Women in Business

To mark the recent Women's Day holiday, The Moscow Times talks to five women who are changing the face of business in Russia. Olga Promptova and Sergei Rybak report.


Yevgeniya Kuznetsova says that if it weren't for help from the Pepsi Cola Corporation she could never have brought her company to success in a market economy.

In 1993, Kuznetsova, director of the Krasnoyarsk Beer and Non-alcoholic Drink Factory, spent a month and a half in the United States on a program run by Pepsi. There she took classes on the importance of marketing and making sure a company's finances are well ordered. Though she soon realized that she didn't have a future with Pepsi, Kuznetsova nevertheless took the lessons she had learned back with her.

The first thing she did when she returned home was to change the factory's unwieldy name to something catchy and easy to remember -- Pikra. The new image, along with great improvements in product quality have transformed the once-rotting brewery into a viable competitor on the beer and soft-drink market.

But Kuznetsova says her capitalist success hasn't made her forget her roots.

"I'm still a 'red director,'" she says. "I pay for Pioneer camps and for repair of the dormitories. ... In 1995 we had an especially good profit, and so I put it into the pension fund. Those who started taking their pensions in 1996, received 100,000 to 200,000 [old] rubles [$15-$35] more." Kuznetsova says her workers happiness is a priority for her.

"In order to keep the family situation good, we participate in family holidays, we invite children and husbands so that they can take pride in the company that their relatives work for," she says.

The main difference between her job now and her job in Soviet times, she says, is that now she controls what happens with the money the factory brings in.

"Before, I wasn't director, I was directed," she explains. "Of the 3 million rubles profit that our factory brought in, we were left with 145,000. And could I, on that 5 percent, realistically do anything? I demanded, I yelled, but they didn't give me anymore money. There wasn't enough for any kind of reconstruction work -- not enough for anything except salaries of 100 to 120 rubles a month."

Kuznetsova says that she and her fellow directors at Pikra have not abused the company's new found success.

"Nobody here is building themselves a cottage," she says.

The new fiscal responsibility has allowed her to make realistic plans for the future, something unheard of for many of Russia's stagnating former state enterprises.

"I now can predict what will be in the year 2000. Everything is calculated. We have a program for expanding the factories, a business plan, where we will get credit and for what purposes, how much we will produce, how much [we will] consume. We have it all calculated down to the last cent," she said.


Unlike the computer geniuses with whom she started out in business, it was always the sales and marketing aspects of her work that appealed most to Olga Dergunova.

Dergunova, now the head of Microsoft's operations in Russia, says that the key to her success has been diligence. She says that top positions like hers are available to anyone who is not afraid of hard work.

"Any little experience -- every day, every hour, every minute -- provided a person is striving to make each experience valuable, influences what will become of that person," she says.

Dergunova graduated with a degree in "economic cybernetics" in 1987. From then until 1993 she worked in a variety of computer companies, including ParaGraf and Microinform. In 1994, she was invited to join Microsoft by the head of the company's Russia division. After two years, she took over that position herself.

Dergunova says her main goal since becoming director has been to keep the company on track.

"When you are learning how to drive, the main rule that your instructor drills into your head -- in my case it was my husband -- is: Don't turn the wheel! That is, hold carefully to a given course," she says. "That's the same thing that a successful manager does. ... In my view, that holding to the given course has been my biggest achievement so far."

She says that the most important aspect of running a big operation is being able to delegate responsibilities.

"The more that your coworker can make decisions and take responsibility for them, the better," she says. "That is my function -- to determine how best to divide responsibilities among people and how to combine those peoples' interests into a single strategy."

Dergunova says she feels there is no difference, as far as a career is concerned, between men and women."I'm a believer judging a person by that person's professional qualities, without regard to nationality or sex," she says. "For that reason, to say there is some sort of difference, I think is wrong."

She does acknowledge that not everyone is as open-minded as she.

"It does sometimes occur, that a particular work situation is difficult for a woman. But this depends on the organization where she works. If the criteria that the people there who make decisions use are not professional, I would advise not working for that company," she said.


Very few women have prospered in the restaurant business in Russia. For Svetlana de Paoli, however, it has been a natural fit. Currently, she is the only female member of the Moscow Restaurateurs' Guild.

After graduating with a joint degree in food-products merchandise management and economics and retail management in 1992, de Paoli says she was at a loss at first as to what to do.

"When I graduated ... our Soviet restaurant had already disappeared, and I had to find something new to do," she says. "A friend of mine was opening the Paradise restaurant and asked me to help organize things. He acted as financial partner, and I acted as executive director."

From there, de Paoli went on to open a string of restaurants and clubs, including Panda and Panda Express, Gambrinus and Monte Carlo. She also helped to organize the strip club Dolls. She said her latest project is a restaurant called Leonardo, to be themed around the works of Leonardo da Vinci.

