After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Anthony Goodwin, owner of the recruitment company Antal, decided to extend actively eastwards. He opened his company’s first office in Eastern Europe in Bucharest (the capital of Romania). And then, in 1994, there followed the Moscow office, which began working in a very humble apartment containing a bunk bed, with documents about clients on the lower bed and documents about candidates for vacancies on the upper one.
“Antal Russia rapidly rose to a leading position in the field of selecting personnel at the middle and upper management levels in Russia and the other CIS countries”, says Michael Germershausen. “There are no precise statistics, but in 20 years, more than 10,000 people have found employment with the help of our company. And over the past 12 years, I myself have taken part in the job-finding process for not less than 400 managers.”
Mr. Goodwin’s business strategy proved very successful. And in 2008, he sold Antal’s Moscow office at a good profit. Several companies with a world reputation competed to acquire it. Today, Antal Russia is owned by the major investment foundation Bregal Capital, which has never once regretted its acquisition, though it cost several tens of millions of euros.
Helping people in Russia find suitable work, and companies to select good specialists, is a highly profitable business. Therefore, Antal has long since moved from its humble apartment to a respectable office in the centre of Moscow. And the number of the company’s staff has already risen beyond a hundred. They are spread out over two floors.
Why did this project prove successful?
Firstly, Antal Russia was one of the first international companies to come onto Russia’s personnel market.
Secondly, it hung on when the default hit Russia in 1998, and many of its competitors left. It was easier for the company to get through the next crisis in 2008. Furthermore, it opened offices in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. An Antal Russia office also appeared recently in Kazan (capital of the Republic of Tatarstan within the Russian Federation), and the company’s plans include opening in other Russian regions too.
Antal Russia cooperates with partners throughout the world. And Michael considers that its work in Moscow can be compared to that of the Beijing Antal office. They opened at practically the same time, they have about the same number of staff, and the scale of their work is comparable. In one year, the Moscow and Beijing offices find work for about 800 managers. Furthermore, the mindset of the Russian and Chinese job-seekers is somewhat similar, in Michael Germershausen’s opinion. But this differs considerably from that of Europeans, who are more cautious in selecting a new position.
The universal development of the internet has made recruitment fast and convenient. There are dozens of different ways of selecting candidates for vacant posts. Yet at one time, Antal Russia did it all exclusively by fax and phone: it received the candidate’s CV, sent it to the client, and conducted endless negotiations by telephone...
Not only the work style has changed for Antal Russia staff. The very psychology of doing business in Russia has changed. Michael remembers the story of one female candidate from abroad, for whom, at the beginning of the 2000s, he found a position as Director of Personnel in a large joint enterprise. Towards Christmas that year, the Russian director in the role of Grandfather Frost (the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus), brought a sack of presents into the office in the form of bonuses, and gave her the job of handing out the sealed envelopes. She found it shocking that it was all so far from transparent. And when all the envelopes had been distributed, $10,000 remained in the sack, and no-one knew who they were for! It was no less of a shock for her when one member of staff asked her to pay him his salary not officially, but “in an envelope”. It turned out that he did not want to pay alimony.
Today, most large companies in Russia work transparently, pay their taxes and do not go in for underhand schemes, in Michael Germershausen’s judgment. Envelopes are of course still used here and there, but more in small and medium businesses. Most of Antal Russia’s clients are solid international companies, which have come to Russia to work completely transparently. Contrary to the common opinion in the West, this process may have been slowed down, but it has not been stopped. Michael Germershausen is confident that the major world brands will never leave such an attractive market as Russia and the surrounding post-Soviet countries.
So when the latest crisis arrived, Antal Russia did not even have to reduce staff numbers, because there continued to be sufficient orders. Specialists in the widest variety of categories are required, from managing director to office manager. And almost 100% of them are Russians.
“You have a good choice here now”, says Michael. “According to our statistics, today almost one Russian in is in search of more prestigious and better paid work.”
Bur Herr Germershausen does not hide the fact that it was difficult for him at first. Masses of specialists had to be attracted from other countries, because of the deficit in certain professions. Therefore in the 1990s. a large number of foreigners were working in international companies, But then came the time of localization of personnel selection, when existing vacancies were filled mainly by Russians.
Michael thinks this is natural. The quality of specialist education in Russian colleges and universities improved. Those starting as managers learned on the job, gained experience, and are now capable of working no worse than their Western colleagues. A local manager is often more effective than an incomer. After all, he is better informed on many of the finer points.
Michael was born in Beeskow (Germany) in 1976. He graduated from the St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance in 1999. In 2000, he obtained a B.A. in business studies at the English Polytechnical University (Cambridge), and also a diploma in the specialty of economics and enterprise management from the Higher School of Economics (Berlin). His native language is German. He speaks fluent English and Russian and has a working knowledge of French.
Before taking up recruitment, he worked in the procurement sub-department of one of the big motor vehicle corporations. He joined Antal in 2003, where in only two years he went from personnel selection consultant to team leader. For six years, Michael successfully selected managers in various fields for Russian and foreign companies, and in 2009 became managing director of Antal Russia. Apart from this, he is chairman of the HR Committee of the Association of European Business (AEB) in Russia.
Due to the collapse in the rouble exchange rate, the turnovers of the majority of international companies represented in Russia fell in 2015. And few new jobs were created last year. All this led to a drain of Western managers with salaries in roubles from Russia: they were finding themselves 50% worse off than in their homelands.
Last year Antal Russia found employment for about 700 people, and there were not more than 10 foreigners among them. So the era of the expats (foreign employees) in Russia came to an end.
But Michael would like to believe that it has not gone for ever. It is worth noting that those foreign specialists who even last year, a crisis year, came to work in Russia continue to be liable to 13% income tax. In their homeland, Germany, according to Michael, they would be left with only a little over 50% of their salary, as against 87% in Russia.
And that is not the only attractive factor. The main thing is the huge window of opportunity which opens up in Russia, there is room to develop for everyone who wants to, even starting from scratch. Not for nothing do foreigners take such an active interest today in the theme of Russian import replacement, particularly in agriculture; Antal Russia’s portfolio of orders includes more and more specialists in this field. So the company does not intend to wind up its business in Russia. Antal Russia’s workforce even grew by 10% in 2015. The company hopes to enter the state sector too. For example, recruitment companies in Australia get more than half their turnover from finding efficient managers for state organizations, The selection of officials with the aid of recruitment companies is banned in Russia, but Michael thinks that sooner or later the situation will change. And the rouble will rise, following the growth of oil prices. Then the time of the expats will return.
Michael calls himself a “Russpat”.
Russpats, according to him, are foreigners who have put down roots in Russia. Who have married here and had children. And who, like many Muscovites, go away to a dacha on days off. Michael’s dacha is 50 kilometres from the city. He grows vegetables, fruit and berries there. And in winter he goes skiing. He opened this season on Elbruz, by the way. On Fridays, the managing director plays hockey with his colleagues on the Patriarch Lakes.
Michael thinks Moscow is quite an aggressive city. He would prefer to live here but work in quieter and more intellectual St. Petersburg, where he spent his student youth. But he knows it’s not going to happen. So he tries to find small comforts in the busy day and night life of the Russian capital. And he says that Moscow has been changing recently. For example, he goes by bicycle rather than by car to meet some clients. He says it is very convenient.