I need large-scale tasks
— I was born in East Germany in 1961, the year Gagarin flew into space. All the rest of my life has been connected with the famous space pioneer. I studied in a school named after Yuri Gagarin. We actively corresponded with pioneers in the children’s branch of the Young Communists’ League in Leningrad. I remember sending a blue pioneer scarf, as worn in the GDR, to my girlfriend in the city on the Neva. In return, I received a red scarf of the Soviet pioneers. I had a whole collection of postcards and badges from the USSR. I was immersed in Russian as well as German culture from childhood.
About Jens Dallendörfer
He graduated from the applied science university in Hemersdorf (Germany) in the speciality of “Engineering, Ceramics and Mineralogy”. He studied management at the University of St. Gallen and the International Institute of Management Development in Lausanne (Switzerland). From 2005 to 2008, he held the post of administrative director of ZAO Holsim RUS (Holsim Group). He was responsible for the sale of cement on the territory of Russia, the CIS and the Caspian region. From 2009 to 2012 he was the commercial director of TOO Zhambyl Cement, Kazakhstan. His fields of responsibility were marketing, sales and logistics. In 2012 he became head of the Russian branch of the German firm WILO SE (a leading producer of pumps and pumping equipment) – OOO WILO RUS. He is fluent in English and Russian.
After university, I worked in the construction market, selling ceramic pipes and bricks. I also offered clients canal equipment: pumps, fittings, cranes and heating materials.
— Are you a pioneer by nature, like Yuri Gagarin?
— Yes. I needed new horizons, large-scale tasks. Therefore, when I was told by a representative of the Swiss cement firm Holcim “We need a managing director in Russia. Would you like to try it?” I agreed without a second thought. And I moved to Russia in 2005.
— What difficulties did you encounter?
— I had studied Russian at school, but without paying particular attention to it. I much regretted this when I found myself in Russia. There was a language barrier. I could read Russian but not speak it. But all the difficulties were ironed out in personal contacts. I am an open sort of person, as Russians are, and it was easy for us to find a common language.
— Were you working in Moscow?
— Yes, the head office was in Moscow, but we operated throughout Russia. In 2009, Holcim combined with the company Alpha Cement. A decision was taken to build a new factory in Kazakhstan. So I set off for Kazakhstan, from which Yuri Gagarin took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome built in the Kazakh steppe. And now, in the same steppe, we were building a factory from nothing.
About WILO RUS
The company OOO WILO RUS is a subsidiary of the German firm WILO SE. It has 29 branches in Russia, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. Its head office is in Moscow. The company produces and delivers modern pumping equipment for various systems: water supply, water disposal, ventilation, air conditioning, fire extinguishing; and also equipment for swimming pools and aquaparks. The company’s equipment is used in the construction of buildings and structures, at industrial enterprises and in the communal economy.
— What post did you hold there? What was your area of responsibility?
— I was appointed commercial director. I organised logistics, concluded contracts and worked with clients. In the middle of the bare steppe! Our factory now stands near Lake Baikal, on the road to Astana. We built a railway branch line, and bought two locomotives and 300 wagons. I had to decide on a wide variety of questions, even what sacks to pack the cement in. It was very interesting. After all, it is interesting not simply to import a high-quality product, but to produce it yourself, creating jobs for the local population. Hardly anyone speaks English in Kazakhstan, so that was where I had to get serious about learning Russian. I studied with a teacher, but I was often away on business trips. I travelled all over the steppe region. I learned Russian on the road communicating with my fellow travellers. Great practice!
I became so Russian that when I went on leave to Germany, I was often asked for my passport by officials who were very surprised to learn that I was German.
There are first-class engineers in Russia
— How did fate happen to return you from Kazakhstan to Moscow?
— WIKO SE was looking for a managing director for WILO RUS, a German specialist who knew the local mentality. The previous director was a Russian, who had done excellent work in the job for 15 years, and had retired on pension. Restructuring was taking place in WILO RUS. They introduced new international rules and financial documents, and changed the industrial management. The company wanted to build factories and build up a different logistics system.
— And this coincided with the appointment of the new managing director?
— Just so. My initial task was to form a team, so that our co-workers would understand our new strategy. At that time, I often heard: “Why do you have to produce the goods in Russia? We need German quality, we should continue to import.” This is the wrong strategy. I am convinced that “the foundation must be built in Russia, so that we have our own production facilities here.” After all, there are first-class engineers in Russia. These engineers created spacecraft, Tupolev and Ilyushin aircraft and much, much else.
The foundation must be built in Russia, so that we have our own production facilities here.
