The Era of «Pull» has Passed!
– Luc, how did you end up in Russia?
– I studied Russian at the university. And I really wanted to see the country, which had the image of being a «large, cold and unfriendly place». I came on a tour to Russia in 1991. And I realized that I could earn money here. After that, I taught English and got involved in organizing exhibitions...
Luc JONES is one of those people who Russians call foreign experts or managers. He is a British citizen. He has worked almost non-stop in Russia for 15 years, nine of them as a partner in the Moscow office of Antal Russia recruitment company. He is an expert at finding top managers or CEOs for large foreign, Russian or international companies. He has a thorough knowledge of the Russian mentality, the local slang and idioms.Antal Russia is an international recruitment company. The company’s main field is finding middle and top managers in different industries. The company was founded in 1993 by Tony GOODWIN, who sold it in 2008 to an international group of companies called the FiveTen Group.
– And the recruitment business?
– I've been in that since 2002. I became a partner in the Moscow office of the recruitment agency Antal. And I straightaway came up against the Russian mentality. You know, the local staff that we hired had many illusions about this new kind of work. They thought that if they were choosing professionals for large foreign companies, doing business in Russia, then they should first of all find a good paying job for their niece or cousin. I had to explain: «We don't need somebody's relative – we need a highly-skilled professional.»In the Soviet Union there was no such thing as a recruitment agency. There was only the state system for allocation of personnel, as well as its shadowy part which Russians call «blat», meaning «pull» or «connections» (people say: he/she was accepted to work or study «by pull»). But now things are changing in Russia in this area too. Slowly, but surely.
We don't need somebody's relative – we need a highly-skilled professional.
– What other problems have you faced in finding experts for your clients?
– You know, Russians don't always know how to properly promote and sell themselves. We have a saying in England: «In life you don’t get what you deserve, you only get what you can haggle for yourself.»
Here's an example: a firm in the United States produces pumps for oil extraction and wants to sell them to Russian companies. They tell us: we need a salesman, an engineer, a technician. We start selecting experts who know English, responsible people, who want to work, to learn, to move forward. But at the interview we often get applicants who can only talk about their two higher educations. And they truly believe that since they have done such a lot of studying, they ought to get a higher salary. And I was waiting for them to talk about what they had already sold, who to, in what way, for how much, who they were competing with.
Of course, with Russians you see an absence of the entrepreneurial instinct, which has been drained out of people by the Soviet authorities for over 70 years in the name of communist ideology. When we are looking for a sales director, for example, and the clients come from abroad to meet our candidates, they tell us: «Hold on a minute, these people are not exactly sellers.» We explain that 25 years ago in Soviet Russia this was called speculation and you could get imprisoned for it.
– What level of salary is offered to your candidates?
– The average range is from 90,000 (3,000 USD) to 200,000 rubles (6,700 USD). But it can be higher. The average income of people who we arrange work for is 140,000 (4,700 USD) per month.
– And what kind of experts are in demand today?
– There is always a lack of good financiers, pharmacists, marketing experts and, of course, good sales managers.
– How much do you get paid for finding the right expert?
– The normal payment in such cases is 30% of their annual salary. A little more if it's in a remote region, like Novy Urengoy or Norilsk.
On Russian Conditions
– When you started to work in Russia, what surprised you the most?
– The fact that the Russians do not like to delegate authority to their subordinates. For example, the recruitment agency has a general manager with a staff of employees. But he wants to meet each client personally, to read every letter and résumé. He's sure that he does things better. And so he works 16 hours a day. All is well, but his business is not expanding! You have to trust your deputies and employees. Otherwise what are they there for?
Another very strange thing is that when you visit the authorities in Russia it's accepted practice to bring gifts.
Another very strange thing is that when you visit the authorities in Russia it's accepted practice to bring gifts. For example, if you are going to the tax office, it wouldn't be amiss to bring a box of chocolates.
