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About Success Builder

How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features HSE University graduates who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences and lessons learnt and talk about how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.

Georgy Brutyan joined Otkritie Bank as a strategic analyst in 2018, when the bank was undergoing fundamental changes. He is now Managing Director for Strategy and Business Development and leads projects that strengthen the revitalised and restructured bank. In this interview with Success Builder, he explains how students obtain practical skills, why time management is a factor in career success, and why a manager needs an MBA.

How did you end up at ICEF?

I was a winner of the national Academic Olympics in Economics, so I had a wide choice of universities with economics departments. I took a particular interest in ICEF primarily because it offered studies in English according to the London School of Economics system. Compared to other HSE faculties, this opened up broad prospects for obtaining an international-level education and the opportunity to work afterwards both in Russia and abroad.

In addition, I thought about continuing my education in a foreign master’s programme. In this sense, the preparation that ICEF provides increases one’s chances considerably. When I began my studies, I was very pleased with the teachers from all over the world, the intensive workload and the exacting way in which they assessed our knowledge. This ensured that a degree from HSE University would have a high standing. And it happened that I wanted to get a broad education of some sort to make it easier to make a career choice down the road.

How did attending HSE University affect you personally and professionally?

Even at school, I set my priorities and invested my time and energy in those areas that I found interesting. These were mathematics and economics, so right from the beginning of my studies at HSE University, I had some idea of my future profession. Just entering a university is a transition to a new level of awareness; you mature in terms of your goals and your environment.

Of course, life changed a lot once I entered the university. My studies ended not at two in the afternoon, but at six in the evening. Extracurricular activities appeared, particularly participation in case championships that were very useful for understanding the applied side of what we were learning. Case championships also help in finding internships. In addition, they provide new experience with teamwork and using specific tools to implement projects. Such events prepare students for the real challenges of the industry and help them gain access to the biggest companies.

Now, when selecting candidates for Otkritie, I always look closely for similar activities in their portfolios. It seems to me that if they take an interest in case championships while at the university, think about their career and try to prepare themselves for it, this is a major advantage and it shows that they are motivated to grow.

What else do you think provides practical experience at the university?

Now HSE University has a strong focus on practical training for students; a lot of work is done in groups, including within the framework of joint courses with companies; workshops are taught by people from the business community; and more and more companies come to the campus to conduct classes oriented towards real-world practice. For example, Otkritie organises projects for students that dovetail with their studies. Participants can plunge into actual working tasks and get to know bank employees. I like this mutually beneficial cooperation between universities and companies: students get an idea of what real tasks look like; they understand work ethics, and in general, it has a positive effect on their résumés. Of course, students always need to be active and look on their own for ways to interact more closely with industry, which is very easy to do at HSE University.

As an employer, what do you think of HSE University grads?

For me, this is a major strong point in a student's résumé, especially if he or she is a student or graduate of my former ICEF programme. I have a very positive opinion of the university; this was a major chapter in my life. Therefore, I understand perfectly the value of a diploma from HSE University. It immediately indicates that a person is motivated, has a broad outlook and is ready to learn and assume responsibility. Such candidates have great potential for growth. As a rule, HSE University graduates achieve great success in the company and quickly advance to leadership positions.

Which are the most important financial market skills that ICEF teaches?

It is primarily time management and the ability to prepare thoroughly for exams and master the material effectively. Time management is a special skill that comes from dealing with an intense workload. When working in the financial sector, this helps you meet deadlines and cope with a large number of tasks, which is especially important as you start your career.

In general, in both the market and in life, the ability to prioritise tasks is always valued

Teamwork skills are also very important. They include the ability to build relationships, properly assign roles in a project and communicate with clients. This is more of a soft skill, but experience in working with people in the banking sector is indispensable. At the same time, the skills a student acquires of working with large data and information quickly and efficiently, and of identifying the main idea and structuring your thoughts and observations greatly simplify life at the start of your career.

Which quality do you think has been key in your career growth?

I would say that I managed to do things very quickly. I led projects very conscientiously and tried to accomplish each task in a timely manner. Ever since my ICEF studies, I have been very good at time management. Also, I wasn’t afraid of difficulties and tried to solve problems as they arose. I never missed deadlines or compromised on quality. Maybe it’s also luck, but I was definitely prepared for such tasks while still at the university.

You had apparently wanted to get a master’s degree. Why did you go to work after earning your bachelor’s?

My professional interest played a role. I started working in my third year of studies. I first held internships in different areas—from pharmaceuticals to telecoms. I kept looking around, and then, during my fourth year, I got a full-fledged job at Raiffeisen Bank, which was my first experience in banking. This seemed to fit me well, so I decided to stay in the banking sector.

