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Excellent Next Job or Perspective Career?

So far back in 1991-1992 many multinational companies entering the Russian market were setting the target of replacing expatriates in some 3 or maximum 5 years by local General Managers who were supposed to be coached to take care of their Russian operations. Yet it is easy to see that the present situation is different from the one so enthusiastically painted. Why did things work out this way? The companies that still rely on expatriate force today, were busy hiring the brightest, the most talented, the most aggressive and ambitious people on the labor market. The answer is quite simple: yes, the majority of these individuals were indeed bright, talented and full of potential, yet when faced with the choice between slow and steady progress within one company, and the possibility of getting a quick promotion and making «big bucks» by accepting an offer from a new employer, in most cases they opted for the latter.

Many decision makers in Western corporations believed that their new hires would stick to their employer just because of the prestige of working for a blue chip company and didn’t put enough effort into breeding actual loyalty and integrity. The evident distance and a measure of mistrust between the local and the expatriate staff did nothing to improve the situation, making it difficult for Russian managers to truly identify themselves with the business. Lack of equality in compensation for an expatriate and local employee, when two managers holding the same position and performing the same job were remunerated differently was also no help for integration processes. Local managers were seldom involved in key decision-making and expatriate colleagues didn’t try to truly understand the specifics of the Russian mentality as well as their traditions and ethnic values.

Back in ’95, I remember one Western General Manager sharing his fury and indignation when, coming into his office late one night he stumbled upon his managers’ team and their former colleague shortly fired for a severe breach of ethics, enthusiastically celebrating the latter’s dismissal. “Slava, I cannot understand these people, — he kept telling me. — They work for a world famous company, I pay them high salaries, I send them abroad to get trained, yet I cannot escape the feeling that they are not with me or the Company, but are keeping to themselves”.

Another pitfall was the fact that not always the best professionals were recruited overseas for Russian assignments. It was a real challenge to attract a successful executive willing to work in actual market conditions of Russia in early 90ies. And it was twice as difficult to identify someone who spoke Russian or at least was vaguely interested in the Russian culture, history and lifestyle. So the first expatriate managers came to Russia for a year or two without any long-term perspectives. Few of them could be a good example for local staff.

The situation has changed since then.

Compensation packages for expatriate and local managers holding the same positions have more or less leveled out. Private pension funds and stock option schemes are provided now by many multinationals operating in Russia. On-job training abroad and seconding Russian staff to Europe and the US became common practice with many international employers.

Many Russian subsidiaries of international companies are headed by local managers, for example, Wrigley, Pepsi-Cola, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Apple, Ruukki, and others. Many Russian managers nowadays do care about their CVs and their image in the eyes of potential employers. However, it is too early to say that western and Russian managers have equal approach to career planning.

There are several reasons for that. Our life pace is changing faster than in the West speeding up all processes including career issues. We see Russian Fords and Rockefellers being born while twenty years ago they were ordinary Soviet people. Their dynamic careers inspire a lot of followers. Many Russian managers want to get everything and now.

The new generation strives to get rid of the socialist rudiments once and forever and follow western values and standards they understand too simplistic. This also encourages employees to change jobs for better compensation. Easy money, coming from some sectors, is easily spent in Moscow boutiques, night clubs and casinos. Live now! Why wait for slow and steady promotion within one company when you have a generous offer from another one? In the result, Russian managers have set one more record besides others: they have become one of the quickest to change jobs. Our experience demonstrates that today a Russian manager changes a job every two years on average.

On the other hand, there are objective reasons for this approach too. Life is too short and many Russians haven’t reached the necessary level of living. They strive to make the money just to buy a flat, a car, a furniture set, to support their aging parents who receive small pension allowance. Their motives are human and reasonable. However, it is no good if money rules irrespective of circumstances.

“I was made a generous offer and accepted it”, many candidates say with pride. I wish I have heard something different, for example: “I have reached the ceiling in career development within my company and decided to make a move”. Or “I have had a dream of working for this company all my life and immediately joined it as soon as the opportunity appeared”.

Many things are different in the West. Most people are more loyal than Russians, especially to blue chip reputable companies. Like us, people want to make good money. Meanwhile, I doubt that a candidate would get a job if his motivation is encouraged by money issue. It is no common practice there to change job each year to increase one’s income – this is a risk of spoiling one’s biography. One day some other employer screening the CV would say: “No reason to hire this person. He could leave us as easily and fast as he did before”. Most western managers know what they plan to achieve in five years.

“Remember, there is a difference between having a good job and a good career”. I am never tired of repeating these words, taken from Lester Korn’s “The Success Profile”, when I talk to my candidates. Nothing can be truer. Many of our Russian top managers had good jobs. Now is the time to think about your career.

By Viacheslav Volkov
Managing Partner
Slava/IIC Partners
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