International Executive are speaking
The keys to business success in Russia & Ukraine
Sébastien Jeanpaul, Directeur Général, Antalis Russie
“A managed economy favorable to the development of new businesses”
Sébastien Jeanpaul’s story with Russia begins in childhood with the reading of his favorite album: “Tintin in the land of the Soviets”. It continued in 1990 when he joined the European Institute of Business located opposite the Aeroflot agency on the Champs Elysees: he began to imagine what life was like in the former USSR. “Student” internships allow him to carry out missions and a VSNE in Moscow. Then, he worked in Russia in various companies (food, electronics, equipment) before joining Antalis in 2008.
“In my sector, Russia is much more competitive than the rest of the world”
Sébastien, what is Antalis selling?
Antalis is the world’s leading distributor of papers and communication media for the polygraph industry and the leading European distributor of packaging materials known as industrial packaging. Antalis is also present in the visual communication market (materials for Promotion at the point of sale). In Russia, Antalis is the leader in creative paper, also called text & cover or creative paper. The packaging business is developing strongly and is the future of the Antalis group in Russia. Antalis is present in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with offices and showrooms. We also have a representation in Rostov.
Who are your clients ?
For the paper business, our main customers are printers, designers and communication agencies. Our commercial approach requires a great deal of listening and flexibility. We must be operational and responsive because our customers are not newspaper printers who, every day, will publish the same newspaper, in the same format, on the same paper… The industry we work with is the one that will print a day of posters, the day after calendars, and the day after books and pamphlets. Every day, our customers work with different printing techniques, on different media. They keep few stocks of paper. It is therefore our role as distributor to ensure their supply. For this, we have more than 2000 different references in stock. So every order placed before 6 p.m. is delivered the next morning, which is very fast in our industry.
How do you stand out from your competition?
« Je veux donner à mes équipes une vision et une confiance en l’avenir, dans un pays où les crises sont fréquentes »
Parlez-nous de vos équipes aujourd’hui.
Notre situation actuelle est le résultat d’un long processus. En 2014-2015, j’ai pris la décision stratégique de nous consacrer exclusivement aux creative papers dont la vente représentait des volumes plus confidentiels mais mieux valorisés. Il m’a fallu une année pour faire accepter ce changement à mes équipes, en leur expliquant le potentiel de développement de cette activité, en leur insufflant progressivement ma stratégie. Cela s’est concrétisé, au bout d’un an, par un week-end créatif où, papiers et stylos en main, nous avons défini ensemble une vision partagée de ce que serait la société dans 5 ans. Certains de mes collaborateurs ne se sont pas reconnus dans cette stratégie et ont quitté l’entreprise, mais ceux qui sont restés ont une vision claire de là où je veux les emmener.
Aujourd’hui, les équipes sont réduites car nous nous sommes recentrés sur des produits haut de gamme pour lesquels le marché se concentre principalement à Moscou et St-Pétersbourg. Nous avons fermé des filiales en régions et nous avons outsourcé les opérations de stockage et de transport. Nous sommes aujourd’hui une équipe de 30 personnes (contre 120 collaborateurs au plus fort de notre développement régional), avec des résultats équivalents alors que les volumes ont été divisés par 10.
How do you manage to motivate and retain your employees?
Retaining employees in Russia is relatively difficult. To get there, I put in place a motivation system linked to results. I also try to provide them with a pleasant working environment. Finally, I have a fairly strong female core which promotes team cohesion.
In general, I try to be positive. I want to give my teams a vision and confidence in the future, in a country where crises are frequent.
“Finding good sources of supply and reliable partners, in order to provide a quality service”
Sébastien, what are your challenges for tomorrow?
My main challenge is the packaging. This activity is the most important of the group worldwide. In Russia, we embarked on this path only 4 years ago and we are continuing our development even today.
The approach is different from that of the paper business for which our customers are predominantly Russian and represent a market anchored for several generations. For packaging, our customers are mainly Western companies present in Russia, which are looking for a long-term partner to ensure their regular supply of packaging materials, whether for their logistics operations or their production operations, and quality service.
What could be the obstacles to the development of the packaging business?
The obstacles to the development of packaging are numerous. First of all, we are not in a single product market, which makes the commercial approach complex. Indeed, our salespeople should not simply be salespeople, but also master the technical aspects of packaging and associated products (cardboard, plastic, tape, anti-corrosion materials, etc.) as well as the multiple processes that come into play (manufacturing , logistics, etc.) in order to offer the customer an optimal solution that takes into account all these constraints. Our teams must therefore be product and process specialists, while having a commercial vision. It’s not easy to find these multi-hat sellers.
