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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.

HSE University graduate Mikhail Rybakov-Matrosov heads the logistics department at the Italian company Calzedonia Group and believes that over the past year there have been more advantages than disadvantages to working in international logistics. In this interview with Success Builder, Mr. Rybakov-Matrosov shared what it’s like to become a leader at the age of 22, how German and Italian management styles differ, and how the market can profit from Western IT systems integrating with those in Russia.

Did you also study logistics before coming to HSE University?

Basically, yes. I studied at MADI, but the programme was a little more engineering oriented. As a school student, I was inspired by my father’s example to take physics and enroll in engineering. At first I became an aviation student at another university, but soon realized that this was not my calling and began to look for the least technical major where high scores in physics would get me in. The programme at MADI was the best option. It was called Technologies of Transport Processes and had a partial focus on logistics management. To be honest, for me there was only one useful subject—Transport Law—that laid a strong applied foundation for my current specialisation. An interesting teacher taught the course. He managed to give me an extremely thorough understanding of the legal issues in my field. Now I look at every business process from the legal side: okay, let’s figure out how it’s built from a legal standpoint.

Was getting a master’s at HSE University a conscious choice?

Certainly. I’ve been working in my field since my second year at MADI, but you need to understand that logistics is a very broad field. I came from abroad to the TNT express delivery company. Then I moved to Robert Bosch and I am very grateful to this company and its managers for really immersing me in various aspects of the work of a large international structure.

Working at Bosch, I really fell in love with how well put together logistics processes are

Logistics is not just about routes, warehouses and transport. It concerns the entire company and enables you to understand how everything in it works.

Bosch was a great school for me because it was also a learning process. When the internship programme ended, for example, they arranged an actual graduation ceremony for us. I really felt that my professional status had risen to a new level. I decided that I would pursue logistics and thought about getting a more specialised education.

After my bachelor’s degree, I applied to two master’s programmes in Germany because, while working at Bosch, I felt an interest in and respect for their approach to management in which everything is perfectly standardised. But at the same time, I understood that I didn’t want to live and work in Germany, because as an employee in those business structures, you are severely limited by the same standard patterns of growth and meager opportunities for self-realisation. I wanted to get into the startup culture where you can take on a large chunk of business, be creative, implement your projects and grow in unpredictable ways.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

That is why I decided to study in Russia and chose HSE, the most advanced university. At the same time, I was afraid that my theoretical background would not be enough for admission. (My practical knowledge came only from work). I pored over my logistics textbooks for a month and was able to earn a scholarship for the Strategic Management in Logistics programme at HSE University. When I found out I had been admitted, I actually screamed with joy.

You had enough applied knowledge at that time. How did your education complement that foundation?

Combining evening classes with a full-time job was both difficult and really good. By the way, my manager at Calzedonia left for an MBA programme after my graduation, saying that he was partly inspired by my success in the master’s programme. We remain in close communication. Of course, any master’s programme has an academic component, and this is more important in determining your outlook and how well you do. At the same time, you get important, in-depth knowledge in a specific area that interests you. All this together makes up a complete picture of how the area in which you have chosen to develop actually works. For example, there were very interesting and useful classes on Lean Six Sigma. We also immersed ourselves in IT and studied the most advanced technologies, such as the Internet of things. Many innovations were just entering the market, but HSE University was already telling us about them.

I admit that it was more difficult for me to study than for the guys who graduated from the HSE University undergraduate programme. I had learned the main things myself at work, but didn’t know the theory behind them. HSE University students are really capable and motivated. I was further convinced of this when later, in 2022, I led a project for freshmen in computer science for business. The students had a great understanding of business and management, offered interesting ideas and made great presentations. In general, as a really advanced university, HSE is truly capable of bringing together and developing talented people.

Do you share your current expertise with students?

In 2021, I learned about the HSE University mentoring programme by which we could offer students the opportunity to carry out a logistics project. I thought it would be an interesting experience for me, too. The company’s HR people green-lighted the project and I took it on with third-year undergraduate students in Logistics and Supply Chain Management and first-year students in Business Informatics.

To be honest, the boldness and enthusiasm of the freshmen impressed me more than the juniors. As a result, I actually presented a number of the freshmen projects to the management; some of their ideas for developing the company were in line with the already-existing plans of Calzedonia in Russia. I would love to take part again in the applied aspect of HSE University’s education; it is very inspiring and I have experience that I would like to pass on to the students.

Did working for Calzedonia interfere with your master’s studies?

I began working at the company just as I began my studies at HSE University. Interestingly, there was always some sort of connection between my studies and work. For example, after one of the classes where Andrey Vinogradov told us about players on the e-commerce market, I asked him for the contact info for one of these companies. That company subsequently became Calzedonia’s business partner in this field. I even based my thesis on Calzedonia case studies, although they turned out to be somewhat more technological than expected. Otherwise, in terms of my studies, the company was very supportive, allowing me to attend important lectures and exams, giving me flexibility in building my schedule and permitting me to use various data in my studies.

Thanks to HSE University, I have a wide list of contacts among alumni working in various business sectors and we regularly share experiences

Therefore, I can say that studying at the programme has not only left a professional mark on my biography; it has greatly enriched my life with interesting and useful acquaintances.

