“Here life can be real roller-coaster”
Guillaume, what words of advice do you have for a foreign business executive who may come to Russia to develop a business?
To any newcomer I would say “you must love Russia and the Russians. In order to succeed in doing business with Russians, you must make an effort to understand their mentality and culture. Russians do not react in the same way as Europeans do. They can be very emotional and can quickly show their muscles, only to finally settle all differences around a nice dinner.
At first glance they may come across as very cold and aloof, even very blunt or aggressive. Therefore you will need to know how to break the ice in order to really discuss problems with them. “
I would also advise a newcomer to read. Russian literature is extraordinary. While in France everything, as it were, can be found in Balzac’s Comedie Humaine, in Russia we have to look to Dostoievski, Tolstoi and Goncharov’s Oblomov.
In your opinion, what are the indispensable qualities needed to do business in Russia?
Resilience is an indispensable quality for any foreigner coming to Russia to do business. Russians are very tough. Either you give up, or you learn to put up with things. The Russian winter is long. It starts at the end of September and ends at the end of April. If you can handle your first cold, you will get through it. The same applies in business. You’ll get slapped down a few times. You have to be willing to stand back, to revise your business model if need be, and to have another go at it. And this three, four, five or even ten times if necessary.
In order to be accepted by Russians, you will also need the time to build trust. Russians are very sensitive and caring once they trust you. International companies send expats abroad on three-year contracts. It just so happens that it is only after three years, that one begins to speak the language, and really add value to that part of the business that is conducted more informally behind the scenes. In Russia being here for the long-haul is an asset: I have been here for six years and it is only now that I’m really beginning to feel at ease operating on the Russian market.
What are the main factors underlying project failures in Russia?
The main failure factor would be wanting to go too fast and coming here with preconceived western ideas. Russians do not think like we do. People are often much more tolerant in India, China or in Japan, which have cultures very different from our own. They say "oh, but it is normal, it is the Indian culture. it’s the Japanese mentality". Be equally tolerant with the Russians. Russians only have the outward appearance of Europeans. We expect them to behave like we do, but that is not the case.
Today, what tips can you give a new arrival?
First of all I would advise any newcomer to thoroughly prepare his/her trip and expatriation to Russia. One should enrol for a language course before coming. One should read the literature and absorb a bit of the culture, so as to avoid leaving again after a month. As a matter of fact, I see many expats that go back, because their wives find it hard to cope with life here, because it is too different from what they expected. I believe that there are courses in France that prepare employees before they come here.
I would also advise a prospective expat to rapidly build a network by reaching out to the French community, especially:
At the Embassy, at the association Moscow-Accueil (a very well organized association that assists expats and offers advice on excursions, restaurants and conferences), at the Lycée Francais (all classes from kindergarten to Terminale),
Guillaume, if you had to put it in a nutshell, what is the right attitude to have when doing business in Russia?
Come here without any preconceived ideas, and be humble. Russia is a country which has a long history, a very strong culture and a very rich language. When you come to Russia to do business, listen to the Russians, learn to understand them, to like them and all will go well!