You’re an international investor and have worked a lot with different nationalities — with the Turks, the British, the Germans, the Brazilians, the Russians. How would you describe an average Russian in this regard? Talking about Russians in general would be rather difficult. But what about the average Russian entrepreneur or businessman? What’s your impression?
It's not as much about entrepreneurial qualities as it is about national peculiarities, a certain cultural code. They certainly affect all aspects, including entrepreneurial qualities. The Russian mentality, the way of thinking, life and behaviour have their advantages and disadvantages. It's hard to speak for everyone, it's all individual. But if we try to find a common denominator, I would say that Russian society as a whole has a very mobilisational consciousness. What does this mean?
I'll give you an example. Many years ago there was some banking crisis — in 2004 or so, I don't remember exactly. And we had just appointed a CEO... [Petr Schmida is on the board of directors at ABH Holdings S. A.]. He's Czech. A wonderful guy, very intelligent, he was already an experienced banker at that time. We were having a meeting on “what to do during the crisis”. I said: “Listen up! Everyone should be called back from holiday immediately, the working day will be irregular, the board is dealing with the matter.” He sat there listening, and everyone else nodded to this. Everything started running like clockwork, everyone got busy. And then he said: “Look, how’s this going to work? We haven't agreed with the guys — we'd need to pay them for working overtime somehow.” I said: “What do you mean ‘overtime’? We’re in a state of emergency over here! What is there to discuss? Overtime! Those who don’t return from holiday will be fired.” Well, of course everyone came back to the office at once.
In Russian society and business, working in such extreme conditions with complete dedication is the norm. In these conditions, people are ready to deliver at work in a coordinated and selfless manner. We are ready to sacrifice money, time, anything at all. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to remain in emergency mode all the time. This is where the weak aspects of Russian business and society start to show. As soon as the normal conditions of life are restored, people relax.
Here’s another example with foreigners. We had one fellow, we took him on at the bank as head of IT about 15 years ago. He was very intelligent and competent: he understood well what needed to be done, and we were at the point of revamping the entire IT system. From the strategic point of view, he was doing the right thing. But as a manager he failed completely. Why? Because he got everybody together, and in the American way, explained the task to everyone. He said: “Here, this is what it should be like. So we have to do this and that. Is this clear?” And his top five or top 10 managers were sitting there saying: “Yes, it is.” That's it, then they would leave and come back in about a month. He would ask them, “Well?” And they would still be in the same place where they had left off. Nobody was making any progress. He needed to say: “So, you have to do this, you do this, and you do this, and in three days I’ll check on everyone to see which tasks have been completed and which haven’t.” But he couldn't do this because he couldn't grasp what was happening: after all, he had set a task and everyone had understood it; these were intelligent people. This is how he worked with us for six months or maybe a year — although strategically he was doing the right thing. But nothing worked, simply because he couldn’t bang on the table and shout: “I said DO IT!” Then one of our Russian managers replaced him and everyone immediately got the point...
He must have started bossing people around.
Yes. Everyone recognised the familiar tone and immediately got down to work. It was clear: if they didn’t start the task within a week, he would get rid of them. That is, in this regard, people aren’t used to acting not out of fear. This is the sad thing. They’re used to acting either in extreme conditions or when you raise the stick. Once the stick is already in the air — ah, well, then I have to do it, because they’ll really get rid of me otherwise. This isn’t a constant feature; it’s an indicator that can change. I have a lot of young people working for me; they’re more conscious, more results-oriented and so on. They want to do the job, and they don't like being forced. In Russia, though, they like to be forced. You see, it's impossible to do anything else with us: you need to treat us this way, then we’re able to do the job. This is very different from what it’s like in the best countries in the West. The mentality is different.
For example, when there’s an emergency, the British are much more demanding in terms of rules. You can't force them to come to the office after work or come back from holiday. Everyone has their rights and everyone knows them well. If something needs to be done very quickly in Russia, then you say: “Look, I need it done urgently! Today! So everyone has to work overnight and do it!" — and everyone hurries to their desk and gets the job done. In the UK, this is impossible. First of all, you can't say that, because people just won’t react to your words. They’ll do the job, and it will take them a couple of weeks to complete the task at their normal pace. But they definitely won't quit working on the task if they understand what’s needed. I’m talking again about an average person. There are slackers in the UK, just as there are responsible people in Russia. But in general, they’ll do the job at their own pace, slowly. They’re sure to complete the task, and it will be done well enough. And in this respect, I would say, Russians often outperform others over short distances. But if we look at something long-term, such marathon distances are often hard for them.