Established 2006. Provides services in personnel recruitment for foreign companies operating in Moscow and other regions of the Russian Federation. Specialises in highly qualified experts and senior management. Offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and the city of Den Bosch (The Netherlands). Walter van Dijk is the company’s founder and managing partner.
That’s some city! That’s some range!
— I am from a small town near Rotterdam. In Holland, I worked for a company that recruited staff. One of our clients supplied the Russian market with agricultural machinery. He needed an official representative in Moscow. There were capable specialists around, but none of them wanted to go to Moscow. I mean, the Western conception of Moscow is all empty shop shelves, freezing temperatures, and gloomy people wrapped up in furs… Seeing that the hunt was dragging on, my boss asked me: “Do you not fancy working in Moscow for a spell?” I thought about it. Why not give it a go? But first I decided to travel to Moscow, have a look at the place, see what the company did there.
In 2002, flying into the capital of Russia, I gasped: “That’s some city! That’s some range!” The dynamism, the incredible pace of life was palpable. I sensed that working here would be one big adventure. So I signed a contract with Matrix Agritech.
— What were you selling?
— Tractors, combine harvesters. Our equipment was more expensive than that made here but it was cheaper to run. It hardly ever broke down.
— And who was buying it?
— Both agricultural holdings and small farms. Nobody complained about the high prices. They all understood that that’s what quality equipment costs. The only problem was getting hold of the money. And just then the government launched a scheme in support of agricultural producers, and started lending them large amounts of money.
— Tales of the Russian Customs Authorities are in the process of being chronicled. Do you have anything of your own to add?
— All of our equipment passed through customs. I remember a strange episode. Our loaders were being delivered part assembled. The wheels had been packed separately in boxes. There was an immediate problem at customs. The parts for the loaders weren’t listed in the documentation. When they took a look inside the boxes and saw cases in there, the customs officials suspected us of smuggling. They were undergoing a change of management at the time, and the customs officials examined the whole cargo pretty much with a fine toothcomb.
I have no faith in degree certificates
— Was it difficult putting a team together?
— It was. There was a woeful lack of people whom I could explain the gist of the work to in a few words and then: “we’re off”. It descended into farce. I once asked a recruitment agency to find us a qualified accountant. They sent me a woman who informed me: “I’m actually a secretary but I find it boring and would like to work as an accountant”. And then she was staggered when she didn’t get the job. We weren’t in a position to train anyone: we needed someone qualified who could just slot in, there and then.
— What kind of requirements did you specify?
I realised that I could do this better than the recruitment companies. And so, in 2006, some Dutch colleagues and I opened the offices of G-Nius in Moscow.
— The candidates were setting out their general education in great detail, their further education, and then listing those companies where they had managed to work for a while. But for me, that’s not the main thing. What is important is mentality. And that can only be gleaned from talking to them in person. It’s no secret that a lot of Russian companies are set up like in the army: at the top is the boss who tells you what to do and how to do it. Employee initiative is zero. Most people think like this: “Tell me what to do and I will do it”. They remind me of wind-up toys. They are wound up, they work, the winding mechanism runs out, they stop and wait… The westerner’s mentality is completely different. Our businesspeople reason like this: “I am taking you on as an expert; you know better than me what you need to do. I am the company founder, the boss. I will tell you about our global strategy but you will decide every day how to act. This is the plan: now it’s over to you”. That amount of freedom is fine but with it comes a great deal of responsibility. It all balances out.
Mikhail Sychev, Head of HR research at Fenix Consult Group:
— There is fierce competition for qualified personnel in the Russian HR market. This applies to all forms of activity, but particularly to the line personnel of distribution companies.
There are several reasons for the acute situation in the Russian HR market. Firstly, demographic. There is now a real “demographic hole” in the country. There simply aren’t enough people. Secondly, the labour potential has all been taken up. Moscow and St. Petersburg have the lowest unemployment levels, at 1.7% and 1.6% respectively, whereas unemployment for the country as a whole is 5.3%. The labour resources of the capital are virtually all employed. So employers are looking to the regions. But that’s no good either! The regions are developing ─ new production facilities are opening, the zone in which the capital’s companies work is expanding, and qualified job seekers can work closer to their homes.
Furthermore, the high competition for personnel is connected to the fact that the job seekers themselves are becoming more demanding. The Russian job-seeker is beginning to realise his importance in the eyes of the employer, and is becoming more exacting in choosing a company. In this situation, companies, including foreign ones, should pay more attention to their positive image in the Russian market.
— Why did you decide to start your own business?
— When I was putting my team together, I was dealing with several recruitment agencies, both international and local. I didn’t have much time, yet I was getting 25 CVs a day and holding interviews. In the end, I realised that I could do this better than the recruitment companies. And so, in 2006, some Dutch colleagues and I opened the offices of G-Nius in Moscow.
— Was it difficult getting the company registered?
— A lawyer dealt with that: part of their services included registering a business in all sorts of funds, opening a bank account, and so on.
— How many people work at your company?
— Ten in Moscow and three in St. Petersburg. I recruited the team personally. A degree means nothing to me: it’s only a piece of paper. And I can never be absolutely sure that it hasn’t been bought. Unfortunately, that is quite possible here. I don’t have any faith in the local “wallpaper” certificates.
