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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.

Igor Ostritsky, who began with Adidas CIS as the Marketing Director for Football, Basketball and Hockey, is now the head of the purchasing department for sports categories with Adidas Europe. And, as an expert with HSE University’s Graduate School of Business, he helps keep the curriculum in line with the times. In this interview with Success Builder, Mr. Ostritsky explains why he fell in love with marketing, what drives Adidas employees, and how universities provide more than just knowledge.

How did you become interested in the field that determined your choice of a university and programme?

I was attracted to management and marketing as a high school student. I wanted to get an education in economics with a full understanding of the applied side of the field. I looked at different universities, but I was most attracted by HSE University. I liked the progressiveness of the university. That was in 2005; even then, HSE was considered one of the best universities in the country and was producing outstanding specialists. I think the marketing programme was the most advanced in Russia. Of course, I chose the best and most promising. It seemed logical to go into management to get a basic understanding of the market, and then enroll in a master's program to study marketing in particular. Now these programmes are solidly united under the auspices of the Graduate School of Business, which is how it should be because they provide a fundamental understanding of the functioning of any business project. Also, the creation of the Graduate School of Business made the marketing programme more prestigious in the eyes of university applicants.

Did you plan to get a master’s degree immediately after your bachelor’s? Why?

For some reason, I was sure about this from my first year at HSE University. This turned out to be the right decision: the master’s programme really gave me a lot and was a logical continuation of my undergraduate studies. The master’s programme also included applied knowledge, much of which was very close to actual work processes and real business projects in international companies—where I have always worked. Our everyday assignments—the tasks that we solved in teams, presentations, and communications—were everything that forms the basis of the work of international corporations. This gave me invaluable experience and helped me in my career endeavors. In this sense, the master’s programme is indispensable for anyone wanting to become a specialist, at least in marketing.

How did the master’s degree affect your status as a specialist?

I would say that it gave me a clear focus in terms of understanding what I want from work and which tasks I would face. When I started out in marketing, I hadn’t worked in the field yet and had no idea of how it functioned in practice. To some extent, my master’s studies helped me gain a full understanding of what I wanted to do from the moment I started work. But I still needed to learn how to use certain tools and learn the ins and outs of business-consumer communications. It wasn’t difficult for me to explain to an employer why I wanted to go from auditing into marketing; it was logical: I had studied it at the master’s level.

Later, it occurred to me that it would be useful to work for awhile before getting a master’s degree in marketing so that the education would be more effective. This is because when you obtain the theoretical basis first and then go into the practical field, you slowly convert that knowledge. I think it would have been much more interesting to begin by studies already knowing which specific things I wanted to learn and why. Now, for example, I really understand those people who get an MBA after already working a long time in business.

How did you manage to combine work and study so successfully, and how did this help you?

My bachelor’s degree was devoted to management, which is a broad discipline that includes the most theoretical and fundamental things. But this drove me to find my way in the profession properly. It enabled me to prioritise and analyse and to form the correct mindset for a future specialist. At first, you absorb everything, but as you start working, you begin to understand how learning takes place from both sides–in theory in classes and in practice in a company. The knowledge that I received from my master’s degree studies could already be applied directly in professional tasks. It was non-stop learning for me.

While still an undergraduate, I began working in the tax audit department at Deloitte. It was my first experience of working in a large company, but not exactly in my line. There, I picked up the basics of perfectly organised working processes, plunged into the culture of a large international company, and learned how the basic tools of communication work. When I moved to other companies, this foundation helped me a lot in terms of corporate preparedness. Honestly, I didn’t like working in the tax audit department, but it did give me an inside introduction to the business. So I made the transition to marketing at the first opportunity, which came just as I entered the master’s programme.

What attracted you to marketing, both personally and professionally?

I have always found marketing interesting in that the job involves doing cool things that inspire a large number of people, such as conducting a successful marketing campaign with a real, tangible result.

When I took my first steps as a professional, I always got charged up by the examples of brands that sell emotions and enable people not only to consume, but to experience joy

I’ve always liked sports brands and, in the end, wound up at Adidas. This is a company that offers a product associated with victories, achievements, and positive emotions. Thanks to this brand, it’s possible to create interesting marketing projects in which consumers become involved very readily, and to work with a large number of famous athletes.

Before that, I worked at L’Oreal with beauty brands, which is an FMCG company with different values and consumers. But overall, it gave me a deep understanding of how marketing and sales function. There I implemented projects from scratch and learned what it was like to create a concept that would lead a person to make a purchase in favor of a brand. This is really highly motivating and allows you to plunge not only into the technical, but also the emotional and psychological side of consumer culture.

What is interesting about working in international companies? How is it useful for a novice marketing professional?

It is a serious school. For example, L’Oreal has one of the largest budgets for marketing campaigns. So do many other brands in the FMCG segment—these are generally marketing-driven business structures. Therefore, an employee in this field enjoys fabulous opportunities to implement the most ambitious projects with the maximum use of various marketing tools. You can get the most complete experience and understanding of all the nuances of advertising campaigns and product promotion in general.

