In Russia it is important to feel certain things

  

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.

  

1. Natalia, please tell us a few words about your work.

Just now I am working as an internal auditor in an international trading industrial company. Mainly my job is to 'reconcile' the vision of the western managers with the reality of the Russian practice and the conditions of the regulatory environment, and to provide viability of the key business processes on a daily basis. A kind of a lifeboat service and a strategic consultant all at once. All my previous experience was also international but very much connected to the Russian practice.

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

I interact with foreigners every day. I had a wonderful working experience with Brits in the British Council (where I was a manager of projects for business) when it was managed by Michael Bird. My then formed impression of the Britons as people to the utmost civil, respecting the game rules, able to systematically move towards the set goal and in possession of a terrific sense of humour has only hardened with time.

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?

Yes, by all means there are. However I think one should not consider them outwith other intercultural differences say between the Brits and Spaniards or Germans. In each culture there are certain peculiarities which form the customs of trade. There is no need to be afraid of them but definitely take into account.

Sadly nowadays the Russian business is oriented at achieving the short term results - sell more here and now, not bothering oneself with the formation of the strategic relations, long term cooperation with partners or customers. Yet while the political stability is firming the people change. I suppose, the Russians have kept the genetic memory of the need to conduct business fundamentally, to build traditions, to put your soul into what you are doing and to value your name. Now after the 70 years we are remembering it.

An important aspect is the difference between the 'vision' and 'strategy'. Foreigners who come to work to Russia aim to clearly plan their activities for 2-3 years to come, develop a strategy and an action plan, in short, as it has to be according to the theory of management. However in Russia it is important to be able to feel certain things, to understand on the level of your intuition, to be able to change your tactics in process. If a manager or a businessman has no intuition or understanding of people and he tries to mechanically apply the MBA apparatus to the real life, tries to force his surrounding environment into the learnt cliches, it is going to be tough for him in Russia.

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?

Suppose depends on the person. There are foreign businessmen who on their arrival in Russia, not out of sheer politeness but genuinely are interested in the processes surrounding them and in people and try to view the world not just from their own narrow view point. Such people as a rule perceive the surrounding them reality adequately and receive not a bad result in their business.

However it happens that the foreigners come to 'serve time', receive their 'Northern allowance' and a line in their resume about the extreme experience in a barbaric country without even trying to really understand the essence of what is happening. Of course, the corruption and uncertainties in the legislation do annoy. On the other hand, in Russia virtually any problem can be solved. Many foreigners have already managed to appreciate it.

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?

Maybe the amount of prejudice is more in foreigners. The image that was formed by the 'new Russians' who had the means to travel all around the world immediately after the perestroika is still very strong. Failing to behave properly in front of other people, lack of education or knowledge of languages, disrespect for themselves and for others - all this is still here and remains typical of the 'successful Russian businesspeople'.

This, however, is far from being about the whole country! When 10 years ago I was studying in Holland and thought that it was a complement to be told "you don't at all look like Russian". Now I take such 'complements' very critically since I understand that it is not true: there are quite a few Russian people around me who know how to work professionally, speak excellent English and other languages and can deal with any situation with dignity.

As for the Russians, the main prejudice against the foreigners is 'they do not understand us'. Although the Russians are very tolerant, in order to establish a proper working and friendly contact a lot of time might quite often be needed.

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

1) Most important: find reliable, competent and experienced managers or partners. The success of the business will be determined by the people you will interact with.

2) Do not lose control over your business including the operational activities. You need always be au fait, feel the pulse no matter how laborious it can be.

3) Have a competent lawyer and an accountant. Follow the demands of the law to the maximum, draw in all the contracts accurately.

4) Watch the fulfilment of contract obligations: failing the deadlines is unfortunately typical. Execution of other obligations should also not be neglected.

5) Switch on your intuition no less often than the wits.

6) Try to learn Russian, may be not to perfection - it will really be handy in business and in every day life.

7) Do not lose your sense of humour in any situation.

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

I think that in Russia whole generations have lived in parallel worlds: the authorities and oligarchs have their own life, their own world which has little in common with the lives of other people.

8. Finally please continue the associative array for the following words: a) a British businessman; b) a Russian businessman

British businessman: correctness, following game rules, sternness and a sense of humour.

Russian businessman: relies on his luck, spontaneous, not really law-obedient, but curious.