De Paoli credits her ability to make people feel comfortable for her success in business.

"My charm is a positive asset," she says. "Sometimes you'll go see some government officials, and they'll be very serious. You just smile and the problems are solved."

But she says that often she has to deal with people who are unable to take a young and attractive woman seriously.

"When men begin to make various [non-business related] propositions, I make it subtly clear that I've come to address business-related affairs, not the fantasies they come up with in their heads," she said.


Yelena Povalyayeva founded the Helen Video company four years ago when she was 22 years old and working as a photo model and a television anchorwoman in Novosibirsk. When her station told her she couldn't appear in commercials on other channels, Povalyayeva quit her job and set up her own company to produce television programs and commercials.

By 26, she had gained enough experience to publish an autobiography. Now she wants to write another book encouraging women to overcome male chauvinism and earn money.

She says that she was not at all intimidated by the thought of setting up her own business.

"From my very first days as a photo model I understood the process of making commercials," she says. "You need a cameraman, an editor and a director. I realized that I could organize all of this myself. I had always felt that I could attract more talented directors than had been assigned to me, better cameramen and so forth. In the end, I just did it myself. It was a matter of registering the firm and paying taxes."

Helen Video grew quickly.

"At first, we did commercials and bought television air time on various channels, then television programs. It all happened fast because I'm a rather strong person," she says.

Although she says she believes that women should earn a living for themselves, Povalyayeva shies away from the term "feminist."

"I don't like that word -- though some of my statements might sound like feminism," she says. "A pretty girl won't succeed unless she has brains to back up her appearance. My appearance is not as important as what I am able to do: I can convince people. I can sell a box of matches for $600."

According to Povalyayeva, Helen Video currently does a lot of animation and advertising work, as well as short television programs. She said she has plans to take her product beyond Novosibirsk.

"We are going to sell animated commercials in Europe," she says. "We have already signed a preliminary contract. Our animation is of very high technical quality, and cheap because prices are very low in Siberia."

Povalyayeva says that she hopes Russian women will be able to relate to her books in a way that they are unable to with books written in the West.

"In America, if you let a woman go first, you can be fined for discrimination and chauvinism. We have a different mentality. And I dare say that only a Russian woman who has been able to break out from under the yoke of male chauvinism and tradition can understand it. The traditions are very strong," she says.

Nevertheless she remains hopeful.

"I feel that a lot could change," she says. "Women already want to fulfill their potential. They just need a little confidence that they can do everything they want, and they just need a little push."


Nearly all woman are concerned about cellulite. But few had taken the issue as much to heart as Svetlana Mikheyeva. The 35-year-old St. Petersburg native has made the unattractive accumulation of subcutaneous fat her business.

Mikheyeva owns the Dlya Sebya, or For Yourself, cosmetics store chain, and is writing her dissertation on methods for solving the cellulite problem. A former dietary physician at a district military hospital, her career began while trying to get a suntan.

"I remember lying on a beach, it was summer, my skin was dried out, and I was thinking I need to do something with my skin," she says. "A popular magazine ran an article that said that if you have certain skin problems you should go to a cosmetologist. And so I went."

She says her visit to the cosmetologist and the subsequent improvement in the condition of her skin literally changed her life. She decided to go into the field herself.

Mikheyeva, who had a background in medical hygiene, went back to school for a degree in cosmetology.

She started her business by going to a place where she was sure there would be women who were concerned about how they look.

"As soon as I registered the firm, another cosmetologist and I went to the Gostiny Dvor department store. We told them that they have a lot of women working in the store and that they should look good -- that they should present themselves well."Mikheyeva so impressed the store' administrators that they gave her a room free of charge from which to run her business.

She says she soon realized her main appeal would be for working women so she focussed her attentions on attracting them as clients.

"Just imagine yourself as a working woman," Mikheyeva explains. "She knows she has only an hour of free time. She comes in to a cosmetologist, for example, sits down in the chair and she does a manicure, and a pedicure, too, if the woman wants. For regular Moscow prices it will be inexpensive, but not for us -- about 200 rubles."

She says that a year after starting at Gostiny Dvor, she opened a second salon in a business center. This time, however, she rented the space. A year after that, she opened another salon in a different business center. Her next move was to set up individualized training centers for cosmetologists and hairdressers in two of the salons.

Now with her company comprising 15 people in three salons, Mikheyeva says that finding good personnel is the hardest part of her business.

"It's always very difficult to find them and manage them," she says. "But I have contacts among hairdressers, cosmetologists and administrators, and they help me find people."

She says she was fortunate to have launched her business when she did.

"Back in 1994, we started up without a cent, but now it cannot be done without start-up capital. Today, businesses value every meter of their space. There is no way anyone would have given up space for free," she says.