When I joined Adidas in 2012, the company had not yet fully developed its marketing department. It was more into retail, focusing mainly on opening and developing stores. Over time, the situation changed and Adidas turned its attention to marketing. I was lucky: it happened just as I came to work for the company. It was interesting to build processes from scratch and derive so much enjoyment from how the face of the brand in the market is changing.

I managed to work with all the components of classical marketing: product, marketing activations, pricing, and distribution. It turned out to be the best way to study the four Ps of marketing—product, place, price, and promotion.

How did you end up at Adidas?

It was just by chance: my boss from L’Oreal moved to Adidas and invited me to join the team with her. I had long wanted to get into an international sports company; I have always loved sports and played football and I wanted to be closer to healthy activities. As a result, I’ve spent most of my career with the company, have enjoyed working in the football line and continue to do so now.

When I joined the company, I did trade marketing and activations in shopping centers. We made various presentations of new sneakers, installed treadmills in stores, and came up with interesting ways to introduce customers to the product. But just one year later, I switched to the football line that was more strategic and product-oriented. I was engaged in product development and assortment planning, choosing from the large global supply which products we would buy for the Russian market each season.

I have always been inspired by the subject of sports, which are inextricably linked with positive emotions and physical health

I was able to do cool projects in my favourite sport—football—and interact with interesting people who are active in this field, including athletes.

What do you do in your current position?

In 2019 I became the director of the football line, but I have always been involved in the development of the football business as part of product tasks, distribution, marketing activations, budget planning for marketing campaigns, etc.—in general, I worked with the whole mix. Now I’ve moved to Amsterdam, so I work not in the Russian, but in the European market and focus on procurement. The new location entailed a certain restructuring of tasks and responsibilities.

In Europe, I switched to Internet commerce and am now engaged not so much in marketing as in purchases of all sports categories for an online store that sells in 19 European countries. In effect, I’m working with the product line again. The business here is much larger than in Russia, the corporate structure is more fragmented, and there are many more departments, so the nature of the work has changed not only in terms of topics, but also in approaches.

What makes Adidas interesting in terms of corporate culture?

Compared to Deloitte, where they literally made a cult of the extremely strict dress code—which I had difficulty upholding—Adidas welcomes an athletic style in everything—clothes, lifestyle, and positive thinking. This is my kind of thing. In general, Adidas has an open corporate culture and friendly staff, which is also united by frequent in-house sporting events: races, championships, quizzes, etc. The average age of employees, as a rule, does not exceed 30, which also creates a certain atmosphere in the office. Everyone is proactive, athletic, and positive, making it a very pleasant place to work.

Has your life changed a lot since moving to Amsterdam?

Whereas before I mainly had to manage my work-related tasks, here I have to employ managerial skills for everyday challenges and for my own life in general. Our whole family moved to Amsterdam; we had to literally build all the elements of everyday life from scratch—look for an apartment, buy furniture, and deal with social and logistical questions, and all this had to be done in a short time. We’ve put a lot of effort into recreating the comfortable lifestyle we were used to in Moscow.

It took about three months to get settled in Amsterdam; it was an additional and very dramatic stage of maturation

You understand that you have a pool of responsibility not only for work, but also for yourself and for your family within the framework of completely new tasks; this is really a senior-level organisational challenge. I don’t have a lot of friends here and none of the relatives who helped us in Russia. I had to build a life with almost none of the support that I was so used to at home. But I can say that it’s very interesting to start a new stage in life, to open a new chapter in your autobiography. I’m also getting accustomed to bicycling here: Amsterdam is a city of cyclists and eco-friendly transport.

How do you provide expert assistance to the Graduate School of Business?

I am on the Academic Council of the Graduate School of Business (GSB) where I can share my thoughts on the content of the curriculum and participate in the defense of master’s theses as an expert. In addition, I am part of the GSB mentoring program: I work with students as a practitioner and try to pass along relevant knowledge. Guys who are interested in sports often turn to me. For example, I consulted the students who organised the HSE basketball championship and used my recommendations on positioning and promotion. I am always willing to participate in HSE University’s media life; I am happy to give interviews and speak at events, share my experience and expertise, and I am always open to interacting with my university.

What’s new in terms of updating and enriching programmes?

This year we seriously discussed the changes that are currently necessary in the modern realities, including the reorientation to the Asian markets because our country is economically focusing efforts in a different direction. Related to this is a change in focus in students’ specific competencies. I also always talked a lot about soft skills, in particular about presentation skills, and in general about how much students need to expand the range of professional and personal qualities, including through networking. It seems to me that studying at the university is not only about theoretical and practical knowledge. It is also a huge number of useful and interesting connections that you take with you into the larger world. In this regard, HSE University is one of the strongest universities in Russia, which helps to create cool networking opportunities and provides a strong community of like-minded people for life.