Better a good specialist with poor English than the other way around


These interviews are about 'human factor' in Russian business: those little somethings outside the scope of law which can dramatically change the way business is done in or with Russia. We ask the same questions, and watch how the answers differ.


1. Margarita, please tell us a few words about your practice.

I combine two types of activities: I am a creative editor of a magazine on advertising and marketing ‘Advertising Ideas’, it is a leading Russian periodical, we are a part of the jury of the European advertising competition ‘Epica Awards’; and I also manage brand consulting company ‘Paprika’. The work in the magazine allows me to get to know interesting cases and to stay in the mainstream of trends and changes.

2. Do you often have to deal with foreigners in the course of your work?

To begin with my first boss was English, Mark King, an Oxford alumnus. He taught me a lot. We met in 1993 when I graduated and began to work as a copywriter in the Russian branch of Saatchi & Saatchi. And to this day I work with foreigners a lot: I interview them for the magazine, work in the jury for advertising competitions, have consultations and lead their projects. For example we have now fully developed the brand BAD based on seal fat for a Norwegian company Fortuna Oils AS – the concept, name, packaging and advertising. Very soon the new product will appear in Russian pharmacies.

3. Are there differences in the manner of conducting business between the Russian and foreign entrepreneurs (managers)? In particular, on the levels of business-customer, shareholders -management and partner - partner relations?

The business people from other countries are more responsible and precise on any level. The Russians are more emotional and less well organised. That is the reason underlying the main Russian problem – bad management. And it is present on any level of interaction.

4. How adequately do the foreigners working in Russia perceive the Russian reality surrounding them? Do they see Russia as it is? What do they perceive differently?

The foreigners behave quite appropriately in Russia. But nevertheless they do get shocked by the bureaucracy and the need to give bribes and not always obvious price determination. They often consider out of habit the Russian rules of business being the same as in Europe. It is hard for them to get used to a Russian businessman being able just to give everything up all over a sudden with the words: ‘I’ve changed my mind’ – and lose a considerable amount of money with it.

The Russians often expect an immediate profit. Has the shop not become super profitable in half a year? Close it down! Has the brand not become popular straight after the launch? Stop its production!

5. How adequately do the Russians perceive the foreigners? If you compared the scale of prejudice of the Russians for the foreigners and that of the foreigners for the Russians, who takes the lead? What are these prejudices?

I think the prejudices are about the same size. But many Russians for some reason think that the foreigners can pay more than they really can. The foreigners in return do not always understand how to pitch a brand or an advertisement. If the advertisement has been produced in the West then you would often need to make a separate version for Russia. A simple translation will not do the trick.

6. If you were asked for advice to an entrepreneur, intending to conduct business in Russia, what would you suggest?

- Get to know your Russian partner in advance and try to make friends with him. Some businessmen are delighted when their foreign partner can chip in a sturdy Russian expression.

- Get a competent Russian lawyer, a specialist in the sector. Trust him to liaise with the bureaucrats.

- Definitely do all the contracts and documents thoroughly.

- Discuss time and money clearly.

- Note that the initial price estimate and timing for building (production) and so on may double in the course of the work.

- A good manager is a rarity in Russia. You need to search for them and then nurture the relationship. Remember: better a good specialist with poor English than the other way around.

- Do not get surprised by anything.

7. Do you think that the Russian elites realise their responsibility for the future of their country?

Not really, I am afraid. Corruption and responsibility for one’s country do not go together.

8. Finally please your associations for the following words: a) a Western businessman; b) a Russian businessman.

A Western businessman: education, clear task definition, informality, humour (also grim), social skills and observation of conditions.

A Russian businessman: unreliable, dependant on personal relations, empiric, impulsive, penny wise but pound foolish.


The faces of Russian business: interview with Margarita Vasilieva.