Furthermore, we are only distributors, not producers. We store and deliver the products for our customers. We must then be able to “source” the product, which is a relatively simple aspect in Europe but much more complex in Russia. The difficulty lies in finding good sources of supply and reliable partners, in order to provide a quality service. Fortunately, our years of experience allow us to provide this service and today almost all of our packaging products come from Russia.
“Russia is much more developed than Europe digitally”
To a Westerner who would like to start a business in Russia, what advice would you give?
The first thing to do is to CHANGE THE PARADIGM and forget the image of a cold, gray and sad country … Come see for yourself! Moscow is a very Western city, which has nothing to envy of our great European capitals.
Then it is relatively easy to start a business in Russia, register a company and start working. There will be some pitfalls at the start and you will have to be well advised, but you have to DARE TO TAKE IT OUT.
Finally, in terms of trade approach, Russia is a country which is much more capitalist than France today.
For an entrepreneur, today’s Russia is a place to express yourself, an extremely active country that is much more digitally developed than Europe.
“The formal aspect of a request, the ‘prikaz’, is still very important in Russia!”
What are the success factors in Russia?
To succeed in Russia, you have to work hard, focusing your efforts on commercial development, and DARE TO TEST NEWS, which is done quite easily here. In Russia, it is essential to WORK WITH A PERSON OF CONFIDENCE who manages the administration, the accounts and who takes care of the legal aspect (the equivalent of an Administrative and Financial Director in France). Building a strong relationship of trust with a Russian employee allows you to delegate many tasks.
However, monitoring is still necessary to ensure that everything is going as planned. Misunderstandings can sometimes emerge, and you should not hesitate to SUBMIT YOUR REQUESTS IN A VERY FORMAL MANNER. Written confirmation, the “prikaz”, is very important in Russia!
To an entrepreneur who arrives in Russia, where can I find information?
To find information, an entrepreneur can turn to the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie and to the French-speaking business community where many people are ready to give advice or be a tutor.
Another source is the APM, the Association pour le Progrès du Manager. It is a French association based on the personal development of the manager, with 400 clubs around the world. There are 2 in Russia, including the PAM Bolshoi, which I have had the honor of chairing for two years. It is a club that promotes personal development. Once a month, it allows you to meet experts who offer their various analyzes. This monthly meeting of the francophone community allows us to discuss our activity, our problems, and our solutions as well. These meetings are a good way to fit in when you arrive in Moscow.
I will end with a very personal piece of advice: to understand Russia in its nature, in its ways and customs, and because there are things that absolutely do not change, I recommend any newcomer to Moscow to immerse themselves in the work of Jules Verne, Michel Strogoff. This book was only translated and edited in Russian very recently. I bought 50 copies and am giving one to any new employee I hire.
“Now is a good time to achieve long-term things in Russia”
A final word for an entrepreneur thinking about Russia?
Today, I think it is a good time to achieve long-term things in Russia. When I compare Russia to Singapore, I get the impression that these two countries tick some of the same boxes, those of a managed economy and a renowned place for the development of new businesses.
Finally, the only difference compared to Singapore where it is 30 ° C all year round, is that in Russia we live marked seasons, real winters, real summers, and personally this is one of the aspects. from Russia that I really appreciate.
A look on an Executive Coaching session based on the CO-CREATIVE Communication® method
Sébastien, a word about our Executive Coaching session?
This coaching allowed me to quickly put my finger on the right question. Antoine, you have the ability to see through people very quickly and to go directly to where things get stuck so that we can find the solution. With you, I am quite simply confident!
International Executive Coach and Consultant
Antoine Leygonie-Fialko is an International Executive Coach, ICF certified at PCC level, specializing in supporting international leaders "Towards CLEAR, CALM, CARING and POWERFUL thinking".
He is the founder of the CO-CREATiVE Communication® and the company CADRAN which operates globally. Previously, he managed 7 companies, from start-ups to corporate, in France and internationally (Europe, Asia, America, Africa), in various industries (construction, architecture, internet, HR…).
Today, with more than 2,000 hours of Executive Coaching, he works remotely with international leaders and their teams who want to unleash the power within their singularity in front of strong challenges requiring them to get out of their comfort zone & known mental frameworks.