The basic reason was that after finishing my studies at Novosibirsk State University (and specializing in Economics) I wasn’t completely sure of my future field of work, but I did want to receive an international and universal education. The ICEF Master’s Programme offered exactly that. It immediately opened a few doors. After the MSc I was able, for example, to choose between a career in research that would involve studying for a PhD, and going to work abroad. I chose a third option – I went to work for an international company in Russia.
How did you find out about ICEF?
Well my first impressions came from looking at the ICEF website, where I became acquainted with the course description, noticed a lot of applied courses, and read testimonials from students and graduates. At Novosibirsk I had a very respectable academic education, but the ICEF programme was geared towards practical ends to a greater extent. That was something I really liked.
What do you have to do to get a scholarship for your studies?
Well, you have to complete a round of work submissions and an interview – that’s how they assess a candidate’s level of knowledge, general excellence, competence in specific subjects (principally mathematics and economics) and academic and extra-curricular involvement – alongside their references. For example, in 2009 I was a finalist in the national competition An Idea for MTS, and in the final I presented my idea to top MTS executives. In 2010 I was a finalist for the Alexei Kozlov Fellowship, the winner of the Novosibirsk competition in negotiation Executive Ring, and I received a first-class diploma for my presentation at the 158th International Student Research Conference.
What was your proposal in An Idea for MTS?
Back in 2009, MTS, the leader of the Russian market in mobile telecoms, were selling standard USB-modems for laptop Internet access. I suggested making a specially designed USB modems for various target markets: schoolkids, students, business people. I thought there would be far more demand for these sorts of modems, which would increase MTS’s revenue, both thanks to selling more devices and increased Internet traffic.
What do you remember most of all about your time at ICEF?
The memories all are very positive! The friendly, warm atmosphere between students and teachers. Our course was fairly small – around 30 people – which is very different from studying with 100 or more other people on your programme. Most of the teachers were young and had a Western education and a PhD, and the distance between students and teachers was so small that it was easy to get together and go paintballing, have a barbeque or play Mafia.
At what point did you work out what you wanted to do after finishing the Master’s?
I think it was in the second year of the course. After the first year of studies I managed to get myself into the Summer School at the LSE. While I was there, I met a lot of people from different countries, and gained from them valuable knowledge and advice about how to build my career. Having returned to Moscow, I took Vyacheslav Ivanov’s course ‘Company Valuation in M&A’, and realized how much that area interested me. I have to admit that before ICEF I had never heard of Consulting or Investment Banking, because in Novosibirsk those sectors aren’t sufficiently developed. After the winter term I decided to try it for myself, and got a job as Manager of Investment Development at Glencore International’s subsidiary company in Russia.
What were your responsibilities?
The company was carrying out asset management in Russia and Kazakhstan in the transport, storage and sale of grain for export. My job was to evaluate the investment potential of a huge range of construction-sector projects, as well as sales contracts and the creation of joint ventures.
Is it fair to say that the teachers at ICEF had an influence on your next steps?
Yes, they played a significant role. I really enjoyed the lectures of Carsten Sprenger, Artem Arkhipov, Alexander Zaporozhsky, Maxim Nikitin and Sergey Gelman. The general atmosphere at ICEF also had a bearing on my decision about my future activities. All of my course-mates were hugely ambitious. We really enjoyed discussing our future career plans with each other. I gained a huge amount of knowledge thanks to that.
And how did you find your first job?
I saw a vacancy posted on the ICEF student site, which has actually been posted by someone who had done their BSc at the College – and he became my first boss.
How did your career path develop after that?
Having worked for a year and a half at the Glencore International group, I wanted further career growth and development, so I decided to move to the Department of International Activities at Gazprom, where they were working on ‘Southern Flow’, the international gas pipeline project. As you remember, they planned to lay the pipeline along the floor of the Black Sea, from Russia to Bulgaria, and then on land through Serbia and Hungary, all the way to Austria. Gazprom had three international partners for the seabed element of the project: ENI from Italy, EDF Group from France, and Wintershall from Germany, and then there were partners from each of the countries through which the pipeline would run on land. The project company that was responsible for the ocean part was based in Holland. My role was to provide analytical support to the project, and to take part in the preparation and approval of agreements with stakeholders in both portions of the pipeline. It was very intense and interesting work, with a lot of travelling to countries that were somehow or other involved in the project. The most memorable trip was to Macedonia – somewhere I almost definitely would never have gone to of my own accord.
