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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.

After graduating with honours from the HSE FES, Artyom Gudov decided to go into business. He successfully managed the investment departments of the major Russian companies OZON and M.Video – Eldorado and now works as CFO of the Eqvilent group of companies headquartered in Dubai. In this interview with Success Builder, Mr. Gudov shared why he switched from banking to industry, why marketplaces are the future, and how you can make money on high-frequency trading.

How did you choose a university?

I attended the Preparatory School for the Humanities No. 2 in the Nizhny Novgorod region, in the city of Sarov (the center of Russia’s nuclear programme, part of a group of closed cities - Ed.). I participated in numerous Academic Olympics in various subjects, from mathematics and geography to English and astronomy. At school I had a wide range of interests, but I liked math and economics the most. With such interests, it was logical that my future path led to the Faculty of Economics.

Having perfect grades when I finished school helped in my college applications, and in my final schoolyear, I was a top finisher in the Moscow Academic Olympics in Mathematics held by the Mechanics & Mathematics Faculty of Moscow State University. Thanks to placing in this Academic Olympics, I was guaranteed admission to any economics, math, or physics department at any Moscow university. I attended several open houses, talked to university students, and in the end, I had the impression that HSE University and the FES were the best option. I still think I chose the right place.

Did your parents influence your decision?

My father is a radio physicist and works at a state enterprise in Sarov. My mother is an economist. My parents didn’t try to choose a university for me. I had complete freedom in terms of making a decision. Economics and finance seemed like a good career track since I did well in economics. My parents supported me in every possiple way. My dad liked the fact that economics was also connected with languages. Because I had studied at the Preparatory School for the Humanities that focused on English, I knew the lanugage quite well.

In terms of expectations and reality, how did you feel when you reached the university after school?

I was mentally prepared and knew that it would not be easy to study at HSE University, but it was interesting that I would be studying lots of mathematics and various economic disciplines. I knew that HSE University had strong teachers and high standards. I met smart and well-rounded fellow students, with many of whom I later became friends. The workload for the first two years was very heavy, on top of which I had to adapt to life in the capital. Before that, I rarely came to Moscow and knew almost noone there. But I managed to endure all this: I began communicating a lot with other students and teachers and a new social circle developed that helped me adapt and get used to it.

How did you manage to become one of the best students in the course? You were even nominated for the Golden HSE Award as a Silver Nestling.

I would single out three main factors. First, I had a good foundation in economics, mathematics, and English thanks to my preparatory school, my preparation for the Academic Olympics, and lessons with private tutors. Second, my strong work ethic helped. Thanks to its intensive programme, HSE University teaches you to put in the effort and strive for excellence on your exams. You can’t get by here based only on your previous knowledge because you need to master a lot of new information for your studies.

To do well at HSE University, you need to work hard every day, and not only just before exams

And the third factor is the support of teachers and upperclassmen. In addition to interesting conversation, they gave me valuable advice on what to focus on, which classes I should never skip, and the most interesting electives. When you study at a top university, you need to assimilate a large volume of information quickly while dealing with personal and career-related questions at the same time. You also have to be able to set priorities correctly. HSE teaches you to put in the effort to be the best.

How did you deal with career questions?

I devoted more time to my studies and decided not to look for a permanent job outside HSE University until I had finished my bachelor’s degree. I did some tutoring, worked at the Laboratory for Entrepreneurship Research, and took part in an interesting project of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor where we analysed a large database in order to use and deepen our knowledge of mathematics, statistics, and econometrics, then based on this, write articles and speak at conferences. I liked research activities, and it’s great that HSE gave me such opportunities. I travelled to the U.S. and China to speak at conferences and also prepared projects for summer science schools in the Netherlands and Germany, and attended several research seminars and conferences in Russia.

At the same time, I participated in case championships, mostly with my classmates, gaining experience in solving applied business problems. We formed teams, worked on projects, and reached the finals of several case championships. We didn’t place first, but often found ourselves among the top finishers. Participating in case championships has helped me develop useful skills in teamwork, systematising information, putting analytics conclusions into visual form, and making detailed presentations of the work. Because, as a rule, the cases were related to consulting, my career interests at that time leaned in this direction. I completed two consulting internships: I worked on a project at BCG and on several projects at Accenture. In my fourth undergraduate year, I decided to major in Corporate Finance (Economics and Company Finance). As a result, I became more interested in finance and decided to pursue the ICEF master’s programme with an emphasis on Financial Economics.

What contributed to your academic success? Why didn’t you go into research?

Developing an interest in science depends not only on the student, but also on his mentors as well as on how engaging the courses are, whether he has an opportunity to conduct interesting research and interact with outstanding teachers and researchers. I was lucky in this regard: the Faculty of Economic Sciences has a strong teaching staff and experienced professors worked in our laboratory, with whom we conducted interesting projects. I liked that I could use my accumulated knowledge in large-scale research projects.

