Making Sense of the Russian Business Culture

If you’re looking to expand your business in Russia or start business, you are well advised to exercise great caution while selecting a local Russian business partner. Getting the right business partners in Russia can either make or break your business as there is a lot about the Russian business culture that you, as a foreign business executive, are bound to feel tough to deal with. But before you look for business partner opportunities in Russia, you do need a primer on the Russian business culture. This is particularly so as many foreign businessmen venture into Russia without being aware of the ground realities.

The Russian Business Culture. It’s all about the “Blat” in Russia

Blat in Russian means connections and is quite the most critical thing to success in Russian business. Many Russians have become multibillionaires because of Blat. In Russia, favors are a currency, which people remember and keep a count of. Always remember to give gifts or presents to senior wanted business partners or business investors in Russia. Be cordial and deferential at all times. Whenever possible, try to do few small favors for your Russian business partners or officials in a ministry. Remember, not a single favor goes unrewarded in Russia.

Respect the protocols and the hierarchy

Russia has historically and culturally been a country that considers protocols, and hierarchies very important. So, don’t make the mistake of being too casual with senior Russian executives. They expect a certain deference from you, and if you give them that, they’re likely to look at you quite favorably. Also, pay a lot of attention top the way you dress, pick out the most expensive suits from your wardrobe before visiting Russian business investors or when looking for Russian business partner opportunities. Russians expect a successful business person to dress really well.

Never complain about the Russians being lazy or inefficient

Often, as a foreign business executive, you’re likely to be very disappointed in your Russian business partner for taking things slow or for making basic business errors. Or you might be upset at a bureaucrat who is holding your business back. But regardless, never make the mistake of taking out your frustration on your Russian partner in business, or on the official, calling them “lazy” or “inefficient” or both. Russians are very sensitive about this, and this is only likely to make things worse for you. True, many things in Russia are not exactly transparent, but you shouldn’t be the one to point this out.

Don’t get perturbed by the lack of punctuality

Russians are very unconcerned about things like being on time for a meeting, or about punctuality – which are so important to a Western business executive. Remember, this is just a part of the Russian culture. If your Russian partner in business isn’t right on time for a meeting or takes a long time to finish a project, please don’t take this as a personal affront. Be patient, as there is a lot of money to be made in Russia. May take a little time, that’s all.

Remember this – Russians think they are the best!

Many Western business executives try to impress upon their business partners in other countries about how things are done in the US or UK. Don’t try this in Russia. Russians believe that their country is far superior to the West and are very proud of their history. They don’t look at the US with anything approaching awe. Russians are a very proud and patriotic people, and you must keep this in mind always while dealing with them.

Finally, why you must do business in Russia?

The Russians are a nation that believes in crazy consumption. All expensive brands or status symbols have a tremendous market in Russia. If you thought that the United States was a consumerist society, you’ve seen nothing yet, if you haven’t been to Russia. The sleekest cars, the most expensive luxury handbags, the most impressive watches – you can see them all on a random walk on a Moscow road. If you’ve a business that deals with some of this stuff, it’s a win-win for you. There is no end to the amount of money that you can make in Russia. Also, it hardly needs to be said, Russia probably has more natural resources – oil and gas, metals and mineral reserves than most other countries. So, definitely, you cannot afford to ignore Mother Russia.

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