7th Day – Exploring St. Petersburg

On the last day, we took a guided walking tour around St. Petersburg. It was freezing cold (for us at least; I definitely wasn’t used to the -2 degrees) but  this added to the beauty of the city. It has a completely different feel than Moscow, which is busy and vibrant, and St. Petersburg just seemed quainter in comparison. St. Petersburg’s advantage is that it is directly by the ocean. You can even reach Finland in less than an hour by boat. What a luxury! But who wants to go to Finland, when St. Petersburg is so beautiful?

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The tour started at our hotel and led us to various monuments and historical locations. A definite highlight was the Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood.  The colors, the architecture, the location- a real work of art. St. Petersburg is definitely more of a “Western European.” Around noon, we split up and were able to explore the city for ourselves.

 

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We also went to the Winter Palace (a must in St. Petersburg!). The palace was spectacular and each room held a new surprise. There was a room filled with chandeliers, another was a gorgeous library. Regrettably, we didn’t get the chance to visit more museums . The history of St. Petersburg is very extensive and there are several historical Museums as well. Just the short tour inside the Savior of Spilled Blood showed the scope of the history.

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All in all, we had an awesome trip to Russia. We were happy to see different kind of companies, Russians as well as international companies, and learn about their doing of business. However, this trip was more than just learning about doing business in Russia. It was discovering another culture, meeting new people, and taste the wonderful local cuisine. And the vodka 😉

THANK YOU RUSSIA!

6th day – Korean Cars and Russian Beer

After a great breakfast at the Hotel, it was already time to embark on our first day of company visits in St. Petersburg. The first company we went to visit in St. Petersburg was Hyundai.

The company visit to Hyundai was an absolute highlight. The factory was simply incredible; I had never seen a factory as such or a production line for that matter. The machines that Hyundai has at the factory are unimaginable if you’ve never witnessed such a thing.

It started with a short presentation about Hyundai in general and the cars that they produce in Russia. The plant in St. Petersburg is the second largest plant with 15% of the entire volume production in Russia. The plant opened in 2007 due to its convenient location and access to the sea port. The cars are localized to fit the Russian needs.  For example, not all roads in Russia are paved and therefore the cars need to be robust enough to withstand the heavy winters and the Russian roads.

Another interesting fact is, that the production plant itself is the largest car plant in Russia, and the best plant of all Hyundai car plants in the world when it come to technology and management. Right after the presentation, we were given a tour around the plant and I was deeply impressed by every step. I have basically seen how a car gets produced from a to z. The most interesting part of the tour was the beginning, where the steel rolls get stamped, welded, and then painted. Due to health issues, we skipped the painting process. Unfortunately, I did not listen to what our guide was telling us in each process step. Looking at the huge stamping machines and seeing robots at work, took all my attention. Sebestian was walking always behind me and pushed me along the way. Otherwise, I would not have moved and would have kept observing the robots doing their work.

I believe the entire group enjoyed the trip to Hyundai. Next stop: the beer brewery Baltika.

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After Hyundai, we went to Baltika. Baltika is Russia’s largest beer brewery. This was our last company visit for the entire trip. The tour was less about Baltika’s business and strategy but more about the beer brewing process. We walked through the entire brewery and at the end had the chance to try all the beers that Baltika produces. We also learned a bit about the beer brewing history of the Company. Their product range was quite broad, ranging from a Californian craft beer to a Hefeweizen. The company seems quite innovative and ambitious with its product range, being present in various segments and markets.  It was a great ending to the “business” week and company visits.

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5th day – Irkut & Yandex

Today was the rainiest day of all. I was wet, and I was cold. It was basically a day to have hot tea and read a nice book!

We first visited Irkut in the morning, followed by Yandex in the afternoon. In between, we recharged our batteries over a nice lunch. In the evening it was time to say goodbye to Moscow and take the evening train to St. Petersburg, an express train that connects both cities within four hours. At the end of the day, my classmates could socialize with me again and everyone was happy. I think.

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Irkut Corporation is a manufacturing company of airplanes, founded in 1932. It not only manufacturers military, but also civil airplanes. We were invited into the show room of MC-21, where part of a 1:1 model was showed. We were introduced to the company and its achievements were highlighted. From this presentation, I got the impression that Irkut’s airplane are by far better than the one of Airbus and Boeing. The people presenting were proud and excited of their company. Especially about the newly designed airplane. They gave me the feeling that they achieved something very important for their country and they wanted to share this excitement with students from Switzerland.

