About the project «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 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.
Understanding the finer points of international relations can be a valuable skill not only in service to the state, but also in business, where people of different cultures interact. In this issue of Success Builder, HSE graduate Konstantin Kaminsky, Deputy Director of Astons (London) explains how his activities as a student helped him enroll in business school, how to look for a job in London, and how to communicate on a daily basis with millionaires of all nationalities.
What motivated you to move to England?
I’ve liked Great Britain since my school days and have always considered London a key international centre. I had a homestay with a London family in the 2000s, and for years had wanted to return. After earning my Bachelor’s at HSE, I enrolled in the University of Bath School of Management. I graduated with honors, set out to build a career in the international market, and found a job. I am currently the deputy director of the British investment firm Astons and am responsible for all operational activity. This is an effective use of my knowledge and skills. And I recently recruited my fellow HSE alumnus Igor Nemtsov, who had been building a successful career in management consulting, to head the Russian office of Astons. He and I work well together.
Which qualities does HSE develop in its graduates? What do they have in common?
My fellow students and I often discuss what makes HSE graduates different. Most of the people who study at HSE are determined and unafraid of hard work. My colleagues and I were lucky to study together and to meet a number of talented and hardworking people. As a brand and a system of education, HSE has made us similar in terms of key skills – our ability to handle stress and persevere. We were taught to assimilate new fields very quickly and without anyone helping us. My experience in the real world has shown me that very few people are able to figure things out on their own – to do the necessary research, to expand their understanding of a subject, and to find solutions to problems. Such specialists are very valuable because they are universal and can switch to almost any sphere.
This ability for self-guided study distinguishes HSE graduates on the international market as well. And that is why, when the company needed another employee, I thought first of contacting a fellow HSE graduate. Everything is changing rapidly in our segment of the investment industry: there are no authorities, professors, or books to answer your questions. You have to deal with everything yourself, study the question on your own, and follow your intuition.
What played a key role for you in building a career?
Some fellow HSE students and I created ‘Modern Politics,’ a publication on international politics and economics. We really wanted to get involved in international relations, but understood that it was difficult to enter that profession in Russia. That meant we had to change the market ourselves. With the blessing of the dean of our faculty, Sergey Karagonov, we created a student online publication on international economics and geopolitics.
There were eight of us. We successfully wrote and promoted articles in our areas of specialisation and became prominent young experts — even participating in the Russian government’s Valdai International Discussion Club.
This was an important experience, but we wanted to focus on business careers. At that point, we switched gears from international relations to international business. This was a crucial shift, and we pulled it off thanks to our ability to adapt to new situations and gain a grasp of fundamentally new fields very quickly.
I decided to enroll in the University of Bath School of Management and it was actually my activity as an HSE student that helped my application. The admissions board felt that the online media we had created was a great platform for young international relations students, and so the University of Bath offered me a scholarship. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that HSE is indeed known in the West: it is the only Russian university whose diploma is recognised by both universities and employers.
Had HSE adequately prepared you to continue your education in England?
The coursework was easy. This was in part because HSE gave us a very good business English course. Previous HSE classes in basic micro- and macroeconomics, mathematics, and other areas also helped. Subjects at HSE are taught thoroughly and focus on the fundamentals: you become deeply involved in the subject and assimilate the material easily. All that remains is to place knowledge on top of that solid foundation. Half of our HSE graduating class had no difficulty entering Western Master’s programmes.
We had lots of classes on economics and business, which saved us from the narrow skill set and ‘karma’ for which, for example, MGIMO international relations students are known. With a good grounding in economics, business English, and other forms of practical knowledge, most of my classmates switched effortlessly to other industries and are managing extemely well in them.
What makes the London business environment unique? Why is it considered a good place to study business, finance, and economics, and to gain work experience?
London is a modern global business centre, a microcosm of the world that brings together people of all nationalities. You don’t have to go through a process of adaptation here. No one tries to force you into a cultural cubbyhole. This kind of open environment attracts the most talented people from different countries: they enjoy a great life here and are free to explore their options. This is a good place to do business. There are no values that HSE graduates, for example, would not understand. That’s why a lot of ICEF graduates are working in London. I often run into them on the street. Before coming to work at Astons, I tried to get a job with Google in Dublin. It turned out that about 5-7 HSE grads work there. They met me, showed me the city, and told me all about the company, even though we had never met before. This mutual support and positive attitude towards each other is characteristic of the HSE community. Whatever major company you go to here, you’ll inevitably find one or two HSE grads working there. This is nice. And I’ll bet the same is true regarding the graduates of top universities from different countries.
