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“ICEF helped me find friends for life and gave confidence to face challenges”

Travels, friends abroad, business meetings in different parts of the globe — this is how Stanislav Moscovtsev imagined his ideal day in his teenage years. To make his dream a reality, he did a master’s degree at ICEF, enrolled in Harvard Business School MBA program, received experience of working for a few large companies, and passed a job interview at McKinsey. In this interview, Stanislav tells his career story.

“ICEF helped me find friends for life and gave confidence to face challenges”

Road to the dream

I grew up in a small town in Leningrad Region. I first went abroad when I was 13. My parents took me on a four-day tour around the neighbor country of Finland. I became a travel addict and made up my mind to become a global person. Having breakfast with family in Moscow, flying to London for a business meeting, ending the day at a friends’ get-together in New York – it might be like this some day, I figured. 

As a high school student and later a bachelor one at HSE campus in Saint-Petersburg, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to make my dream a reality. In my 3rd year of studies I learned about ICEF Master of Financial Economics Programme. I heard a lot of success stories about its alumni and the lucrative job offers they receive abroad, so I firmly decided to enroll. After I enrolled and moved to Moscow, I got hired by Strategy Partners Group, a Russian consulting company, and then joined TNK-BP corporate strategy team. Six months later TNK-BK was taken over by Rosneft. That time was one of the most interesting and strenuous periods of my life. In the newly integrated company, I became in charge of the strategies for four B2Bs.

Even though the tasks I was entrusted with at Rosneft were interesting to deal with, the more I found myself being pushed toward the corporate world in Russia, the farther I drifted away from my dream. That made me look for the opportunities of working abroad. After months of surfing the net for information and endless talks with friends and colleagues, I decided that the best way for me to get a step closer to fulfilling my dream was by getting an MBA degree. I thought that even if I wouldn’t be able to stay abroad and work for a couple of years after graduation, the two years at a business school might be a valuable professional and emotional experience to enrich my life also with friends from all over the world.

Harvard Business School: self-discovery, case method and learning from classmates

My MBA program at Harvard Business School started in August 2016. My plan was to gain international experience, get out of my comfort zone, and plunge into an unfamiliar environment. Frankly, my expectations of curriculum were more than modest, given my bachelor’s degree in Economics, master’s one in Financial Economics, consulting experience, and corporate strategy development expertise. “What more can they teach me?” I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Looking back at those two years at the business school, I realize the change they caused in me. Being open to changes is the most important thing.

The real business education turned out different from how I imagined it. In addition to Strategy, Audit, Finance, HSB offered a lot of classes that focused on personal development, self-concept, and cultivating of skills including leadership. You learn to be conscious of the responsibility for your own decisions, build relations with people at different levels, empower and motivate your team even in most stressful of the situations.

Also, my MBA program set itself apart through “case method”, a method that uses real-life cases to deliver the content of a subject. To give you an example, at ICEF, our acquaintance with, say, options pricing model involved a brief account of what it is about and where it is used, followed by deriving of five variations of the Black-Scholes model, while the HBS limited the theoretical part to a ready formula in Excel and a printout to be studied by us at home and used the rest of the class time analyzing the real-life cases for us to see how option pricing happens in practice. And there are many more such examples.

At business schools, you learn a lot from your classmates and meet very knowledgeable people from all over the world with interesting personalities and track records in various industries and economic sectors. I would often come to classes with a solution to a case which I thought was the only right solution. My classmates would comment on it and I would revise my solution time and again. At such moments you realize you are biased, you notice things that never occurred to you before or you were simply unaware of. After two years and hundreds of solved cases you acquire a more holistic vision of things and situations that may occur in business or life in general.

Who will find an MBA program a good fit?

An MBA program will be a good fit for those who are willing to leave their comfort zone and learn new things. For those brave souls who want a memorable experience, who want to make new friends, build contacts with professionals across the globe and try working abroad. 

MBA programs are not cheap. The studies keep you out of work and income during two years. For many promising, successful candidates the high cost of the program can be a big ‘but’, especially if they do not intend to work overseas. Many of my acquaintances, for instance, have opted for a mortgage rather than a student loan. I’m in no hurry to get my own place, I invest in memorable life experiences. Besides, I haven’t yet decided where I want to live, so my decision to enroll in MBA program was an easy one.