I was so surprised the first time I saw people in the company raising money as a gift for someone's birthday or the funeral of a relative. This might be a good thing, but for a foreigner it's strange. In the UK we are like robots at work. Breaks in company offices are strictly regulated: two mini-breaks – at 11:15 and 15:45. I never cease to be amazed that in Russia it’s normal to be late for work, saying: «I overslept» or «I got stuck in traffic.» Then they spend another hour drinking coffee, chatting with colleagues, going on the website «Odnoklassniki» (Odnoklassniki.ru – a Russian equivalent of the social networking site Classmates.com, used to search for former classmates and communicate with them) and only then might they get down to some work...
– What does a foreigner who is thinking about doing business in Russia need to know?
– First, that getting a visa is very complicated. And that there is always a line at the Russian Embassy. You don’t like pushing your way through a line? There are various agencies you can pay to do the paperwork!But to go to Chukotka, for example, I had to get a separate visa (!), which took 45 days…
According to Russian law, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug is one of the territories where visits by foreign nationals are strictly controlled. Much of the region, except for western Chukotka, is a border area, where you are required to obtain the relevant permit in addition to a normal entry and residence visa. Since 2009, the time needed to issue permits has been reduced from 45 days to 30, and for certain categories of foreigners down to 10 days. The time needed for approval of entry into Chukotka may be reduced to 10 days for foreign tourists too.
When I was first working in Russia, back in the 1990s, I was amazed when I came to a hotel only to be told: 'No vacancies', even though the hotel was completely empty. At the station ticket office you would hear: «There aren't any tickets!» When in fact there were a lot of them. It was just because in the first instance the hotel staff was doing a crossword puzzle in the office, and in the second – the cashier wanted to go for some tea. They had a fixed salary and I, the customer, was just a nuisance to them! Now, of course, everything is different. Now they are fighting for customers.
200 Years or 200 Days
– But what is still attracting well-off Europeans, Americans, Chinese and many others to Russia?
– Everyone is drawn by tremendous opportunities and prospects that there are in Russia. Even though working here - for a foreigner – can be a bit extreme. In the UK, for example, people are always polite. But in Russia I have come to the conclusion that treating strangers politely is not something you have to do. Someone might take it as a sign of weakness.
In Russia, there are low taxes and more opportunities. And also much less of serious competition.
But, on the other hand, try getting to know a girl on the street in London. No chance! She'll ignore you. Fruits of feminism, sadly. But here you can talk to a girl at a bus-stop or in a shop and there’s a chance that she won't tell you to go to hell.
– You've been working in Russia for 15 years. Do you think that the Russian mentality is changing?
– It is changing, but slowly. Back in 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev said about the reforms: «You took 200 years to reach today's level of development. Why do you think that we can make these changes in just 200 days?» It was a very good answer, the correct answer. Things take time.
There are More Opportunities Here
– Let’s sum up. Why do foreign experts come to work in Russia?
– To do business, to make money. And for self-fulfillment, to satisfy their creative ambitions. In Russia, there are low taxes and more opportunities. And also much less of serious competition. It sounds harsh, but Russians don't know how to sell. Or they don't want to. Or both. I grew up in a country where everyone around is trying to sell you something. But there’s none of that in Russia. And if you have learned this in Europe or America, then no one in Russia can compete with you.
Antal Russia interviewed more than 200 Russian middle and top managers. What, in their opinion, distinguishes foreign managers from local professionals?
Pros of foreign managers:
• connections with the business community in Europe and America, western education, western style of management;
• less susceptible to bribery, they play by understandable rules;
• high level of loyalty to their employer;
• systematic thinking;
• focus on cooperation;
• ability to broadcast global goals, strategy, vision, culture and internal politics in a clear and understandable way;
• responsibility, hard work, detailed technical knowledge, commitment, ability to present.
Cons of foreign managers:
• lack of connections to the local business community, ignorance and rejection of local culture, poor Russian;
• lack of understanding of the market, its needs, how to interact with partners (the personal approach);
• less focus on result and initiative;
• they often think in stereotypes;
• they have no responsibility for the results of their work, they act like consultants;
• a narrower understanding of their job description;
• they do not comprehend the size of Russia, and often make sweeping generalizations.