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An Incredible Mix of Europe and Asia: Introducing Talentor Russia!

Winston Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Thanks to our new Partner in Moscow, Executive Search in this exciting market doesn’t have to be. An interview with new Talentor partner Alexandre Stefanesco.

How did you end up moving from France to Moscow and staying?

I was working in France for an Italian international company, and traveling on business in China in 2005, 2006, so I was thinking about moving far abroad, ideally to a BRIC country. Before the 2008 crisis, the BRIC countries had strong economic growth and huge potential.

At the same time my wife was finishing her studies in France so we traveled to Russia a couple of times. We fell in love with Moscow and decided to relocate there in 2008. In 2012 we created our HR Consulting & Recruitment Agency, Atsal.

What is a typical profile that you recruit?

The decade following the collapse of the Russian economy in 1998 saw companies hiring a lot of foreigners. Russia was economically booming and foreign companies were sending a lot of expatriates to develop their business in the Country.

Then, after the 2008 financial crisis, the opposite trend emerged. A really strong russification took place. Now fewer and fewer foreigners do work in Russia, especially in middle/top management positions.

The shrinkage of expatriates was balanced by a return to Russia of Russian citizens who had been living or studying abroad for a while and decided to pursue their career in Russia. We call them Repats.

Therefore, 90% of the profiles that we recruit for our clients are Russian citizens. Clients occasionally ask us to search for foreigners, but usually on a local contract basis and for very specific positions, especially in Finance.

We primarily deal with middle / top management and technical positions.

Who is a typical client for you?

We have expertise working for foreign small and medium sized business as well as with larger groups.

We work in various directions. Some clients are foreign companies that already have operations in Russia. They request our support to develop or optimize their Team. Some clients are foreign companies that we help to start their business in Russia, building their recruitment strategy and their team.

Recently, we have also begun to work more with Russian companies that understand that our international expertise in recruitment is a plus for them as well.

What surprises foreign companies the most when they are recruiting specialists in Russia?

I think that they very often underestimate the cultural gap. Clearly Russia is a European country, but it’s far from being only European. Managers without experience in Russia sometimes face very unexpected cultural situations and often feel like they do not understand neither what’s going on. Neither does their team, even with a common language, regardless whether it’s French, English or German.

Executives often work in areas far outside of their educational background.

It’s crucial for foreign companies to take the intercultural dimension into account when they recruit, or be helped by HR providers with expertise in intercultural workplaces.

What are the most frequent intercultural problems? What’s the biggest cultural misunderstanding that you’ve seen?

Russia is a very complex country, it’s huge and diverse and I can say there is not one Russia, but rather different Russias.

Local teams are generally used to quiet, vertical, and let’s say directive management, the young generation as well. Productivity is not that high. Management has to adapt to the low productivity and appreciate that Russian employees are incredibly skilled at crisis management and finding solutions.

Russians typically mix their personal and professional lives more at work, which can be very confusing for foreigners, especially western Europeans. Perhaps this is why local teams are usually more loyal to people than to companies. If a manager leaves the company, she or he may be followed by the team.

Also, the behavior that took place in the 90’s and early 2000’s with Westerners showing locals how to do things is ending. Russians have taken back their country and its economy, and now are taking on managing positions. Foreign companies must know the Russian realities to correctly pilot their Russian subsidiaries and their Russian managers. Often, that’s not the case.

Tell me something that a foreign company would never guess about the Russian labor market.

Very low unemployment (5% in Russia) makes the market very fluid, especially for middle management segment. In Moscow, where the business is, unemployment peaks at 1% and we have strong global candidate shortage. This shortage is going to get worst in the next 10, 12 years due to the economic situation and the demographic hole, arising from the lack of birth in the 90’s. It will become harder for companies to acquire and retain talents because of this shortage. As there is no Russian-speaking market with numerous and available qualified Russian speaking manpower in the former Soviet Union, we will have a terrible war for local talents.

In addition, local cultural behaviors make candidates quite unstable. They can show up, disappear, or change their mind and their job with a 2 weeks’ notice …It’s already hard to acquire, select, retain and ensure employee’s loyalty.

On the other hand, with the weak Ruble, local talents cost MUCH less than in the West, even though they are generally much better educated.

The market is more dynamic, you can meet candidates on evenings very late or on weekends. It’s much more open and business oriented than let’s say western Europe in this way.

How is the political situation in Russia effecting the business climate?

The difference between the 2008 and the 2014 crises is obvious. While the 2008 crisis totally destabilized the economy, the 2014 one did not, despite much worse macroeconomic indicators. The Russian economy has become much more resilient. I would say that things are not as bad as we imagine from a foreign perspective. From a local point of view, Russia seems to be more stable and solid internally.

Western companies have suffered directly and indirectly from the sanctions, but the European business community believes a lot in Russia’s huge potential. France is still the biggest foreign employer in Russia!

The fundamentals of the Russian economy are quite good; there are many reasons to be optimistic about Russia for the next years. The more companies leave this very complex market, the harder it will be to penetrate it back.

What is your favorite thing about living in Moscow?

It’s just an amazing, vibrating city. It’s developing incredibly fast and has an incredible mix of Europe and Asia. The local Soviet architecture gives it a quiet unique imperial dimension. It’s huge, totally safe, and nearly everything is open at night. It’s a very modern city. You have already wi-fi everywhere in the city (metro fully covered as well) and the Russian capital will begin testing 5G in early 2019.

What is your favorite Russian dish?

Definitely the beef strogonoff!

Why did you decide to join the Talentor network?

After 6 years, we felt like it was the time for Atsal to reach a new level.

We wanted to gain some more global expertise. We feel that joining Talentor will allow us to be more connected with the rest of the world and learn from other countries. Probably our local expertise in this very specific market will also be very useful to Talentor network.

Talentor thanks Alexandre for this interview and invites you to visit the Talentor Russia location page for more information.