During my fourth undergraduate year, I had to decide whether to pursue science or follow a corporate career. In the end, I chose business. Even though, by nature, I have always liked to study and do research-related analytics, I also wanted to see the applied results of my work. In science, you can only indirectly influence what is happening around you through research and teaching. But by developing a business, working in companies or running your own business, you can have a greater positive influence on the world around you.

Why did you choose the ICEF master’s programme?

When I earned my bachelor’s degree, the question arose as to whether to get a master’s because I had already decided to pursue a corporate career. Some of my classmates had started working full-time while still undergrads, getting jobs in prestigious companies. I decided not to rush, to earn a master’s, take several internships, and then determine the type of business that interested me most. One option was to get a master’s from the same faculty where I had earned my bachelor’s, but on the other hand, I wanted to delve into finance and continue my education in English according to international standards.

ICEF is a strong brand that is well known among companies and the scientific community

That’s why I opted for the ICEF master’s programme. I liked that the Financial Economics master’s programme is focused on finance, that the courses are taught in English by Russian and foreign specialists who hold PhDs, and that graduates are issued a certificate of compliance with the quality standards of the London School of Economics. What’s more, this program has a strong academic bias, which I liked from the start. In the second year of my master’s programme, I started working at Sberbank CIB, where I began applying what I had learned in my undergraduate and graduate programmes.

Also, as a master’s student, I managed to qualify for the First Generation Foundation, a community of students and university graduates that helps talented young people develop in corporate careers and entrepreneurship. Thanks to the familial atmosphere of the foundation, the solidarity and involvement of the participants, I was lucky to make many good friends with whom I am still maintain regular contact.

After earning my master’s degree I worked and, at the same time, taught an optional ICEF course on personal investment and finance for three years. Since I was interested in finance and corporate and personal investing, I had accumulated a certain amount of knowledge that I shared in a personal blog. I also decided to systematise these achievements in the form of a course for ICEF undergraduates. The course included very little theory. It was more applied advice on where to invest, how to form a portfolio of financial instruments and manage personal budgets.

Are you still blogging?

Yes, although less actively. After I began working in leadership positions, there were more responsiblities and duties. I never aspired to become an info-businessman, to make money on the number of views I got or to convince people of something. For me, it is a socio-educational project and a hobby, an opportunity to share my knowledge of investing and saving, as well as analyses of current events, with an audience of more than 10,000 people.

Graduates of the ICEF Financial Economics programme often become ‘quants’—professionals who trade in the financial markets using the latest technology and sophisticated mathematical and statistical algorithms. Is your current work somehow connected with quantitative analytics?

There are some connections. I am a CFO, which is loosely related to quantitative analytics. I work in classical finance: working with banks, treasuries, reporting, risk analysis, budgeting, planning, procurement and corporate development.

The HSE University faculty that is closest to what our quantitative analysts are doing now is the School of Data Analysis and Artificial Intelligence that was created jointly with Yandex. Quantitative analysis requires serious knowledge of data science and machine learning, but my work is more related to classical finance.

As a finance specialist, why didn’t you go into banking? Didn’t you like it?

Actually, corporate and investment banking is very interesting. I worked in corporate banking at Sberbank CIB where there are far more pros than cons for a novice finance specialist. This is a great job were you can quickly familiarise yourself with the product portfolios of corporate clients, take part in major transactions to finance the purchase of companies, the construction of factories and housing developments, gain an understanding of derivative transactions, and learn more about the businesses of the largest companies and holdings.

Sberbank CIB has a strong team from which you can learn a lot in terms of conducting transactions and working effectively with corporate clients. In general, there are several reasons why I left and went into investments, and then into industry. First, my finance and banking interests leaned more towards modeling and investment, and I didn’t get enough of those at Sberbank CIB.

Second, when you work in banking, you look at the business superficially and don’t have time to dive deeply into the business models of different companies. I wanted more applied things—to feel that the actions that I performed were reflected in real events and significantly affected business processes and companies’ development. When you’re inside a business, by your actions you create products, implement investment projects, and improve the customer’s purchasing path. This is the most applied activity, it creates value, and this was interesting for me.

What was your goal when you went to work at M.Video? Did you want to see the results of your labour?

It was almost by chance that I wound up at the M.Video - Eldorado group. At that time, the situation in the home appliances and electronics market was such that the Safmar group, that owned Eldorado, M.Video and Technosila, decided to combine these companies into a holding, creating a common company managing all these assets. To make that happen, I was recommended for the head of investment position at M.Video. At that time, the CFO of the company, Ekaterina Sokolova—the best financial director in the retail industry according to a Kommersant Publishing House rating—gathered a strong and professional team and was going to further expand it with an employee who would be involved in building the investment process, integrating businesses, and assessing the value of companies within transactions . After several interviews and tests, they made me an offer, and I was lucky to join the team.

