latvian Government in the fields of business, management and economics.


The early 2000s saw a number of important developments: The launch of the SSE Riga Executive MBA programme in 2003 which opened up the SSE Riga experience to a new group of students. The Baltic countries’ accession to the European Union that considerably increased the student exchange opportunities through the Erasmus programme. The increased research activities at the school and the establishment of the independent research centre BICEPS (Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies) with which the school cooperates closely both in terms of research and faculty appointments. The school’s research capacity was further strengthened in 2004 when TeliaSonera endowed the TeliaSonera Professorship in Entrepreneurship at SSE Riga. At the same time the TeliaSonera Institute at the Stockholm School of Economics with its focus on research in the fields of entrepreneurship and telecom was founded.


Although many things at SSE Riga have changed during the years, the school’s mission is the same as when the first B.Sc. students entered through the doors in the summer of 1994 – to provide a state-of-the-art education that contributes to the economic and social develop of the region, in particular Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Today this is done through two degree programmes – the B.Sc. programme and the SSE Riga Executive MBA programme – as well as through a number of various executive education activities.



SSE Riga foundation

On September 10 of 2010, the final transfer of equity shares concluded the process of changing the ownership of SSE Riga, and in future the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga will be owned by a foundation established by the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), the University of Latvia (LU) and the SSE Riga Alumni Association. Transfer of ownership was already foreseen in 1993 when the School was established.


Two of the three founders – SSE and LU – are leading academic institutions in their respective countries; the third founder is the SSE Riga Alumni Association, which represents all SSE Riga alumni in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

The operations of SSE Riga will be governed by the Articles of Association of the new foundation, which have been agreed upon by all the founders and pave the way to manage the School. One of the most important tasks of the new foundation will be to raise funds for the School in future.

The main sources of funding for SSE Riga will be income from tuition for the bachelor’s and master’s programmes and income from further education for executives. The Latvian State has contributed LVL 501,947 towards the development of SSE Riga for the next two years. The future development of the School will also have the financial support of the Swedish banks which actively operate in the Baltic countries, i.e. Nordea, SEB and Swedbank, as well as the Johan Björkman Foundation. Continued assistance will be provided by the long-standing supporters: TeliaSonera, the Anne-Marie/Gustaf Anders Foundation, etc. Whereas the Swedish government will support the School by providing academic scholarships that will be available to students from all countries not represented in the European Union and Eastern European countries.