About the project
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 graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
HSE alumnus Oleg Fomichev, who is currently Deputy Economic Development Minister of Russia, has tried to make the ministry’s work more understandable to the average Russian, and he allows those who work under him to be creative in their work with such a conservative discipline as economics. In an exclusive interview with Success Builder, Fomichev discusses what it is like working as a state official, as well as why a recent college graduate might be interested in such a field.
You graduated from HSE and Erasmus University. How were you able to study at two universities at the same time?
HSE had signed an agreement with Erasmus University to create a joint-degree programme, which was an excellent opportunity for HSE master’s students to get an international diploma. Dutch professors taught the classes, and exams were given in English. You had to translate your thesis and defend it in front of a committee of foreign professors, and you also had to complete three assignments that counted towards the exam. This was an extremely positive experience. When you defend your thesis in front of an international committee, you not only confirm your level of professionalism, but you also show that you’re able to quickly convert your knowledge on a linguistic and intellectual level. And everyone who did this successfully – there were four of us – received a degree from Erasmus University.
Is it easy for a recent college graduate to find government work? Is there a demand for younger employees?
Yes, there’s always demand. It’s rather easy getting an entry-level position with the ministry. But would a college graduate really want to work for the kind of pay they give for these positions?
Young specialists decide for themselves if they want to wait. I spent a painfully long period of time deciding for myself. Since I’m not from Moscow, I didn’t have any other source of income that allowed me to drag things out. As a result, my parents supported me and I’ve been working here since 1999.
HSE has a great state management division with the highest level of expertise in the country
What if you’re a younger employee that has gotten used to a low salary but still works and works without ever getting a promotion? Does this ever happen?
This almost never happens. Government work, especially in lower level positions and at ministries that are as advanced as the Economic Development Ministry, is a very good field to go into as concerns career growth. A person’s capabilities become apparent rather quickly if he or she can handle a large workload with creativity, quality, and speed.
From what I’ve seen, the departments I oversee currently have an entire array of young specialists who, over the course of just three or four years, go from entry-level positions all the way up to deputy department chiefs or division heads. The ministry’s structure is often being reorganised: new vacancies arise, people move around, some people replace others, etc. This is when you have to take a look at the younger employees who have proven themselves. You already know what they’re capable of. You toss them in the water, so to speak, and see what new qualities they display, as well as how they grow and become independent, responsible, and useful in their new role.
Which specific qualities make is almost certain that a person can advance in government work?
First and foremost is their capacity for work. As managers, we officially have an irregular workday, and this is reflected in the work of those who work under us. We have to prepare urgent materials and react to different demands that arise almost 24/7 at the drop of a hat. It’s also necessary to show initiative and creativity since we work in an unconventional ministry. We don’t carry out mundane or routine tasks, and we always need fresh ideas and proposals.
You do need professional training to work at the ministry, of course: economic theory, micro- and macroeconomics, advanced math, and a very mobile mindset. Economic theory, for example, has these beautiful models, but they are all based on assumptions that don’t exist in reality. Accordingly, whether you’re some super expert in econometrics or not, you won’t be able to put a single econometric model into practice at the ministry. Someone from the Economics Ministry might have a mind built in a way where he or she has to understand the point of economic processes and see the future consequences of certain proposals. But the main thing is being flexible in your thinking as it relates to reality.
Is it necessary to be an economist to work at the Economic Development Ministry? Around which fields is the ministry structured?
We have the Department of Macroeconomic Forecasting, for example, which is basically an entire complex of what HSE teaches you in macroeconomics. And though the models have been adjusted somewhat, we are directly applying the same theoretical economic knowledge. Of course it’s necessary to have a perfect understanding of the theories first. We also have a strategic planning division where we are developing a socioeconomic development strategy and a crisis plan. This is where you need to have a full grasp of all economic concepts.
worked for the Economic Development Ministry as of end-2015.
The ministry is large, and though it focuses on economics, it deals with a lot of different issues. For example, I oversee a team that provides different kinds of government services. The division doesn’t formally apply any economic theories, and it isn’t related to economics at all actually. It simply provides government services, one example being the multifunctional project My Documents, which also comes from our ministry. The ministry has a regional wing, as well as a territorial planning division, which in essence is the same as city planning and urban development. There’s also a division that focuses on the investment climate; it’s strictly business-related and does not work with economic theory at all really.
In your position, do you feel responsible for the fact that you really are impacting the fate of the world’s largest country?
I definitely feel that responsibility, but the truth is, I’m far from being at the top of the decision-making hierarchy. Above me are the minister, deputy prime minister, prime minister, and a lot of other intermediate positions that could end up changing my decisions. I am able to suggest that the government implement a certain project, and in this sense I have a large responsibility. It’s really wonderful and rewarding when your ideas are carried out in real life. It means you’re doing more than just making money for yourself and for your family. It means you’ve made a contribution towards the common goal of developing the country. This is a very important factor that is sometimes underestimated when people talk about government work. We are of course working for money, and we should get paid – sometimes we wish it were more [laughs] – but there are a host of other nonmaterial factors that come into play as well.