Why did you think Calzedonia could help you develop your logistics career?

After Bosch, I was immediately offered a fairly good position in Calzedonia and went through a long series of interviews. I was glad to get into an Italian company after a German one because it is a much more dynamic structure with a high decision-making speed and a positive attitude to change. At Bosch, it would have taken a lot longer to grow and build trust. It is an amazing company from the standpoint of learning, but at Calzedonia I was hoping for new responsibilities and unexpected opportunities to shine.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

I was put in the logistics department where colleagues from the Italian office and I began auditing and optimising the logistics processes of the company’s Russian division. At Calzedonia, I ended up becoming the head of logistics at the age of 22 while still in my first year of the master’s programme. Choosing to work for the Italians definitely played a role.

Which challenges and skills did the abrupt transition to a leadership position demand of you?

Managing the department was exciting for me, although in many ways I lacked managerial experience and leadership qualities. So at first I just tried to copy the management style of my bosses at Bosch, using them as a role model. In Calzedonia, I also had and still have a role model—my manager there supported me and passed along his management style to me. I was able to take the best of German and Italian approaches to business management and gradually form my own management language. Taking on the responsibility of a leader at a young age is really hard, but you’re full of energy and interested in experimenting and learning new things. One of the biggest challenges was recruiting. It so happened that in my new position I had to almost completely change the composition of the team, but it was a useful experience that quickly made me feel the full responsibility of my position.

Do you have to visit Italy often?

Before the pandemic, I traveled to Italy several times a year on business trips and also visited the locations of our group of companies in Croatia and China. Immersion in the Italian style of doing business gives you an understanding of the logic behind your actions as a leader. In general, my immersion into Italian culture helped me get used to a certain approach in building communications in the company. I even had an Italian accent in English for a long time. Italy has become an important country for me.in many ways, despite the fact that the lifestyle there is somewhat unusual and overly laid back for me.

Despite my focus on international business, I am increasingly convinced that working on the Russian market is especially interesting: it is much more dynamic and presents new opportunities

This is very important for me: I know that I can bring a lot of good and useful ideas to the market and this inspires me in my daily work.

Which tasks do you have in your current position?

My main task is to ensure that our stores receive goods to sell. The work begins with importing the goods. Then we get them certified and distribute them to retail outlets. You also have to solve many issues related to legislation, in particular the labeling of goods. In general, my team is heavily involved in the sales activities of the stores. All our office employees are trained at retail outlets to understand how the company’s business model operates.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

Logistics is closely related to many different processes; each company has its own way of working and it is very important to learn the ropes firsthand. This includes, for example, transfer prices and the customs value of the goods associated with them, various aspects of taxation and all the things that imports entail. I have to go into great detail in these areas. Higher education doesn’t address these things because they are connected with foreign economic activity and trade. However, these issues play a major role in my work because interaction with the customs and tax authorities is an integral part of the work processes. Only the IT department, that supports the operation of all systems, is as deeply involved in the company’s business. Being the head of the logistics department is a huge responsibility but I feel comfortable with it.

Does your technical thesis and interest in technology find any application in your work?

Of course. I think that in general, in the training of future logistics specialists, it is worth paying more attention to technical issues, since all logistics processes are connected with WMS, ERP systems and other digital platforms. My classmate from HSE University, for example, began studying IT-related logistics more and became a highly valued IT consultant; there is a great demand for such specialists.

It is very important for a person making logistics decisions to understand how the IT systems that run the whole business work

The topic of my master’s thesis touches upon the practical side of the use of digital technologies in logistics processes. I collected and studied almost the entire theoretical foundation and data for the study myself. It was a valuable experience for the future because technical knowledge has turned out to be indispensable.

Does the company use innovations such as blockchain for its logistics?

Calzedonia is a rather conservative company in this sense. But at the same time, it makes widespread use of classic IT systems like SAP. In my opinion, there is an urgent need to create a platform for integrating Western IT systems into Russian ones because, at the moment, the company cannot work without the domestically produced 1C system. We need some kind of adaptation programs that would allow us to integrate international systems into local regulations.

Photo by Mikhail Dmitriev/ HSE University

In the current situation, for example, adapting Western business to work with 1C has become a major part of consulting companies’ business. So for now, technologies for the good ol’ 1C system are in demand, and not blockchain and other innovative developments—although interesting digital solutions have been tried in logistics over the past five years.

What has changed in your work and job duties since February 2022?

The import process has obviously become more complicated. Fortunately, there is practically no embargo of our products. We continue to import our products from Europe, but we are experiencing some problems with the IT systems in stores. There was also a slight increase in logistics costs, but the company did not experience significant problems with the supply chain. The difficulties that have arisen have made the workflow more intense and force you to constantly keep your finger on the pulse by monitoring changes in current conditions.

Which professional insights gleaned from your years of work would you share with students?

I would talk more about such things as financial controlling, taxation and transfer pricing. After all, logistics closely intersects with these areas and it is important to have a broader understanding of companies’ processes, especially when it comes to international corporations. Russian companies also use international practices in their work, so this experience will be applicable in any market.