Yandex was a very interesting company visit. Wikipedia says that Yandex is the biggest search engine in Russia, with a market share of 60%, and similar to Google, it develops a number of applications, such as mail, maps, and a taxi app. However, Yandex problem is that it is only big in Russia, the CIS countries, but nowhere else in the world. Thus, it is much dependent on the Russian market and Russian economy. If the economy slows down, revenues from ads will shrink, and thus Yandex’s revenues too. Google, as the biggest competitor of Yandex, is market leader in almost every part of the world, except for China and Russia. As we walked through the offices I realized how similar they are to the offices of Google. There were many rooms where the employees could relax, or brainstorm in a very typical Google environment. The offices were all green, with lots of plants, and terraces allowed the employees to get some fresh air whenever they want.

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Thank you Andrey and Christina for the great tour of Yandex!

In the evening we took the train to St. Petersburg. I was excited to see the city since I just started to read the book City of Thieves by David Benioff. The fictional novel describes two young men who have to provide a dozen eggs in Leningrad, the other name of St. Petersburg. From the book I also learnt, that the citizens liked to call their city Petri, which I found pretty cute. Sad thing about driving by night is that you do not see the country. Traveling by train is the best way of getting to know a country.

4th Day – Visit to Geropharm and IKEA

Day 4 started early- 6:30 am call time. There were two company visits scheduled: Geropharm and IKEA. Geropharm is located outside about 200 km outside of Moscow. After a 2-hour drive through Russian forests, we finally arrived at their impressive factory.

Geropharm is a Russian pharmaceutical company, producing innovative products, such as insulin pens. Geropharm was a one-of-a-kind experience for all of us, I believe. Before entering the factory, we were told about some of their sustainability efforts. For example, the employees planted new trees on their property. It is not everyday that one gets to go inside and tour a pharmaceutical company. We were split into two groups and were first shown around the research laboratories. Dressed in full on scrubs, we each had to wear shoe covers, a hair net and a robe. It is important that the labs stay sterile and free of bacteria.

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One could really tell that the Geropharm representative wanted to make the tour interesting for us. They were proud of their innovation and it was nice to see that they were very passionate about their work.

After the tour of the laboratories, there was a second part at Geropharm. We visited the manufacturing part of the factory, where the product is packaged. This part was extremely interesting because here we could see how much work goes into the actual process. Each insulin tube was first inspected, then sterilized, then photographed, labeled, checked again and then packaged. The amount of work that goes into one tube of insulin is incredible. I think this was an eye-opening experience.

After Geropharm, we rushed to get to our next appointment at IKEA. Unfortunately, the traffic in Moscow proved to be more extreme than we all thought. We were stuck in traffic for almost 4 hours. Naturally, we were late to our next company presentation but the representatives at IKEA were very patient and welcomed us nonetheless.

The IKEA representative, Magda Ropotan, was very welcoming and heart-warming. During this presentation, we got more insight as to what Russian customers value and how Russian companies work. She said that Russians are short-term planners which hope for luck, are open and generous, straightforward and hot-tempered. Children are central in society and thus an extremely important target group for IKEA. Russian families spend their money on their children. Russia’s society is at a “war for talent” with only 5.5% unemployment in the country. With rapid urbanization and infrastructure shortage, IKEA has its work cut out. They are developing solutions for this social phenomenon in the products they design and manufacture.

One of IKEA’s core businesses in Russia is in retail management. IKEA operates shopping centers in Russia (called MEGA) that are becoming more and more popular due to its convenience. Shopping centers are a one-stop destination for families with everything under one roof. IKEA’s aim is “to create a better everyday life for the many people.” Hence, the functionality of the shopping centers definitely fulfills this. These MEGA centers constitute a fifth of their business in Russia. IKEA tries to localize as much as possible with 59% of products coming from local suppliers. There are currently 14 MEGA shopping centers in Russia.

After the presentation we were let go and Carla and I made our way to a nearby shopping center. Russians are famous for their beautiful braids and we wanted to experience this. In one of the shabby stables in the shopping center, we found a woman who braided our hair. Within 15 minutes our hair turned from boring into a beautiful hairstyle!

