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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

American Builds Realty Business on Teamwork

MTMark Stiles prefers to hire Russian nationals and train them to international standards.
From humble beginnings -- no office, computer network, palm pilot or mobile phone -- Mark Stiles and his partner Sergei Riabokobylko have built one of the most successful real estate agencies in Moscow.

"We started work on my kitchen table with two notebook computers and one telephone line. McDonald's was our first big client. We got the contract at the end of 1995, and it was like our Christmas present. We closed the deal within three months, and that started our career," Stiles says.

The partners founded the Stiles & Riabokobylko real estate agency in 1995. Several years down the road, the company has become one of the leading players on the Moscow real estate market and a winner of the American Chamber of Commerce award as Moscow's best small business of 1999.

Stiles' interest in real estate began early.

"I was always fascinated about the fact that real estate is everywhere. It is so much a part of everyone's life every day, and it is always different. It is always challenging, always interesting, always new," he says.

Stiles enrolled in the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, eventually graduating with degrees in economics and real estate. He then worked for several firms in the United States, but his career took a turn after he came to Moscow on a 10-day visit in 1993.

"Hundreds and hundreds of kiosks lining the streets, people ... buying goods, bringing them to kiosks and selling them. It was an absolutely brand-new market," Stiles recalls. "I remember making notes on my tourist map from a real estate perspective: Novy Arbat -- great retail area, Kuznetsky Most, Petrovka -- great area for boutique shops. I got very interested."

Stiles signed up for a course on the political and economic transformation of Eastern Europe and Russia at Georgia State University in Atlanta. In 1994, he and some Western partners he met on his trip in 1993 set up a real estate company in Moscow. Stiles' partner-to-be, Riabokobylko, was among the very first people hired, and the two of them started working together closely.

"[It was] a new adventure, something really different and really interesting," Stiles says.

About a year later, his Western partners' philosophy of bringing foreigners to the company prompted Stiles to resign from the company, as he preferred hiring Russian nationals and training them to become real estate professionals.

Riabokobylko decided to join Stiles, and shortly thereafter the two prepared a real estate market report on the office space market for an international real estate firm. At the same time, Stiles was referred to McDonald's, which hired them and even provided them with a cellphone.

The young company rented a tiny office at the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel. In two years, Stiles & Riabokobylko expanded from five to 17 employees and moved into a new office on Tverskaya Ulitsa. Further expansion forced the firm to open a second office on Tverskaya. The company now has 43 employees, only three of whom are not Russian nationals.

"We need to move again. The business has just been accelerating," Stiles says.

Stiles' philosophy of hiring Russian nationals has proved successful. When the financial crisis hit in 1998, Stiles & Riabokobylko kept all its personnel on staff without salary cuts.

And while some of their competitors reduced their staff by as much as 50 percent, Stiles & Riabokobylko continued to grow.

Stiles attributes the success to the professionalism and education of the firm's employees.

"We focused a lot on the training and education of our people, sending them to CCI [Certified Commercial Investment] courses in the United States and having training here. Also, our Russian nationals were not going anywhere in a crisis, [whereas] all of the foreigners were gone."

In 1998, Stiles & Riabokobylko became an associate of multinational real estate company Healey & Baker, which is a member of Cushman & Wakefield Co.

Today, Stiles & Riabokobylko is a full-service real estate company with a long list of Western and multinational clients, including IKEA, Lucent Technologies, General Electric and the Ford Motor Co.

"The secret of my success is directly related to the relationships that I have developed here, the partners that I have worked with and the employees of our company," Stiles says.

"It has definitely been a team effort with my partner Sergei. There are things that Sergei brings to the table that I could never supply to our organization and there are things that I bring to the table that Sergei fully grasps and passes on to other members of our team.

"No single person can be responsible for the success of our organization today. It is all the people that have been involved from the very beginning."