Interview with Alexey Dolgov, Head of the Department for Operational Efficiency Projects of the State Corporation “Roscosmos”
Aleksey: I graduated from the HSE with a degree in Business Informatics and started my career at SIBUR, in the strategy development department. I must say, even during university, my friends and I became interested in innovations, startups and created a club of technological entrepreneurs. There, we regularly reviewed published theoretical papers and, most importantly, held meetings with HSE students and graduates. We talked about their startups, ideas on business development and shared our suggestions on their implementation opportunities. By doing that we sought to broaden our horizons and exchange experiences. Over time it became clear that strategic consulting was my field and I accepted SIBUR's offer without hesitation. This gave me the opportunity not only to see how the development strategy is being elaborated inside the company, but also to take part in it as much as possible. I’ve worked there for three years.
Aleksey: It was interesting for me to work with different companies, to try my hand as a consultant. And when the opportunity arose to become part of the SBS Consulting team I took it. I was sure this would give me new experience.
Aleksey: First of all, it is the previously acquired knowledge of the oil and gas industry and energy. At SBS a significant part of my projects was related to gas and oil refining, production technologies, transportation, processing and related chemistry. So, my new experience was based on industry knowledge, which allowed me to apply it quite easily and effectively.
Aleksey: After one year I became a senior consultant. But even in the first year I managed several analysts, which was not easy because I had absolutely no such experience. Over years of working at SBS Consulting I have acquired managerial skills — setting clear objectives, track of results and informal, two-way communication, which is necessary for both the development of subordinates and oneself. I had to learn a lot to become a project manager. My way from senior consultant to project manager took about two years.
Aleksey: Without a doubt, the project with Rosneft greatly contributed to my professional growth. It required a lot of solutions to complex problems. This project needed a deep analysis of the global and domestic oil production and refining. The main objective was to find effective ways to employ new technology. It was necessary to suggest optimal solutions for employing two installations for primary oil refining. Each producing three million tons a year, monstrously energy-intensive and with a huge amount of equipment. The project contained two blocks of different tasks and required the work of two different teams. I had to manage one of the teams and build relationships with a very difficult customer, who sometimes took our proposals and developments with hostility.
Aleksey: Firstly, it initially seemed to me that I know quite a lot about oil refining and have a good idea of how the refinery works as a whole and each of its installations. I thought I knew the relationship and interdependence of the main technological processes. But here everything turned out to be twice as deep. Secondly, despite all the difficulties of negotiations I managed to establish communications with the clients and never enter into conflict with anyone, although there were reasons. Throughout the entire project, which lasted six months, we made a record of everything every three or four weeks. We noted every target, every meeting, every contradiction and agreement. As a result, all the team members have strengthened their technological competencies. I learned how to get along with people and get the necessary information and approvals during a project. All of this contributed to the successful implementation of the project.
Aleksey: A lot! Even the small projects were very interesting and useful. They were a good tool to learn how to act in certain situations, which was of great help in harder situations later on. For example, the SBS team was developing a business plan for a Gazprom subsidiary that builds and operates low-tonnage LNG installations. Firstly, the task was to quickly understand the technology. Moreover, there were two competing technology suppliers in the project. Secondly, it was necessary to quickly analyze the capacity of the LNG market. For example, in transport, in housing and communal services and in the energy sector, considering this market is still developing very locally in Russia and globally. The deadlines were very tight, only a month and a half was allotted for the development of a business plan. And the experience I gained then serves me well to this day. By the way, when we started this project I was a senior consultant. There they made me an interim manager. Not only was I responsible for the quality of the financial model and the business plan, but also the deadlines. And we made it!
Aleksey: I think one of the strengths is that SBS Consulting has established loyal contacts with its clients, with whom it has been maintaining business relations for a long time. To do this, the company doesn’t rely on just single projects, but builds a sequence of projects that are interesting to the customer.
Aleksey: Certainly. This opens up a certain perspective for those employees who have been working with their customers for a long time and allows them to accumulate and improve their competencies. This approach to the organization of work definitely gives an impression of a big scale. I have worked in industries related to the rocket and space industry for the last three years. I feel that I have accumulated new knowledge, developed some effective business plans and market forecasting models. Based on this experience, I can answer questions much faster and more confidently. SBS Consulting has mastered the technology of selling long-term projects. This allows to achieve high-quality results and provide reliable analytics. On one hand, it is highly appreciated by customers and on the other hand, it sharpens the skills of the consultants. Sometimes, you might be working with the same customer for several projects in a row. You visit their business, update their financial models or optimize business processes. This can give the impression that you are doing some kind of routine. But there is a valuable rational grain in this and you should understand it. Firstly, you save your time and are more or less guaranteed to avoid an emergency because you clearly see the causes and consequences of the situation that has arisen. Secondly, you can experiment and use some additional insights and test programs in cases that you have not encountered in previous projects.