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At this point, we would like to say THANK YOU to Geropharm and IKEA for their patience and especially sharing their business knowledge with us. It was a pleasure to visit these companies!

3rd day – Swiss Embassy, Rusal and a Reception

This was the real beginning of our study trip. At 8:45, we left the hotel to go to the Swiss Embassy. This was the first time we took the metro with 35 people. Let’s just say in a city with 14 million people, it was anything but calm. Although the Russian natives squeezed past us on the escalators and then again at the end of the seemingly never-ending way down to the metro,  we managed not to lose each other.

The Swiss Embassy is located in a nice neighborhood with a playground just across from the building and the Swiss flag hanging above their door. Five to six employees of the Swiss Embassy welcomed us, each of them specializing in a slightly different area. In hindsight, this was the perfect beginning to the other company visits because it gave us a nice overview of Russia and Russia’s relations to Switzerland.

The Swiss Embassy issues about 50,000-60,000 visas a year. Also, it was mentioned several times that 2014 was a significant year for Swiss-Russian relations since it marked 200 years of diplomatic relations. This year, Switzerland holds the presidency for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Switzerland is a non-NATO and non-EU country, which gives it credit in Russia. Furthermore, Switzerland sees itself as a force for peace and peaceful co-existence. Before the recent Ukrainian crisis, Switzerland’s priorities were in security, stability, freedom and human rights of the OSCE. During the presidency, Switzerland has had to deal with the Ukrainian crisis as well. A monitoring mission was implemented where the monitors would neutrally report information on what they would see, hear, etc. Essentially, the Swiss diplomats told us that the Ukrainian crisis was a crisis of European security.

After the presentations, we enjoyed a nice reception with some lovely Russian style finger food and some Swiss wine. We chatted with the diplomats and were able to ask more questions about Russia.

It was very beneficial to have the visit to the Swiss Embassy before we went to visit all the other companies. This way we could get a better sense as to why companies might behave the way they do. It also showed us what the relationship between Switzerland and Russia is like.

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Our next stop was Rusal, Russia’s largest producer of aluminum. Vera Kurochkina, the Deputy CEO of Rusal, came in like a whirlwind and gave a quick overview/presentation of Rusal. Rusal is responsible for 8% of the global production of aluminum with assets in 13 countries. Aluminum companies keep their technology very secret since it is the core of the business. It seemed that their competitive advantage encompassed their ability to produce and deliver products just-in-time. Rusal’s supply chain consists of fast and reliable shipping Services.

Ms. Kurochkina mentioned something called the “Russian discount”, which means that people think that if it comes from Russia, then there must be something wrong with it. This was a thought-provoking comment to make whilst presenting the company. For a Swiss citizen, I believe this is hard to grasp, since most products that are from Switzerland have the opposite effect- if it comes from Switzerland, it must be good. It seems that aluminum’s future is unclear. The automotive industry, for example, is exchanging aluminum for steel. Furthermore, the value of aluminum has declined.  However, forecasts state that in the construction industry.

IMG_9748Later that day, we were invited for a welcome Apéro at Yves Morath’s flat. We were introduced to his family and enjoyed talking to the fellow diplomats in a more relaxed Setting. From the apartment, there was a spectacular view onto the Finance Ministry.   

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It is here that on behalf of IM12 we want to thank the Swiss Embassy in Moscow. We enjoyed the visit very much. A special thank you to Yves Morath and his family for opening their home to us.

 

 

 

 

 

2nd day – soaking in culture & history

The second day of the study trip was all about culture and history. We had a very relaxed tour around Moscow and visited the most important sightseeing places. For this day, our tour guide was Vladimir, who put a lot of effort in introducing Moscow to us. The weather was surprisingly nice, and even the sun was shining for us.

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Our day started with a rich breakfast at the hotel. At 9 o’clock we took a coach to explore the city. Some students had already tried some Vodka shots the night before and were as expected sleepy and tired in the morning. The walk in the fresh air made everyone vivid again. I expected cooler temperatures than in Switzerland, however, the mild weather made our stroll around the Kremlin pleasant. Our tour started at the Red Square, where the Kremlin and the beautiful San Basil Cathedral are located next to each other. The Kremlin is a fortress, which officially is the residence of the president of the Russian Federation. Further, it includes 5 palaces, 4 cathedrals, the Kremlin Wall and the tower. The cathedral was build between 1955 and 1561 by Ivan the terrible and is a piece of gorgeous architecture.