Subsequently, M.Video bought Eldorado, strengthening the position of the leading company. Under my leadership, an investment department was created, where it was necessary to form a team, establish processes and create a center of financial competencies. Then my work, in addition to analytical tasks, was supplemented by managerial ones, and I am very grateful to the management of M.Video - Eldorado for their faith in me. It turned out to be a source of significant career and professional growth; our team performed well with the ongoing projects. At the end of 2019, I was recognized as Employee of the Year in a company of 30,000 people. We were engaged in various projects: selection of investment projects and IT products for launch, implementation of geoanalytics in order to open new stores in the optimal way in different Russian cities, and assessing the cost of acquired companies and real estate for sale. Thus, I was able to master new competencies by solving complex problems and I really felt the applied aspect of working in finance.

What made you want to leave M.Video - Eldorado for OZON?

I tried to study not only the Russian experience of the retail and e-commerce industry, but also international experience. I read a lot of books and bank studies, and analyzed information about different companies.

I was more and more convinced that the future of retail lies with multi-category companies that do not specialise in one sector, but offer customers the widest possible assortment

These are the largest marketplaces. In Russia, it’s OZON and Wildberries, in the U.S. and Europe, it’s Amazon, in Latin America, it’s Mercado Libre, and in China, Alibaba, etc. The management of M.Video - Eldorado was more focused on securing its leadership position in the home appliances and electronics market. But as an investment specialist, I wanted a new challenge and the opportunity to participate in building a business that was many times larger.

OZON was just such a promising marketplace. In the fall of 2020, it became known that the company planned to hold an IPO on the American Nasdaq exchange. OZON had a vacancy for an investment manager who was supposed to be involved in the analysis of investment projects, the planning and control of capital investments, the holding of investment committees, transactions with warehouse and office real estate, and business valuation. My profile was well-suited for this function, and I am glad that I managed to contribute to the rapid growth of what at that time was already a large company.

I had been working at OZON for about two years when a good friend told me that he was building an international group of companies headquartered in Dubai. He needed a person who would deal with the finances of this holding. In my work, I had accumulated experience and skills that could be used when managing the finances of a large business. So I moved to the Eqvilent group of companies as CFO and decided to move to Dubai.

What does the company do? What innovation does it bring to the field of finance?

The Eqvilent group of companies is engaged in algorithmic trading of financial instruments and is a leader on a number of the world's largest exchanges, providing liquidity on various platforms. Instruments can be different: futures, options, stocks, metals, currencies, and cryptocurrencies. We specialize in algorithmic high-frequency trading (HFT). In this regard, the company cannot be called a classic trading structure with traders and analysts who manually choose where to invest. We use only algorithmic strategies, and the main resource is data and human capital.

The group of companies was founded by one of the world’s best ‘quants’, who, by the way, is also an HSE alumnus

He has put together and developed Eqvilent’s strong expertise in advanced machine learning and data analysis techniques. In short, we analyse a large amount of data that can help predict the movement of financial instruments: which of them will rise in price and which will fall. The ‘quants’ build mathematical models using the enormous computing power of servers and supercomputers. From the results of such work, you can extract significant profit from trading activities. We scale the results on new exchanges and financial instruments that share similar patterns and relationships.

On the IT side, we provide rapid involvement in different exchanges in order to quickly receive information and to send buy and sell orders. Simply put, Eqvilent is a symbiosis of a research and technology company. Developers are also an important part of the company. They write a low-latency platform and develop FPGA technologies so that the trading code created by ‘quants’ works effectively for us. The company is growing rapidly, so we have vacancies for ‘quants’ and C++ developers. Interested candidates can submit their résumés; they will all be considered.

What sort of interesting things do you encounter as the CFO of such a company?

Our business is international; we trade in different countries of the world—in Europe, Asia and America—and based on this, in our financial activities we need to take into account the legislative features of these countries, keep financial records, and interact with banks, brokers, consultants, auditors, regulators and other counterparties. In addition, like any international financial company, our reporting is carried out according to international standards (in our case, according to IFRS), which requires special competencies in the field of financial accounting. Therefore, my tasks are somewhat non-standard for financial directors of classical industries. Due to the fact that we are engaged in high-frequency trading and are the leader on the exchanges in terms of daily turnover, we have a lot of transactions every day. It’s sometimes difficult to take account of and analyse them, and exchanges can upload and provide data for only a limited time.

How does the financial world of Dubai feel about cryptocurrencies? Does your company use them?

Eqvilent has two lines of business: with classic assets and with cryptocurrencies. Since we operate in several countries, the regulations in each are different, and you have to comply with the laws of different markets. In this regard, the situation in the Emirates is interesting. On the one hand, it has special free zones (DMCC, ADGM), where it is permitted to register cryptocurrency companies and funds, as well as conduct operations in crypto. By contrast, in other free zones and on the mainland, most classical banks treat cryptocurrencies conservatively and don’t even accept clients who are associated with cryptocurrency transactions.

So, the situation is two-sided: you can buy real estate for cryptocurrency, but classical banks, a number of state-owned companies and other sectors of the economy have so far refrained from working with crypto. Therefore, the part of our business that is not related to cryptocurrencies is located in the UAE. However, general regulation of the circulation of cryptocurrencies is being actively developed here, and in the near future we expect that there will be more clarity regarding the rules for working with them.