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Regular version of the site

‘Live and learn, or you will simply disappear from view!’

A 2002 ICEF Bachelor’s alumnus Vasily Storozhuk has also graduated from the London Business School, Northwestern University and Wharton Business School, as well as defended his thesis at MSU. He is now the CFO at UGMK Holding, and also Chairman of the Board of Directors of “Koltso Urala” Bank. In the following interview, he recounts why it is important to regularly update one’s knowledge, how to put one’s experience to good use career-wise and why it is important to have a forward-looking perspective.

‘Live and learn, or you will simply disappear from view!’

- You started degree studies in 1998. Back then, ICEF was a completely new institution and not so well-known. Why did you take the risk of studying there?

My good friend Anna Polyakova was one of the first graduates from ICEF. She told me about studying there and I understood how exciting and interesting her life was. So, I came to Moscow from the Volga region, and before even applying I had the idea that if I was to take Moscow by storm then I’d need to go for the most cutting-edge approaches. And studying in English and getting a double degree seemed larger-than-life and got me even more excited.

HSE back then was in the press and in academic circles a lot, it was considered an advanced, and even revolutionary, university, with its own “groundbreaking” programmes. At the same time, HSE, and ICEF in particular, had a solid foundation – the institute was founded at the initiative of the best economists from MSU. However, it offered a western approach to education making it easier for future graduates to work and study outside of Russia.

Another advantage was the fact ICEF was founded with the support of several major banks for the purpose of further developing this sector. This was its mission, and at the same time, it helped streamline students’ integration into the profession and maintain constant contact with the banking sector.

- What were the advantages of having a double degree on the job market in 2002?

I didn’t even really think about that when I applied. However, I was able to see the enormous advantages in 2002. I was able to work with business data and information in English, analyze situations critically, see things form a global perspective and in all their dimensions, and engage with the world without fear. I was well-prepared for it by those challenges I coped with during my studies. The first year was difficult, as for any kid who’s just left home. It was a test of my strength and endurance, and this gave me the possibility to rise to the occasion. By the second year I was able to start working and so my confidence grew. The real-life experience supported and helped visualize what I was studying at ICEF. Furthermore, thanks to the skills I got at ICEF, I learned how to work independently and at my own pace. I also learned how to keep studying constantly and willingly, and this was very important in my subsequent endeavors.

- Did your first job relate directly to your specialization?

Yes. I was able to find it thanks to ICEF. This was at International Bank Saint Petersburg, where I learned about different aspects of working at a financial structure and came to understand what is what in my future profession.

- How did you come to specialize in the industrial sector?

It so turned out that, at the start of my banking career, I would work with funding for various sectors. At some point, I had to immerse myself in the metals and mining industry. Later, I started to work in more client-facing roles in these particular sectors.

This was of great interest to me, and, of course, metals and mining are an essential part of the Russian economy, where one can make a real contribution. I’ve been involved with these sectors for 18 years already, I’ve taken part in various types of deals, learned about its nuances and particularities, and am still developing my expertise further.

- What’s best: studying with a focus on one particular sector, or should experience be gained in real-life practice?

This directly concerns self-study and having a clear understanding of one’s objectives. At university, you are provided with a universal range of knowledge and skills, and if during your student years you figure out your main interests and focus on a certain area, sooner or later, quantity evolves into quality. Real-life application is important, but in order to succeed you have to know what your interests are. This means reading analytical reports and figuring out the aspects of various economic situations, as well as constantly posing questions to yourself and your instructors. With this, you will accumulate a system of knowledge in your sphere of interest. For instance, my involvement in metals industry started when I was born, as I was born in Zlatoust, a typical Southern Urals metallurgical town. So, all the conditions and facilities were around and were making an impact on my life, so the industry became a major part of it. I was close to it and understood it, and I didn’t plan to turn away from it in the years to come.

- Is it possible to replace basic education with self-study?

I was given a very useful assignment during the first module of my MBA. I had to imagine where and who I would be in 30 to 40 years. That included such particular aspects as my earnings, where and how I would live, etc. After drawing up these details, I then had to move forward for 10 years in the future (which is actually moving back in time) and pose the following question to myself: what would I need to do in 20 years to end up in my ideal situation in 30 years, which resources would I need and what steps would I need to take to make this a reality?

This exercise can be done several times so as to plan out and figure out the details of your possible objectives and the actions that will need to be taken at certain time periods, as well as analyze and work up a long-term plan. This helps you see the value of a basic education ‘from the future’ and shows the point of development of your thinking and personality. That’s why the choice of university is so important. If you are a student, you should unpack your dreams now so that you could get a clear understanding about why you study, where you are headed and what soft skills you need to develop to facilitate your progress and, hopefully, things in your life will fall into place or everything will become a lot easier.

- How does one develop soft skills?

Before getting my MBA, I had no idea how important soft skills are. This might include one’s public speaking, the ability to present yourself to others, analyze and interpret information, and even the ability to read and comprehend something very quickly. It’s all very important in my field. At some point of my career I had to look at myself objectively. So, I did this in 2009 during my studies, when I analyzed footage of my academic presentations and compared them with other speakers’ presentations. And I could see certain gaps, which I needed to fix. That was at a later phase of my career, while at the very start knowledge was more important.

- You have studied at various universities overseas. Why was just one layer of knowledge not enough for you?

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll said something quite important: "...here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.". The world is changing, especially in these days of digital breakthroughs when new skills are crucial. So, every expert must be open to innovation and should soak everything up like a sponge. I believe that every 3 to 5 years, everybody should upgrade their knowledge, which means entirely changing your perspective and expanding your horizons. You shouldn’t just sit around saying ‘It’s too late to change’. This is like giving yourself a death sentence, and it’s simply not true. Keep studying all the time, or you’ll disappear from view!

- You were able to pursue a thesis at MSU with its profoundly academic approach, while also studying at a practice-oriented London Business School. Why did you opt for this more applied approach to using your knowledge and skills?

This probably goes back to the time when I started studying at ICEF. It was 1998, and I strived for financial well-being. So, my career got its start in the most practical way possible. It was actually easy and interesting to develop in this area and I am still learning and growing. Now, I would like to branch out into the academia, as this would give me a chance to understand economics at a high level, which would be fascinating for me.

- Did ICEF prepare you enough for studying abroad?

One of the perks of studying at ICEF is that after you get to finish your Bachelor’s in English you don’t need to take the TOEFL to get into a foreign university. This is considered as a fully-fledged study under the University of London programme. Another plus was its excellent instruction in mathematics. Overall, when attending various Western universities, I was able to save a lot of time and not miss much work thanks to the degree and skills I got from ICEF.

- What’s the importance of having ‘bumps and bruises’ in one’s career? What was a negative experience in your professional life?

Any experience, including a bad one, can give you invaluable life lessons. When you face a problem, it always offers an opportunity to develop your way of thinking. Any challenge requires a solution, which you can generate from your own experience and theoretical ‘files”. Then, you figure out how to get out of a jam. After all, work, and life, comes down to the search for solutions, and quite often, these require creative approaches. So, you face hurdle after hurdle, and get a lot of quality experience, learn how to create something new and grow from there. This is especially instrumental in career development, since resourcefulness and usefulness is a key corporate skill and sets one apart from the rest.

- Do you have plans for further study?

I finished my studies in 2015. I think about continuing my academic pursuits and mastering other fields. Now, I am learning Python and Spanish in my free time, and continuing with other studies. I am also interested in technology, and I enjoy researching sectors and areas of life where innovations can be applied.

Sonya Spielberg, specially for HSE ICEF