I imagined the red square to be bigger. I visited the Tiananmen Square in Beijing in April 2014, which is the biggest public square in the world. The red square looked tiny compared to the one in Beijing. Also, at around 9.30 AM there were few tourists visiting the attraction to my surprise. I sort of imagined seeing a similar mass of people like before at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

We strolled around the Kremlin and when the place got slowly filled with tourists, we got back to our bus and continued our tour at one of the Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters are tall buildings from the Stalin era, which figure as universities, hotels, or the Foreign Department. There are five more buildings located outside Russia. There is one in Riga, Prague, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Kiev. In Poland, we call the building “Palac Kultury”; Palac of Culture, which was a gift from Russia to Poland. I have been on the top of the building when visiting Warsaw in summer 2014. However, my parents’ generation is not very fond of this piece of art since it sort of marks Russia’s presence in their country. We got off to explore the area nearby the biggest of the Seven Sisters, which is a University as Vladimir explained.

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In the evening, the class went out for dinner to taste local cuisine. As I figured out during the week, it is common to eat pickles and other cold dishes as a starter. Polish and Russian cuisines do not vary a lot, unlike the Swiss cuisine. The variety of food was immense. I knew most of the dishes already, such as Pelmeni, Borscht, and the Russian Salad. At the end of the evening, we enjoyed hot tea. I was not aware that Russians have a tea ceremony and believed to this point that only Chinese and Japanese do enjoy drinking tea in a traditional way. First, a bit of tea concentrate is poured in cups and then everyone pours hot water from a silver samovar. Only when I got back to Switzerland, I asked my mum what the jam was for, which was also served with the tea. A little bit too late I figured out that Russians sweet their tea with jam, which is very sweet and is used as sugar.

1st day – Far away from Europe

The students of the International Management class IM12 went on a study trip to Russia. The study trip took place from the 11th of October until the 18th of October 2014. This study trip was an elective module and the students had to decide until late February if they wanted to join this study trip or not. Anna Nikoulina, head of the IM program at ZHAW, with the help of Hanka Heimpold and many other involved people have organized an interesting trip to the Russian Federation. The days were packed with company visits, sightseeing, and newly gained impressions!

As the largest country in the world, inhabiting approximately 142 million citizens from different kind of ethnic groups, Russia was since ever one of the leading nations in historical and political events. The proud country has seen many up and downs. The Tsars shaped the country with rich and pompous buildings. Poets and Writers gave Russia its soul and introduced the world to Russia. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, or Pushkin are world famous authors, regarded as important figures in the Russian history. The Second World War, followed by the Sowjet era has to great extent destroyed the beauty and spirit of the nation, but also formed a new image of Russia. This was all Russia, and we could literally feel and see the Tsar era in St. Petersburg and Sowjet Russia in Moscow!

Our first real impression of Russia was at the train station in Moscow where the Airport Express arrived. We realized at the train station how many different Ethnics live in Moscow. There were of appearance Chinese, Turkish, and Mongolian ethnics, but they were all Russian.

We were excited to see the metro in Moscow, as it seems to be the most beautiful in the whole world. The metro was first opened in 1938, nearly 75 years after the London Underground was opened. During the time in Moscow, we used the metro nearly every day jumping from one tube station to another one. The central and most used stations are extremely beautiful with paintings on the walls, while stations in the outskirts of Moscow are rather unspectacular. Whenever we left a new station we looked forward to what we will see next and how the station will look like.

In the evening, the class went out to have some drinks and dinner. We hoped to gain new impressions of the country and have a good learning experience! 🙂

 

 

 

International Management class goes to Russia

The students of the International Management class IM12 went on a study trip to Russia. This study trip is an elective module and 30 students have signed up in early february to go onto an adventure from the 11th until the 18th of October.

Anna Nikoulina, head of the IM program at ZHAW, has organized the trip with the help of Hanka Heimpold and many other involved peoples. Our program was packed with company visits and sightseeings in Moscow and Russia.
Our schedule was as following:

  • 11th – 15th October in Moscow
  • 15th – 18th October in St. Petersburg

Before we departed to Russia, we had four lectures about Russian History and Culture at ZHAW in Winterthur.

The study trip is over, the students back at school, but let us start from the beginning…

Enjoy!

Carla & Karo

Russia