I have X-Ray eyes. In a one-on-one conversation, I listen to my inner voice. I needed specialists who could see new possibilities, not just problems. Everybody I started off working with is still here. There is no staff turnover whatsoever.
— Was it difficult renting office premises?
— I started off working with just the one person: a recruiter. I found our workplace through someone I know. There were three companies in one room. I would say that renting premises of 200 square metres isn’t a problem in Moscow. The hardest thing of all is to rent just the one room or one workplace. It’s even more difficult for foreigners because the office rental market is not very clear-cut and not particularly accessible to newcomers.
Russians don’t know how to show themselves in the right light
— You are now based in an historical quarter: Kitay-Gorod. Is that of importance to your business?
— Our company’s aim is to find good candidates for vacancies. Client requests are many. Moscow is densely populated, there is little unemployment. The market is saturated. If it takes me an hour on the bus and another hour on the metro to get to my office, few people are likely to come and see me. But the city centre is convenient for everybody.
— Who are your clients?
— Exclusively foreign companies.
— How do you look for suitable candidates?
— Through popular websites such as Head Hunter.
— What commission do you take?
— 25–30% of the annual salary of each specialist we place. We spend an awful lot of time searching for candidates. To work for less commission would be impossible.
— Do you look for middle-ranking staff?
— Yes, you see, a lot of foreign companies start up from scratch.
— Do applicants have to know English?
— Our clients are foreigners: they can only speak to employees in English. It can be the case that a candidate is a great expert in their field but their English is very stilted. They learned it at some point but not well enough. It’s a shame but we sometimes have to turn away excellent programmers, engineers, technicians.
Here’s another thing. Russian experts often don’t know how to show themselves in the right light, to, as we put it, sell themselves. Our clients are used to seeing people in suits and ties, with wide smiles. That is someone selling their product. Theirs is a representative function. But Russian candidates can come to an interview dressed in a way we find strange. They can speak in monotones, avoiding eye contact: even though they know English and possess a huge amount of skills and knowledge.
Maria Koldysheva, managing partner of the employment agency “AVIS”:
— HR is one of our most profitable lines of business, if you look at it from the position of the ratio of capital investments to clear profit. However, the system of providing services in the selection of personnel is quite different in Russia from what it is in Western Europe or the USA.
It seems to me that it is now a risky undertaking to open an employment agency from scratch. The market is carved up between the big players, and small companies are not getting the high-profit projects capable of interesting the outside investor. There are two ways of playing it: either to open a Moscow branch of an existing Western agency in Moscow, or you have to “buy” a key person dealing with sales and business development from one of the leading companies, along with a client base and contacts.
If we are talking about the costs of such a project, everything is determined by strategy and aims. Publicity doesn’t come cheap, nor do the tools which immediately make an agency high-tech and up-to-date. But taking the main headings of expenses, they can be divided into three kinds: office expenditure (i.e. office rent, infrastructure etc.), the wages fund and advertising.
In theory, an employment agency should reach the stage of paying for itself in about a year or two. This requires capital of at least 7-8 million roubles (150-200,000 euros).
— How did you learn Russian yourself?
— The Russian language is not straightforward. It is nothing like Dutch. When I arrived in Moscow, I went to a teacher twice a week.
— Do you rent a flat?
— Not a flat but a townhouse in the suburbs, in the village of Nemchinovka. It’s a whole house, and cheaper than renting a three-roomed flat in the centre of Moscow. But it does mean being stuck in traffic jams every day.
— You have been in Moscow for 11 years now. Has the Russian mentality changed?
— Before, people came with the belief that everything at a western company was great. Over the years they have realised that they also have their own stumbling blocks. Russians travel a lot, have seen different countries and have become a lot more discerning. And they are all the more proud of their native land for it. The atmosphere is different. What was it like before? “Ooh, a foreign company: I’ll do whatever it takes to work there”. There is none of that now.
Status is very important
— What does a foreigner who wants, like you, to start a recruitment agency in Moscow need to know?
— You have to fathom the intricacies of the Russian soul. Let me give you an example. The owner of a foreign company says: “I want you to be the head of our Moscow office. But you will be the only employee there in Moscow”. Russians often think like so: “Oh, so now I am the boss”. The main thing for them becomes the office, nice furniture, a secretary, and they clean forget that they are supposed to be making sales. And when, six months later, the boss asks: “Where are your sales?”, the reply is: “You know, I have so many things to sort out, so many pieces of paper to sign, to stamp, that there is absolutely no time left for sales”. Status is very important to Russians. Often sales managers make business cards for themselves on which they describe themselves as commercial director.
In the western world, we level out distinctions in terms of position but here sometimes you have to elevate an employee’s status. When someone goes to a large holding company, they have to have a business card with an impressive title on it in order to sell the goods or services to the clients.
— What would be different if this same company was operating back home in Holland?
— I’d be bouncing off the walls over there! Put our office in Holland, and the work would be so much more boring, so much more run-of-the-mill. In Russia, no two days are the same.
I’d be bouncing off the walls over there!
— Do you have a favourite little spot in Moscow?
— Whenever guests come over, I take them to Sparrow Hills without fail.
— Is it worth it, foreigners starting their own business in Moscow?
— Of course it is! It is not the easiest of cities for foreigners. You are not going to be stuffing bags with money after a couple of months. Here you need to work solidly for years. To exert all of your powers. The results are worth it, though.