Aleksey: There are several things. Financial modeling is necessary in almost any project in any way. Even if the project does not involve complex mathematics (for example, business process analysis) sooner or later it comes down to offering to optimize costs. And it is not always possible without investment or without operating costs. In some cases, it is necessary to automate the process or justify the need to use equipment capable of doing something unattainable by manual labor. Supply businesses with something they might lack or optimize the operation of a certain part of production. The second thing I would like to mention is I am sure a significant amount of objectives are related to the market one way or another. You will have to compare your client with its competitors and the rest of the market. Therefore, strategic analysis is the second important competency for a consultant. The third one is analyzing business processes and the ability to interpret them. This means not only visually analyzing them, but quantifying them too. Those are the three things that every consultant needs to know for a successful career.
Aleksey: I’m back in the industry. So my career is undulating: I started in the industry, then went into consulting, now I'm back in the industry, but in strategic in-house consulting. I work at the head University of Economics, which has been a part of TsNIIMash for a long time and is now a separate institution. As they always used to, they check all government contracts for cost optimization. These are old competencies, they remain useful and now they help us a lot. For the last four years this institute has existed as FSUE Organization “Agat". In particular, it serves as a strategic consultant for industries. At Roscosmos we implement projects related to three areas – business planning for new products, operational efficiency and optimization of direct overhead costs. For example, I have done several projects to optimize the cost of engines for launch vehicles.
Aleksey: Firstly, I try to switch… I have several distraction techniques. Oddly enough, interesting, literally driving thoughts on some project usually come... during lunch. And unlike my colleagues, who go to lunch without anything or bring food with them, I take a notebook with me. And lunch strangely goes well along with my work, sometimes at lunch I even look through and fill in some printouts. A lot of interesting ideas come to mind about what to do in the next one or two days, some of them being quite specific. And that gives me a second wind for the afternoon. I come back from lunch and I know specifically what to do, I solve the tasks I have set myself. I still do a lot myself, although of course I delegate a variety of tasks to other employees. In addition, I try to involve all my employees in a project once it’s scheduled and only after the main tasks are distributed I can take something for myself. At the same time, I try to make each of the employees understand their personal responsibility for the success of the entire project. They know if they do not finish some part and rely on the manager, then all the work will slow down. In short, my task is to cultivate team responsibility and this a pretty hard, creative task.
Aleksey: Yes. And they are free to bring in new ideas and initiatives. My job is to make the final decision.
Aleksey: I am the head of the Department for Operational Efficiency Projects. I came as a project manager, then became a senior project manager. This is my second promotion and my third position.
Aleksey: I've been playing football for more than five years, since my days at SBS. Recently I added running, pull-ups and push-ups. I like to play chess, I try to play online almost every evening. On one hand, it allows you to switch. On the other, it is an interesting and intellectual pastime.
Aleksey: I hope to become the Deputy Director for Economics and Finance of one of the enterprises that we consult in the next two or three years. I am significantly involved in space launch services to the orbital and suborbital directions. I have developed my own model for forecasting the demand for launch vehicles of various classes, from ultralight to superheavy. It helps navigate which satellite groupings will be in demand until 2035.
Aleksey: I wish SBS a sustainable development. Although small spurs, changes, the addition of industries and new practices are probably necessary – that is life. I wish the management of the company to preserve the corporate culture that I remember. You can call it a family that supports its members and tries to help them as much as possible formally and informally, in forms of mentoring, recommendations and feedback. This is especially valuable for younger employees when they are taught why the customer behaved this way or why exactly these words were said by the negotiators. SBS Consulting is also a training organization. It teaches in a very delicate and careful way, helping develop. I would like this to be preserved and cultivated at SBS. I know my friends have grown up to project managers. I would like to wish them, as leaders who invest a lot of effort and intelligence into SBS, to stay as enthusiastic, as fruitful and develop their professionalism to take over new heights. I wish SBS an energetic and positive development.
Aleksey: SBS is the drive! But there are many other words to describe it. SBS is a family, a challenge and success!