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.
In 2010, a tourism cluster appeared in the North Caucasus that signified a new and prospective field for the Russian travel industry. Below, Northern Caucasus Resorts CEO Oleg Gorchev talks about why one might want to vacation in Chechnya, what his children think about his job, and what it was like to be part of the first class to graduate from the Higher School of Economics.
How did you get into economics?
I was lucky. I was in the first class accepted to HSE, and when I got in I said to myself, ‘this is it. I’m where I’m supposed to be.’ For me, HSE is not only an alma mater; it’s an entire history. I got into the economics department, where I was noticed by the first vice rector, who offered me the role of his assistant. I agreed, of course, and spent a year as an HSE staff member. It was a surprising time, and it was truly interesting. I got to work on new things.
Why didn’t you stay to work at HSE?
I had perfect grades my second year, and thanks to HSE I found an internship my third year at one of the strongest organisations at the time in the IT world called IBS. I can say that these were hard years for me; in the morning I went to my first four lectures and then had two other lectures in the evening. I’d get home at midnight, and then in the morning I’d have to be back to HSE. This lasted nearly four years.
What was HSE like at the time?
There was absolute freedom back then. We were the first group of students, and we felt like the best, even cooler than Moscow State. HSE had a certain spirit to it. There weren’t a lot of students, but each of us achieved what we wanted to in life.
People at startups might criticize me for this, but in business it’s definitely worth being able to wait
And did the instructors respond to the students’ attitude?
Of course. HSE offered a new, western education with unique courses taught in English alongside foreign programmes and universities such as the Sorbonne. A lot of students worked at HSE, and my colleagues and I were like one big family. Now this is a big and respectable university, but at first it was a family, and we were all working towards a common goal.
Did HSE live up to the hopes and expectations that were set at the very beginning?
I think HSE exceeded expectations. When I ask my friends where they want their children to study, they say the Higher School of Economics. [HSE Rector] Yaroslav Kuzminov is a brilliant person who created a school that allows people to realise their full potential.
How did your career begin?
When I started working at IBS, I realised immediately that I had the necessary skills and could apply them to my work. It was a dream. My work and my studies became one, and it was fantastic. I worked at IBS for six and a half years and worked my way up to sales director. What I can tell all current students is this: go work, guys. Though combining work and school might deprive you of some things, you have to remain strong and stay set on achieving your goals and growing.
It doesn’t exactly sound like you were headed for the tourism industry.
I was interested in a lot of things, and despite my purposeful start, I didn’t remain in IT. After my time in the field, I worked in finance and investments, then in energy, and now it’s tourism.
What are your management principles?
I think that the government has built a rather complex, but effective financial management system, and we not only have to work in it, but we have to be the best, the most effective, and the most successful. HSE taught me to think in terms of the big picture, not in pieces. I don’t make rash decisions. I don’t worry or jump into something hastily. When people say to me, ‘let’s launch this mega advertisement fast, we’ll attract a ton of clients,’ I always decline. The biggest problem is when a client doesn’t get what they were promised. People at startups might criticize me for this, but in big business it’s definitely worth being able to wait. You have to present your offer in a nice way, creating interest today so that a boom happens tomorrow and you can move forward in a more guided manner.
Of course, like everyone else, at Northern Caucasus Resorts we factor in investment efficiency and return on capital. But in management, you have to feel like you’re somewhat of an investment banker. This is the difference between being the owner of a business and, figuratively speaking, being a hired manager. A hired manager is always able to explain why something didn’t work and for this person it is reasonable not to root for results. But a person who is running a business for themselves is never able to explain why something didn’t work out because he or she gave it their all. I adhere to the paradigm that even as the head of a company – and even if it’s a state-owned company – I have to try to make everything work out. We have a lot of stories relating to financial reports and all the other behind-the-scenes work, but there’s also a sense of spirit, pride, and passion.
An important skill for anyone to have, not just a manager, is not to be afraid to start over no matter how old you are
How does career growth impact competencies?
You can be an amazing analyst and come up with super reports, but you will always remain on the sidelines doing these reports. It’s a question of what you want. Let’s say I’m able to calculate models in Excel and this is worth $3,000 a month. The head of the department’s salary is higher, but you might lose this skill in this position, and it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be any good with your new responsibilities. And a lot of people don’t want to go up on the career ladder specifically because they understand that they are currently good ‘doers’ and get good money for what they do. So at a certain point you have to decide between career growth and the growth of your professional skills and competencies.
Do specialists who became managers need to gain additional management experience?
They do. There are sometimes situations where you’ve done everything that depends on you in a project, but did not do anything new – you didn’t grow and you didn’t gain new experience. This is when it’s worth taking a break, going back to school, and finding fresh contacts. Business school is the best option here. You change your patterns of perception. This is extremely helpful, and being in an environment with energetically charged people like yourself helps you reorganize. When you learn to live in a social framework, this framework clutches onto you. Overall, a very important skill for anyone, not just a manager, is not being afraid to start over no matter how old you are. Each year it becomes scarier and scarier to change something; it’s not clear why. Are you enjoying life all the same? You should enjoy everything you do, including work.
Did you have the temptation to start a business and work for yourself?
I had a project I was working on right before Northern Caucasus Resorts. I really like it here. I love my job because I can take my kids by the hand and show them exactly what I’ve done. This is pretty cool, you have to admit. My children are big fans of my work. Sure, you might give them less attention, but it’s important that they see their parents’ success. I am thankful to fate for being able to go to the Arkhyz resort for the holidays and ski with my 3.5-year-old son. And I understand that I’m creating a new story. For me it’s really easy to say that my life is filled with wonderful things. Yes you get tired, and yes it’s incredibly difficult, but that’s life. It was also difficult when I would get up at 6 o’clock in the morning to make it to my first lecture at HSE.
Do you know in which direction you are going to grow next?
Yes, of course. Our company is surprising in that sense. We made the right decision when we came up with our long-term strategy. We will have work to do.
Do you have to travel a lot?
I decline when my friends ask if I want to get away to Sochi for the weekend. Why? I’m tired of flying. I fly about twice a week. The company currently has three priorities – Veduchi in Chechnya, Arkhyz in Karachay-Cherkessia, and Elbrus in Kabardino-Balkaria. We are building a resort and skiing infrastructure there.
There are different kinds of stereotypes surrounding these territories.
And that’s dangerous. Chechnya is a fantastic region and Grozny is a beautiful city. The road to our new resort, Veduchi, is unforgettable with its watchtowers and views of the mountains. You won’t find a more peaceful and welcoming place than Chechnya, and our project is one tool that is helping create a new view of the Caucasus.
I love my job because I can take my kids by the hand and show them exactly what I’ve done. This is pretty cool, you have to admit
What kinds of tourists visit resorts in the Northern Caucasus?
It’s mostly Russians, but Europeans also visit Arkhyz. We also talk with our Asian partners a lot, and this provides a good flow of tourists, but you have to thoroughly prepare for this. The most important thing is not simply attracting tourists to the resort, but making sure they enjoy it and come back.
Are there any opportunities for HSE students to gain professional work experience at your company?
We have signed agreements with a number of universities, and students can come to the resorts as interns and learn about the industry in real life, not just from a textbook. We are open to any new opportunities like that.
What are your own vacations like?
I love the sea. My parents are from Sochi, and I spent my summer vacations there. Now I try to get back to these places as much as possible.