Finance has always attracted me as a factor that connects all of society; I wanted to influence that which affects the daily lives of all people

I was managing pretty well and, at the time, I thought that a master’s degree would not make me a more valuable employee because work experience was what companies considered very important. In my opinion, the key advantage of a master’s degree was that it meant a change in profile or a narrower specialisation which, at that time, was not particularly necessary for me. It is also an opportunity to go to another country, but I didn’t have such goals then.

You started as a product manager. In the banking industry, what duties does that entail?

It is similar to the same position in other industries and involves developing a particular product. For a bank, this is a financial product, and in my case, it was related to IT solutions. Russian fintech is among the most advanced in the world; new solutions are constantly being introduced, which simplifies work with clients and helps automate various processes. I was involved in projects that were very interesting and new. We developed and implemented convenient technological solutions for both clients and bank employees to simplify internal processes and optimise operations in general. The introduction of such tools is very beneficial for all participants in the financial system—both for banks and for customers.

How did you end up at Otkritie Bank and what was your first job there?

I ended up in a different role that had nothing to do with IT. The bank had just gone through a reorganisation in 2018; everything was updated—from the team to the culture and work processes. They put together a new, strong team that was given ambitious goals, and it was interesting to participate in this process. Another important reason for the transition was the fact that at Raiffeisen Bank I worked with small and medium-sized businesses, but this is just one segment of the bank’s activities. I wanted to immerse myself in large projects and understand how the whole structure works, to solve everything from client to operational tasks.

It was necessary to clearly understand the banking business and its structure, so working in strategy is what gave me that opportunity. In my new position as a strategic analyst, I had to implement projects in different areas of business, with different people, which helped me to better understand the general structure of the bank as an organisation. So in 2018, I moved to Otkritie and encountered new aspects of working in a bank.

Still, you went to Sberbank for a while and then returned to Otkritie. Why?

I had a lot of expectations for Sberbank regarding my horizontal development, but these are two very different banks. Sberbank is a very large organisation with highly developed internal processes that have already been optimised. And the role of a strategist is not as prominent there as in Otkritie, where you could implement various projects, fine-tune processes or products, and bring great value to the bank. You can get good experience at Sberbank, but I didn’t have much growth there, so it wasn’t as interesting. In addition, I already had sufficient experience for the financial industry, so I preferred to return to Otkritie, which, to be honest, was doing its best to get me back.

Working at a bank like Otkritie that is not a mega-bank or a national platform has given me the opportunity to pursue my personal ambitions through in-company projects that deliver major results and provide strong involvement in business. In turn, the bank really appreciates my motivation. It turns out to be a mutually beneficial process. Otkritie has come as far in modernising itself in recent years as other banks have over the course of many years. In 2018, it was necessary to build processes from scratch, and as a strategist I had a major responsibility—my work had a major effect on almost everything.

Have the events of 2022 changed your work in any way?

I can’t say that recent events have had a strong effect on banks. It’s true that the Central Bank initially had to respond to many simultaneous challenges and make difficult decisions, but now everything has been settled. Otkritie also had to quickly adapt to the new realities. The upheavals in the Russian banking system have shown that it is important to be able to quickly negotiate with colleagues, solve problems here and now, and gently integrate into new economic relationships. The bank is accustomed to changes and looks at them positively; this helped us to come together and effectively implement new projects as a team because everyone did their part in solving the challenges we faced.

Otkritie, like most Russian banks, experienced difficulties in terms of mobile applications, but we coped well by quickly implementing alternatives. The bank also began to take a more individual approach to various specific issues. It seems to me that there was no conceptual break in the work, but the experience was interesting.

What does a managing director of a bank do?

I work in the strategic department of the bank. My role involves managing projects and teams. The transition from technological positions to more managerial ones implies that you decide yourself which task to choose and perform. You come up with a planned solution, argue for it and submit it for implementation, while supervising the execution.

Soft skills are more important here than specialised education itself, which, of course, helps you to understand the tools and functioning of the financial system. The process of growth itself went quite quickly and smoothly for me, but in terms of tasks, a lot of organisational work was added. This applies to interaction with other departments of the bank and within the team. I also communicate often with the top management of the bank now . This is a completely new level of responsibility, and I like it because I have always loved ambitious tasks.

Are you thinking about getting an MBA? For a manager, this is an important factor.

It can really help a lot in your career because an MBA provides a comprehensive understanding of business as well as good new connections. I don’t plan to get an MBA in the coming year, but I would like to get one in the future and gradually study the programmes.

How useful was an international education for working in the Russian banking system?

First of all, such an education allows you to be fluent in economic terminology. Even working in the Russian banking sector today, it is very important to communicate in a global context. In addition, it gives you freedom of choice—both in terms of continuing your education and in terms of a career. You understand the whole gist of the financial industry as well as local characteristics, and you are familiar with different products and approaches so you can make decisions ‘without borders’. At HSE University, I received more than what I currently need as a specialist. This gives me great confidence and belief that I can grow and develop in many different areas.