Interview with Pavel Merzlyakov «Volkswagen Group Russia» Head of Corporate Strategy
Pavel: It’s simple. When I studied at the HSE for a bachelor’s degree, we had a subject “Strategic Management”. It was taught by a consulting company manager, he gave us case studies, told about different approaches to strategic management in companies. And that is how I got interested. After my London Master's degree, I returned to Moscow and learned about SBS and its potential projects from my classmate, who was working here. So I decided that it would be a good first step into my career.
Pavel: Firstly, analytical skills and basic knowledge of macro- and microeconomics, financial management, knowledge of economics in general. It contributes to a correct and structured approach to solving problems and understanding which way the company should develop. Secondly, it’s important to have technical skills in Excel and PowerPoint. The ability to work with large amounts of data and draw conclusions. If we’re talking about soft skills, it is fundamental to be able to build communication in a team, with a client and with experts. It is also very important to be able to conduct a dialogue. Thirdly, I would say the desire to delve into topics, to get to the bottom of it and show a keen interest in various industries, companies and topics. Willingness to broaden your horizons in general.
Pavel: Yes, healthy curiosity. That is indeed a strong driver for development, especially among young experts.
Pavel: I believe there is a strong corporate culture established at SBS. It has influenced my early years of development. Moreover, it has pawned some foundation for my vision as a leader — what kind of atmosphere should be created in a team. I came in the period of a rapid growth of SBS, I saw how dynamic the atmosphere in the company was and I liked it. The corporate culture was manifested in cooperation, competent leadership, team spirit, common drive and the desire of the whole team to help clients in solving their business problems within the framework of strategic projects. Exactly this combination has found my further development.
Pavel: There are three such stories, three projects. I will tell about each of them. Of course the first project as I only joined SBS. It was a project about developing the concept of a B2B online bank. For a newcomer analyst, it was an extremely interesting task for me. It was the first time I came across the banking sector, so I had to very quickly grasp how the bank functions, what is its business model. Furthermore, I had to come up with something new we could offer to the client, a business model that would consider the rapid growth of e-commerce and venture capital investment at that time. We were developing a market entry strategy on the crossover of the two ideas. This was my first impression. During the project I obtained my first skills of working with searching and analyzing data, properly structuring slides, presentation and speech. I would like to express my great gratitude to Alexander Vasiliev, my first project manager. I was impressed by his level of competence, knowledge, how he shared his experience and guided as a mentor. This became the foundation of my further career development at SBS and my approach to work in general.
Pavel: We were developing a strategy for the wool industry in Russia. I had the position of a senior analyst, applying for a consultant position in the next inspection. This was my first experience of working in a team with subordinates, where I showed my coaching and delegation skills. I showed independence in the development of a whole separate direction, communicated directly with the client and defended the results, went on business trips.
Pavel: Yes, exactly! The third project was a merge of two large oil companies. I would call it the grandest in the history of modern Russian business, we worked in collaboration with BCG. Together we were developing a strategy for the newly recreated company. This was my first international consulting experience, the opportunity for me to see their methods and corporate culture during those six months. It was the SBS school that allowed me to settle in the BCG project very quickly. Then I realized that in a team of two cultures, we are not particularly different from each other, considering our scales and names. In terms of approach to work and knowledge, we were a worthy part of the team. This gave me more confidence in myself and in the future, because the level of service that SBS Consulting provides is on par with the service of international companies.
Pavel: As I noted before, it is the corporate culture and a cohesive team. It is very smart guys working together on all levels — analytics, consultants, managers, partners. Those people seek to provide a high-level service to a client, they are very dedicated.
Pavel: After the oil project I gained a lot of confidence, I wanted to go on a higher scale, so I decided to try myself in an international company. This way I moved to Ernst & Young. There I was building my career from a consultant to manager, gaining experience by communicating globally. Here I got international industry experience and decided to transfer to industry from consulting.
Pavel: I work at “Volkswagen Group Rus” as the head of corporate strategy. My focus is general strategic planning and development of Volkswagen Group as an association of member brands presented in Russia. My main field of work are the seven brands: Volkswagen passenger vehicles, Volkswagen commercial vehicles, Skoda, Audi, Ducati, Lamborghini and Bentley. My job is not building up and developing a strategy for each brand, that is done individually for the brands. My job is rather to maximize the benefit to the common business, as a group of representatives in Russia. To both the whole group and each brand individually. My scope also includes all the strategic initiatives that are useful for all brands in the group and contribute to overall development
Pavel: It is. Actually the work-life balance is an ongoing discussion. I used to ask this question to my supervisors, now I am getting it asked by junior colleagues. I’m convinced it is always possible to find a balance in any circumstances. Even at the highest load, which we are used to in consulting, we need breaks. My philosophy stated that consulting is an investment in myself, especially in the first three-five years. I always believed it is absolutely normal to slightly neglect the personal life in favor of a greater concentration on career, experience and work. Because I understood that in the long run this would allow me with more independence and free personal planning. Working in an industry now I can afford more personal time.
Pavel: I like traveling with friends, with my loved one, explore new countries and see how others live. Due to my professional prism, even while traveling I notice how the retail markets works in other countries, for instance. The presented cars and what brands people drive is an indicator of what is going on in the automotive industry. Primarily, traveling is recreation. But second comes gaining knowledge, including regarding professional experience. My second interest is cars. I am a fan of “Formula One”. Not only am I fond of watching and visiting the Grand Prix abroad, I also like studying to achieve the best trajectory or the best time on a lap. That is how I got involved into carting. Sports has always been a part of my life. For me it is a way to relieve stress and “reset” my mind. It is a good environment to think about current tasks at work. Sometimes during jogging important decisions come to mind.
Pavel: Yes, at SBS I had my first chance to organize leisure activities for employees. We had our own budget, which we distributed in accordance with the interests of the team, the colleagues. We help different events. Yeah, actually that was a very cool experience.
Pavel: Most importantly, I want to wish interesting large-scale projects, because this is the main driver in the development of the company and the team. If the projects are interesting, it’s going to be interesting to work on it, there will be interesting people taking part. My second wish to the team is to maintain the strong corporate culture, which I mentioned before.
Pavel: It is a part of my foundation. I believe my foundation of professional growth was formed by SBS and Ernst & Young. And I mean they share an absolutely equal contribution for me.