‘It’s Great to Work with Great People’: HSE University Hosts Retail Night
A few days ago, Retail Night was held as part of informal meetings between master’s students of the HSE Graduate School of Business and business representatives. Ilya Yakubson, Managing Director of the Chizhik hard discounter chain, took part in the event as a guest. The discussion was moderated by Alexander Lebedev, Academic Supervisor of the Master’s programme ‘Retail Management.’
‘Retail Night is about ways of creating and managing a brand in real life. It is an opportunity to speak with self-made people directly. In the lectures, we study the proper state of things, we watch refined brand presentations, and learn the theoretical basis. But how are all these things really made? In such meetings, theoretical knowledge begins to move into the practical plane,’ said Alexander Lebedev of the event format.
The master’s students had a first-hand opportunity to hear the story of the fastest-growing Russian company—one that others already want to copy in Russia and elsewhere. ‘At the end of December 2021, there were only 72 stores. By December 2022, we already had over 500 points of sale, and there are more to come!’ said Ilya Yakubson.
In his opinion, it is sensible to set ambitious goals, move towards fulfilling them in line with a ‘work hard and have fun’ approach, and constantly optimise processes without wasting time on unnecessary things. These principles formed the base of the new company’s corporate strategy and culture. ‘In our company, it is the norm to communicate informally; you can interrupt others in meetings and come to work wearing hoodies and jeans. I don't want to control my employees—it's inefficient. Therefore, we hire those who share our values and are willing to honestly work in the team’s best interests, trying to fulfil our common tasks as effectively as possible,’ the managing director explained.
Ilya Yakubson has worked in retail for many years. In the meeting with students, he explained that he proposed the idea of creating hard discounters as long as 30 years ago. As he was actively doing business, Ilya Yakubson realised that his knowledge lacked systematisation, so he wrote a dissertation for a Candidate of Sciences degree, earned an MBA, and studied at London Business School, one of the world's most prestigious educational institutions. According to the guest, education provides consistency, erudition, objectivity, and the ability to accept different points of view.
Now, the managing director of Chizhik combines his academic knowledge with a practical approach. He regularly visits stores and communicates with employees, and recommends that managers do the same in order to understand the work from the perspective of colleagues and customers. ‘One day we had to put out some bread. Back then, each loaf was to be put out separately. And when I personally put 400 loaves on the bottom shelf and felt pain in my back, I realised that it was inefficient! It had to be changed! Since then, we have been putting out bread in boxes in our chain,’ Ilya explained. He emphasised that it is good for master's students to undergo in-store practical training to see how everything works with their own eyes.
The Master’s programme ‘Retail Management’ teaches students to understand how a vast network of suppliers, manufacturers, and partners works, as well as how to manage this network, solve real business tasks, and apply digital technologies currently used in various retail areas.
Alina Agaidarova, second-year student of the programme and one of the event attendees, shared some thoughts regarding her experience. She won the evening’s contest of questions for the speaker. Alina aims to earn an honours degree and plans to build a store model as part of her master’s thesis. In order to dive deeper into the topic, she needed access to an existing store, and Chizhik’s team was the first to respond. ‘My task was to collect some data, but I can’t just sit around while everyone else is working! I joined the staff on the retail floor, and now I work there part-time. My mindset has changed completely, as has my attitude towards store employees,’ Alina said. ‘It was interesting for me to get to know these people, listen to their stories, and find out why they enjoy working at Chizhik in particular having moved from other stores. I've learnt how important it is for a company to value its employees’ work. My thesis would be incomplete without this practice.’
The students also discussed something everyone likes—ice cream. Chizhik has its own brands, and the company works with the best manufacturers to produce them. ‘We sell what we eat ourselves! We don’t compromise on quality,’ Ilya noted. He also told the students how to make quality affordable, what can be optimised, and what must never be skimped on.
The meeting had an open and trusting atmosphere; students undergoing practical training at Chizhik took the opportunity to discuss work-related issues and prospects and even to ask some tough questions. Informal meetings and open discussions with business leaders are a unique selling point of the ‘Retail Management’ programme. The students can learn directly from professionals by asking the most pressing questions and receiving answers to all of them.