What specific projects have come from your division that we are able to see with our own eyes?
I think you already use the My Documents service and have visited the Multifunctional Centers for State and Municipal Services. These are the most exemplary of our projects. They were created specifically for the public, and the ministry rarely has the opportunity to impact your lives in such a direct way.
Our ministry is unconventional – we don’t carry out mundane or routine tasks, and we always need fresh ideas and proposals
We’re currently doing a lot for small businesses, particularly as concerns regional support programmes with specific enterprises and jobs. We created the Regulatory Impact Assessment project, which is a type of tool for businesses to impact the government. Through the project, any legislative bill is subject to analysis. In addition, the Federal Draft Regulations Portal is a very unique project, and it’s something you won’t see abroad. It contains all of the legislative acts being developed within the government. It was previously always thought that a regulation is some sort of official information that cannot be shown to anyone.
Under the initiative and with the direct participation of the Economic Development Ministry, various development institutions, innovation clusters, innovative development programmes for state companies, venture capital funds, and a host of other projects that really work and truly generate innovative development in the country have been created.
What are reforms based upon? Is it research conducted by the Economic Development Ministry? Perhaps direct requests from the public?
We use government statistics, socioeconomic development figures on specific industries, information on the type and size of certain companies, etc. Using these statistics, we are able to gather information on the main problem areas in the economy. A large part of our work is carried out with the HSE and ANE expert community, whose top-level research is regularly used by the government. At the ministry itself, there are a large number of academic experts in various fields, which covers the theoretical side of things, so to speak. And the businesses we work with constantly give us a clearer picture of the reality and problems that the average entrepreneur faces. We might think we’ve passed an excellent law, but we get feedback from businessmen rather quickly when something doesn’t work.
Aside from cooperating with HSE as a key source of economic research, in what other ways does the Economic Development Ministry partner up with the university?
HSE supplies us with the experts that carry out our research and participate in our internship programmes. The Economic Development Ministry is active in its cooperation with the HSE departments that work with things related to human capital within strategic planning. This mostly concerns [First Vice Rector Lev] Jakobson and his team. HSE has a great state management division with the highest level of expertise in the country. Nearly the entire program is formed right here, at the ministry, bridging the gap between theory and practice. HSE is truly full of specialists who are making a huge contribution to each and every department at the ministry. And this often happens free of charge through volunteer support.
Where do the majority of the younger ministry employees come from?
Many of them are from the regions. One was a department chief in Nizhny Novgorod, another is from Yekaterinburg, while another headed a ministerial division in Kaliningrad. People who live their whole lives in the centre of Moscow are the theorists of life. I myself am from the region, and my parents still live there. I’m good at seeing the real situation that exists in the smaller, more depressing regions.
in civil service and a professional higher education are required to hold top-level positions within the Economic Development Ministry.
The key word there is depressing. Why are they like that do you think? What makes our regions depressing?
Things aren’t simple there because everything depends on a manager’s personality. Two neighbouring regions might be in the same situation as concerns basic assumptions of human capital and natural resources, but there might be a gap in economic development simply because one region has a good governor and a good team that monitors how business is doing. But the other might be just one big region of gloom – no jobs, decaying infrastructure, people leaving… The problem in Russia is that the country is huge – 85 regions, and it’s very difficult to establish control over each of every one of them. There are even issues with elections, which is the key to resolving the problem. Fortunately, the country’s leadership has started paying attention to this.
It is believed that the position of ‘government official’ is a position of age. How is it possible for young people to adapt to this system and establish communication with staff?
On the one hand, there is no general recipe because each ministry has its own history and corporate culture. Our ministry is one of the youngest, however, and we’re unique in that our experts who are only around 30 can often become the head of a department and oversee a staff with people in their fifties. It’s still necessary to adapt, have the necessary qualities of a leader, understand the psychology of relationship, be able to establish your authority, etc. And this concerns any team at a large company.
What does your workday look like for the most part?
A deputy minister’s daily schedule is mostly made up of meetings. Plus I also get an incredible amount of mail each day that I sometimes have to spend hours going through. I oversee many different areas, and a large part of my time is spent monitoring deviations. There are departments, and the directors are responsible for delving into the specifics of the departments’ various fields, but my job is to analyse the problems that exist and determine how to move forward. The higher you climb on the career ladder, the less time you have and the less you can delve into your specific area. You do have more space to manoeuvre and to be creative, however.
How do you relax outside of work?
What’s most important to me is spending time with family and, of course, with friends.