Is it easy to find a promising job in London?
Despite its attractiveness, London is a difficult place for foreigners because of the migration policy. Only 30% of companies in England are licensed to hire foreigners. And, in order to hire you, the company must prove to the Migration Service that there are no qualified candidates from Great Britain or the European Union who could fill that position. After getting my Master’s, I searched for a job for about four months and had between 20 and 30 interviews – including at Google and Bloomberg – but whenever it reached the final stage, they would say: ‘We have to hire an EU citizen.’
So, I was lucky to find a position where my experience and background matched the company’s requirements so closely. This was an online media job to launch the British edition of Kommersant newspaper. Everything fell into place: I’m Russian, I had created an online publication from scratch and ran it for three years, I have a British education, and I know the basics of web development. I was clearly the most suitable candidate and the company agreed to go through all the hassle of the registration process to give me the job. The project was successful and I was promoted to Director of Internet Marketing. I then started building relationships with clients and consulting, and I continue to actively participate in the company’s development.
What does the company do and what are your specific duties?
The company specialises in helping foreigners obtain U.K. citizenship through investment. According to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2018, more than 80% of people with at least $5 million in capital either have dual citizenship already or are planning to obtain it. This is a rapidly growing industry right now, and although London is the world centre for millionaires, relatively few of them are Russians – despite the stereotype. Now a huge wave of people is coming to London from China (who comprise 50% of our clients), the Middle East, Dubai, and Southeast Asia. There are only a few places where these people, with their fortunes in the millions or billions, can live comfortably and provide their children with a quality education that meets their needs. So they go to London, that has the infrastructure to meet luxury needs at all levels. For more than 30 years, our company has been helping foreign investors to settle in a new location, transfer their capital, solve taxation issues, and invest properly.
The minimum budget of our clients is approximately 2 million pounds
That is, more than 900 million pounds have passed through Astons into the country in just the last 5-10 years. The state really loves us for this and supports us in every possible way. Now we offer clients citizenship in other EU countries as well: Cyprus and Malta, as well as the Caribbean. We help investors buy real estate and securities, help them open bank accounts, and provide them with full legal support. We have offices in London, Dubai, Moscow, Shanghai, and Beijing. We recently opened an office in Cyprus and plan to expand further.
Your job primarily involves communicating with investors from different countries and cultures. How does your training in international relations help?
Our company is ultra-international because all of our clients are foreigners. Now, due to the inflow of investment from China, we have eight Chinese employees in our office. At HSE, I majored in international relations with China and I studied Chinese – which often comes in handy. I sometimes work with Chinese-language documents and help these clients open bank accounts. But it is even more important to understand your clients’ way of thinking, and since I studied Chinese culture and language, it is easier for me to deal with issues connected with the Chinese and British cultures.
There are people of 10 different nationalities on our team, and my job is a daily example of international relations in miniature. When you have a good understanding of these people’s cultures, it is easier to communicate with them. An education in international relations probably enables you to be at ease, not to create barriers, and to make a comfortable environment for people of all nationalities.
Concerning the psychology of doing business – every culture has its own specific features, and not knowing them can lead to blunders and failure. What has been your experience in this regard?
I have seen a thousand times over that the rules of doing business – and for negotiations in particular – are fundamentally different in different cultures. The Chinese are especially different.
In London I have come to realise just how much we Russians are Europeans. We have a completely European mentality.
The Chinese and Japanese are not like us. It’s as though they were from another planet: everything with them is completely different, starting with the etiquette of negotiations and ending with their goals – the meaning of which can strike us as absurd. And our goal, as a company, is to translate foreign standards to the British standard and to help clients adapt to new living conditions.
Is there a community of HSE alumni in London?
There are quite a few HSE grads in London, but they do not communicate in any organised way, unfortunately. It would be great if HSE would take the initiative to gather all of its alumni at least once a year in this or that city of the world. It would be cool to meet all together, make friends, and establish business connections. It would make for great international networking!
I communicate actively with HSE graduates in Moscow. I go there on business every two months and meet with my former classmates for work and personal reasons. I see how they are growing, working in more and more interesting positions in different companies and opening their own businesses. One is a top manager at Beeline and another at Yandex. Others are building successful careers in international corporations. Many have already established themselves as entrepreneurs: one has a construction company and a successful chain of restaurants. They are achieving success in different fields, and it is great to follow their progress.