— How many people work in the company?
— When I arrived in WILO RUS, there were 170. Nepotism and jobs for the boys were rife. Take on an employee and he would bring in after him his brother, his sister, his marriage broker, and so on. The personnel had to be reviewed. But not everywhere. The financial department did not lose anybody, and the post of financial director was added. In the sales department, new segments were created, for which new people were brought in. And the marketing department is 100% new. The logistics and procurement departments have also been renewed. We now have 190 employees. They form a well-knit team of professionals.
— You are building a factory near Moscow. Don’t the officials bother you with their bureaucracy?
— We have plenty of bureaucracy in Germany too. We bought five and a half hectares of land in Noginsk. In the autumn of 2013, we held the triumphal ceremony of laying the first stone of the factory in which we plan to house production facilities for pumps with industrial applications. We paid the necessary dues, and the documents are now being registered in Noginsk. This took a year. I think agreement has been reached quite quickly. We are already laying the road.
— What is your main role in these processes?
— I generate ideas, and my experienced assistants bring them to life and draw up all the necessary papers. I have good people to rely on. We are open, we have no secrets, we punctiliously pay all our taxes to the oblast budget.
I generate ideas, and my experienced assistants bring them to life and draw up all the necessary papers.
— When do you plan to start production?
— In 2016. That will provide about 400 new jobs. Incidentally, it is not in the least bit cheaper to produce in Russia than in Germany. But at this stage it is more important to us that we should be close to the sales market, to the customers.
— Is it hard to find clients in Russia?
— In Germany you can meet seven to ten clients a day and spend ten minutes talking with each of them. It doesn’t work like that in Russia. Three clients at most, and the conversations are much longer. But we know each other well. I must admit that for me, working with clients is the most pleasant part of the job.
— How do Russian clients differ from Western ones?
— They are more capricious and demanding.
— Do you face strong competition?
— We ourselves do not. There are other producers who also make quite good equipment. There are Russian pumps, Danish ones, German ones… I don’t like to talk about price. It’s the whole package that’s important, including the logistics. It’s like buying a suit in a shop or having one individually tailored. If I say that our pumps are better than those of our competitors, who will believe me? But our pumps are installed in the Kremlin, the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and in the Hermitage.
I have a dream – to build another factory
— Where do you live in Moscow? In a city apartment or out of town? Have you bought a property in Moscow?
— I have an apartment in Zürich in Switzerland. In Moscow I rent an apartment.
— Is that more expensive than in Germany?
— When a landlord sees a foreigner, he almost doubles the price. If I take an apartment in Dortmund, where we have a factory, it only costs a third as much.
— In which region of Moscow are you renting an apartment?
— I used to live in the very centre, on the Arbat, where the heroes of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita” lived. I took an apartment there because I don’t like getting stuck in traffic jams. But now I have moved to Strogino. You don’t feel as if you are living in Moscow here. It’s a very clean, green district. In the evening, I have walked in the forest for three and a half hours. You can sit by the river and see the “Moscow City” international business centre on the other bank. It only takes 40 minutes to reach Revolution Square in the centre.
— What do you think of Moscow restaurants?
— In 2005, prices in restaurants were very high, and the quality was simply awful. Today the prices and quality are comparable. Expensive, but excellent quality. They serve fresh oysters, for example!
— What would be different about your activities if you were working for a similar company in Germany?
— In Germany, sales would be double what they are here. But I couldn’t work in Germany nowadays. We are also building a new factory in Germany now, but I wouldn’t decide anything there, the decisions are taken by a couple of dozen people.
We are also building a new factory in Germany now, but I wouldn’t decide anything there, the decisions are taken by a couple of dozen people.
— What are your plans for the future?
— Russia is a very big country. I have a dream – to build another factory somewhere in Ekaterinburg or Novosibirsk.
— Would you advise your fellow-countrymen and other foreigners to come and work in Moscow?
— When I was getting ready to go to Russia, my friends said “Jens, what’s the matter with you? You have the whole world open to you, but you’ve decided to go to Russia.” People are afraid of going to Russia. Many aren’t willing to leave home at all, to move away from what they are used to. In the West, they often think this way: “I’ll go, work there for three years and come back.” But you don’t get the feeling of the country in so short a time. In the first year, you don’t understand anything at all. In the second year, you’re just beginning to, just a bit; and in the third year, just when you’re beginning to understand something, it’s time to go.
The Russians say “Moscow doesn’t believe in tears.” They are ready to work hard, to learn from their mistakes, and not to despair. So welcome to Russia!