Soul-searching and getting back in consulting

When I went to Harvard School of Business, I never thought I’d get back in consulting. So great was my desire to be ushered into a brand new world. In the summer, after my first year of studies, I received a work experience placement at a catering startup in New York. I’ve always had a strong interest in catering business. Me and my wife still have this idea of starting our own restaurant. That was a completely awesome experience. I learned a lot and soon understood that working at a start-up can be a roller coaster with no brakes. If things can go wrong they will, so you are forced to improvise every day. It all certainly gives a kick, but I think I need to see more how larger companies operate and to explore the American corporate culture in more detail before I start my own business. 

Anyway, after that cool summer, in my second year, I decided to channel my efforts into landing the security of something more permanent. Back on campus in September, I talked to HR manager at McKinsey, from whom I learned about McKinsey Implementation (MI), a subsidiary specializing on customer support in the field of recommendations implementation. I liked their concept. It allows me to see the actual results of my performance and to gain more expertise in this functional area. I didn’t take long to send my resume.

Despite my previous track record in consulting, getting onboard with that company was not at all easy. For job-seekers, consulting can be quite a cut-throat industry. Every year, it is entered by some 25%-30% of graduates of leading business schools. To win over competitors, I focused a lot on my preparation for the interview, and my classmates had been a great help. A part of my preparation was meeting and taking to a great number of MI employees so as to display my interest and learn more about their practices.

I am currently involved in projects that deal with operational change implementation. To give you an example, over the past 7 months I’ve been assisting a large manufacturing company with developing and implementing of initiatives towards better cost-efficiency. Unlike many projects of this kind, ours focused more on product design updates and search for new suppliers rather than on downsizing of workforce. To achieve product updates and new process solutions, I teamed up with 15 design engineers. Those initiatives were fast to implement and it was a great pleasure to see our efforts bearing fruit.

Living in Atlanta

I never thought I’d be living in Atlanta. Ironically, Atlanta happened to be the first American city my Work & Travel student exchange program took me to in 2008. McKinsey Office in Atlanta is the largest in the south-east of the US. It employs around 400 people and operates nearly all of the functional business lines in the company’s portfolio. The office is, like Atlanta itself, pretty much multi-cultural. There are even several Russian-speaking consultants. 

There are several reasons why I chose Atlanta-based office. First, because quite many of my classmates had moved to Atlanta, me and my wife thought it would be a good idea to move to a place where we’d be around people we already know well. We often see one another and there are some with whom I meet Fridays in the office because they also work at McKinsey.

Second, climate and location. I always wanted to live in a place with nice, warm climate and Atlanta fits this definition perfectly. And we are only 5 hours’ drive away from the ocean. A couple of months ago we went to our neighbor state to ski. There weren’t many high hills there but as a weekend destination the place is perfect. Besides, Altanta operates a large, conveniently situated airport with non-stop flights of just three hours to many U.S. cities. Given that consultants are frequent travelers, it saves time and effort.

Thirdly, Atlanta offers very affordable living, as compared to New York or San-Francisco. In New York, the apartment we rent in Atlanta would cost 1.5-2 times higher. The same is true about the cost of food, gas, services.

Looking back at ICEF

ICEF benefitted me greatly by instilling in me the aptitude and willingness to learn and move on. We were offered a lot of interesting hands-on courses, and I liked them all. Most memorable is the course by Alexey Belianin – Behavioral Economics, and the one by Viacheslav Ivanov – Corporate Evaluation in M&A Deals. Most of the knowledge I received at ICEF came in handy when I started job and when I was studying for my MBA degree.

What is more, ICEF gave me confidence to face challenges. There were times when I felt like quitting, but I always found myself around people who helped me go on.

And yet my biggest asset from ICEF are my best friends – Andrey Kostylev, Vahe Ovasapyan and Evgeny Rubtsov. We are moving on with our lives together, we always learn from one another, and we help one another.

Sofya Urmancheeva, for ICEF HSE