What did you think of Macedonia?
We had talks in the capital, Skopje. Before that trip I never could have imagined such an enormous number of various monuments and memorials in such a small area. In one square kilometer, there were more of them than you could possibly expect.
Going back to your career path…
At the end of 2014 the ‘Southern Flow’ project turned into ‘Turkish Flow’, and was terminated soon afterwards. In September last year I decided to move to the state corporation Rosatom, to the Department of Strategic Direction. Incidentally, there I met four ICEF graduates – both of the BSc and MSc – of various cohorts. At Rosatom, my role is to work on the strategies of distinct functional and business areas, and also to provide analytic support to the company management, monitoring and assessing our competitiveness – for example, in the areas of renewable and thermal power.
Did you ever consider going to work abroad?
Initially the thought never really occurred to me, but even so it’s always been interesting to me. Working on the ‘Southern Flow’ project gave the chance to spend a lot of time outside Russia. Having gone around most European countries, I haven’t ever been able to choose one where I’d like to have stayed. The Russian mentality is closer to me. Although there’s always the chance of me changing my mind – for example, to go study for an MBA.
What do you mean by ‘the Russian mentality’ – what is that?
If you compare how negotiations are conducted and different approaches to work – which is exactly what currently interests me the most, as lead an optional class at ICEF on Business Negotiation – you notice that Germans, for example, tend to plan everything out in advance and stick to the schedule, are less emotional, and that pragmatic calculation is the basis for conducting negotiations and taking decisions. French people can seem more egotistical, and think about their own interests before anything else – they find it very hard to agree to any sort of compromise. Italians are a deeply emotional people – that can make them throw papers around during business negotiations, or even to storm out, slamming the door behind them. The Spaniards have a bias to take more joy in life – and to work less. And Russians are a mix of everything. We don’t tend to plan things in advance, like the Germans – we usually do everything right at the last moment, close to the deadline. We aren’t as passionate as Italians, but other Europeans notice how emotional and authentic we are. It’s easier for us to come to a compromise than it is for the French, or to do something that isn’t in our short-term interests, but allows us to maintain trusting and long-lasting working relationships. We work more than the Spanish, but we are less able to enjoy the moment – sometimes, living in the future, we miss out on the present.
What inspired you to start the course at ICEF – what was the trigger?
The elective was based on three pillars. The first was two courses at the LSE Summer School that I took on conducting business negotiations. The second was the practical experience that I received while working on the ‘Southern Flow’ project. And the third was studying corporate affairs at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin.
As well as the elective, you lead a seminar on Banking and the Basics of Finance for third year BSc students – what is it like to be a teacher?
I would say that teaching is a creative occupation, where you always have to be developing. Students love asking tricky questions, and the more intelligent the student, the more interesting the question. Some really talented people study at ICEF, so often their questions are unexpected, which helps to keep you on your toes. Working in big business doesn’t always give you the chance to be creative, but that’s what I have ICEF for – here there’s definitely enough space for creativity.
So what sort of teacher are you?
I try to present myself as an older friend, who isn’t standing there with a cane forcing you to study, but who explains why this or that is important to know. In fact, you can divide all teachers into two groups: dictators and mentors. I relate to the latter. Because I have enough practical experience, I can tell students, that in order to solve real-world problems, they’ll probably find it helpful to have knowledge of this subject or the other.
And finally…what would you like to wish to future ICEF students?
Try to find your path as early as possible – understand what you want in life, what helps you to be happy, and then try to move in that direction, juggling carefully work, family, your social life and your hobbies. All of those elements are equally important.
Have you found yourself?
To find yourself means to stop – but I am continuing to move in what seems to be the right direction.
Anastasia Chumak, exclusively for ICEF HSE
Translated by Joseph Gamse