“Christofer, how did you end up in Moscow?”
“I chose Russia in general, but Moscow, and the job I’m doing here now, happened more by chance. I found myself in Russia in April of 2007, in St. Petersburg at first. I was invited to work for TELE2, a mobile communications operator which was opening up the Russian market at the time. I did some training, part of which involved training management staff. When I had been working there for six months I was given the choice of Russia or Switzerland for my career advancement. I chose Russia as, for me, that country represented better prospects for realising my potential. After all, in spending a long time training management staff, I had acquired leadership skills myself. I wanted to put them into practice. Once I had been offered a new place of work, I didn’t have much time to prepare, so I loaded my bike onto a truck and moved from Petersburg to Moscow. Also, the Petersburg autumn was setting in, and I fancied a change of scene.”
Terrakultur was founded in 1967 in Sweden. In 2004, its Terrakultur Russia branch opened in Moscow. Today, Terrakultur is the largest of all phytodesign companies, and has carried out numerous projects. It is currently working with over 250 customers.
Terrakultur Russia’s CEO Christofer SALSING was born in Sweden, worked in Europe and Asia, and has worked in Russia since 2007. Until his arrival at Terrakultur Russia, he worked for TELE2 where he underwent a programme to learn how to train managers.
“When was it suggested you head Terrakultur Russia?”
“In the same year, 2007. I knew the former head of Terrakultur Russia: he was my boss at TELE2. I wanted to carry on working with him at Terrakultur Russia but he had another proposal: for me to head the company myself. I didn’t turn it down, about which I have no regrets whatsoever.”
“Until then you had worked both in Europe and Asia. Out of what you have managed to achieve, what are you most proud of?”
“I think I’d like to mention my work at the University of Taiwan where I supervised students working on their theses. We managed to establish, for all intents and purposes, a branch of Stockholm University, fitting out its office in this South East Asian country, and creating a Swedish ambience. We set up a student exchange programme, too.”
Professionals in the Russian capital are highly sought-after, and there is less choice on the employment market for employers.
“However, what I am most proud of is none other than my work at Terrakultur Russia. I feel that I managed to consolidate the team by moving the previous management system of rigidly structured “verticals” over to one of “horizontals”. The kommandny management style became another kind of kommandny style: linked not to command but to komanda [Russian for team], to collective. The work at Terrakultur Russia now is structured on the basis of equal opportunities, on a single platform. I succeeded in putting this principle into practice. A result of the team’s smooth running is that the company now not only operates in a stable fashion, but that it is bringing in tangible profit. Besides which, we have completely recouped all initial investment made in starting up the project.”
“How does your company recruit staff? Whose skills fall within this area?”
“It goes without saying that I, like any competent manager, play a part in HR, I take responsibility for staff recruitment, I follow how an employee’s potential unfolds with a view to their advancement in the most suitable direction. True, I am less responsible for the administrative side of the HR process than for the overall mechanics of it. Like, for example, the development and practical implementation of incentives schemes. For the initial short-listing of candidates at our company, it goes without saying that they have to fit the appropriate profile. But, the final say in deciding whether this specialist or that specialist is invited to work rests with me.”
“Is it a problem, generally, finding high-quality workers who fit the company profile?”
“The problem with that is on-going, the reason being that the level of unemployment for qualified specialists in Moscow is zero. Professionals in the Russian capital are highly sought-after, and there is less choice on the employment market for employers. For example, it is now extremely difficult to find a suitable candidate as Sales Manager despite the fact that with our company they can earn up to 200,000 rubles (around $6,500). And it’s not that there aren’t such specialists on the market. It’s that there are few who know how to work on their own initiative. At our company we don’t set specific tasks. We give out an area of responsibility, as it is called, and it is up to the employees to make this or that decision themselves. For us, what is important is that the specialist knows how to work as part of a team, that he has skills in interchangeability and mutual assistance. We need team-players. It is a shame that training based on the PBL (Problem Best Learning) system is not developed in Russia: training based on solving concrete problems. It is a very effective method of training specialists, and it ought to be adopted as soon as possible.”
It is a shame that training based on the PBL (Problem Best Learning) system is not developed in Russia: training based on solving concrete problems.
“No doubt you have already reached some conclusions as to those qualities characteristic of Russians. Which of these qualities have you been struck by, and which, by contrast, do you find impossible to come to terms with?”
“I don’t like the fact that Russians always look towards leadership and don’t strive to be led by team spirit. They are simply not accustomed to it, whereas in the west, even education is based on the collective, on a team mentality. In Russian schools and colleges there aren’t any group exercises, everything is based on the individual approach. And even in manufacturing, in businesses, Russians see any kind of success as being down to the presence of a strong leader.”
“To the negative characteristics I would also add the fact that people in Russia have become used to living for the day without considering the future. Maybe this has been brought about by a general historical experience where things in the country can change very quickly: whereby it can be difficult to make any plans for the future. In our company, we apply a system of intermediate stages, intermediate objectives. Once they have been achieved, we move onto the next ones.”
I chose Russia as, for me, that country represented better prospects for realising my potential.
“I consider the most important quality in our employees to be the ability and willingness to work on an idea together: an idea which should come about precisely as a result of collective thinking. With us, responsibility isn’t passed upstairs: the departments operate autonomously, taking their share of the responsibility. The kind of qualities we expect from people are being able to work as part of a team, an analytical and self-critical approach to oneself and one’s work, the desire to change something, to make it more effective. We always say: in order to be effective in the market, you have to be effective internally. You have to constantly improve the quality of your work, to move forward, to plan things properly, and to carry out those plans to the highest standards. It is important to be aware that the future depends on what you have planned and implemented.”
“As for those qualities which I like in Russians, first of all, it is their emotionalism. It is as if Russians feed off each others’ emotions. It is not like that in Sweden: there, people are more withdrawn, they kind of set their feelings aside. Also, a great deal in Russia is built on trust. If somebody trusts you, then they will accept any of your ideas, any of your projects. This is precisely why, for our company, relationships based on trust are a way of forming effective communications. We try to create such an environment where we can discuss many things openly with our customers.”
“Terrakultur Russia’s success speaks for itself. But, generally speaking, in your opinion, is it profitable for the foreign businessman to do business in Russia these days?”
“I won’t assess the whole market but will use our company as an example. The market in our sector is, as regards Russia, in its infancy. It is in full bloom and so presents great opportunities. Do you know the joke about the travelling salesman who took it into his head to sell shoes in Africa? They tried to talk him out of it: it’s hot here, everybody is used to walking around barefoot. To which he replied: which is why there are such opportunities - it is shoes which no-one has got! It is only from one perspective that greenery design doesn’t appear to be the most highly sought-after area of services. But if you look at it from the point of view of the system of outsourcing which is now developing in Russia, where services are handed over to outside organisations, then the prospects turn out to be wide-ranging. Modern new sites are cropping up: shopping and business centres which need greenery and proper phytodesign. And by no means is everybody able to offer a high-quality product. Our competition is minimal. As a result of this, our orders are growing. We are in-demand on the market.”
“In that case, Christofer, offer some advice to the foreigner wanting to start their business in Russia or to come here to work in the capacity of an expert.”
“Learn Russian! It’s an absolute necessity. I, unfortunately, am still not all the way there yet, although I can understand at least 70% of what people are saying. The point is that it is fairly difficult to convey in English the nuances of conversations with Russian people, nuances which also help to create that environment of trust. There aren’t the nuances: basic English doesn’t convey them.”
The market in our sector is, as regards Russia, in its infancy. It is in full bloom and so presents great opportunities.
“And, naturally, to make it in Russia, the foreign entrepreneur needs to know the country’s particular characteristics, to be familiar with the laws of the land.”
“Do you not regret, all the same, that you didn’t choose Switzerland?”
“Not in the least! My Russian experience is fantastic. Yes, it is a huge test but with it comes a huge array of impressions. I have picked up an extraordinary amount of professional experience. And, although they do say that it doesn’t depend on which country you are in, and that you open up possibilities for yourself, personally, for me five years in Russia is the equivalent of 15 years spent somewhere in Europe.”