Best Boss Series: Andrey Seleznev, Business consultant (Russia)

Andrey Seleznev started his career as business development manager and went on to work for several international ventures. Passionate traveller, with PhD in global economics, he is committed to the professional growth and education of his team.

Tell me how you define a successful leader.

A successful leader delivers expected results, while creating opportunities for his or her employees, helping them to grow professionally. A successful leader should have an unclouded vision and be able to transfer it into SMART tasks, targets and objectives for their teams.

Share with me your greatest leadership success/experience.

Over 10 years ago I was the CEO for Mail Boxes Etc. (Russia and CIS) and was in charge of brining the business to Russia. This was a global UPS Store franchising network – currently the network comprises of more than 120 locations countrywide. It was hard to adopt the concept to the Russian business culture and local market expectations and conditions, however my team managed to find the right approach to ensure the successful launch.

Recall your biggest managerial challenge. Tell me how you handled this. What did you learn that you might do differently next time?

Back in 2010 I was working for a car manufacturer headquartered in Russia. The company aimed to develop and localise the serial production of luxury sports cars in Russia. My role was to define a long-term strategy for the company and develop international partnerships. After a while it became clear to me that we had to move the entire production and part of the development from Russia to European countries. My biggest managerial challenge was to convince my bosses and the company owners along with my team to follow this strategy. It took me several months to get my team to give up the idea of local manufacturing.

To convince my team that their dream to build cars in Russia was not achievable, I conducted a number of workshops, both in our HQ and abroad, with recognised industry leaders and experts. Its aim was to establish whether or not we as a manufacturer were ready to set up production according to best practice guides adopted within a car manufacturing sector. These sessions achieved the desired outcome and thanks to global expertise our engineering team recognised our shortcomings. The transparency and objectivity of the sessions helped me get my team on board and ensure support from the CEO, the Board and the shareholders.

If I were to face a similar challenge today, I would probably spend less time trying to manage the emotional side of the argument.

Also from Best Boss Series – Bronwyn Kemp: “As a leader, you’re the creator and manipulator of the world around you, you’re the gateway to your staff’s experience, happiness and productivity”.

Who has been your greatest mentor(s)? Where they a colleague or did you hire a professional coach? What about this person or the experience had the biggest impact on your growth?

I have started my career in one of the largest national logistics companies, shortly after my graduation. The real-life issues and business cases were rather different from what I have learnt while being one of the best students in my class. My first boss – the CEO of this company – helped me obtain patience when dealing with people while respecting their personal traits and circumstances and building trustful and mutually beneficial relations with customers and partners. He was my best tutor and coach; thanks to his constant support and trust I was able to move quickly up the career ladder.

One thing that most impressed me back in the day was his ability to stay calm and collected in difficult situations. In fact, in most challenging cases he always remained calm, never reacted emotionally and never let pressure get to him, jeopardising a deal.

Some managers believe in strict hierarchy and the “do what I say” approach, sighting cultural norm as an excuse. What are your thoughts on this?

This statement has a lot of to do with the overall corporate culture, regulating relations between employees and company owners.

I strongly believe that Russia presents a typical example of a true Oriental culture where group interests and values prevail over the individual ones.

This means that personal loyalty to a company in Russia is often put above personal achievements – this in turn leads to dictatorial manner in which many companies are run.

It is quite obvious that such an approach cannot and does not allow you to get the best out of your people and hardly encourages growth and collaboration within your team.

“A good leader can perform well only in an open and democratic environment, a leader nurtures and supports openness at work”.

Tell me how you decide what to delegate and to whom.

Effective delegation of tasks works when two criteria are in place: when an employee can do a task faster or better than I and if a task falls into their scope of duties and competencies. I do not delegate if the stakes are too high, in such cases I prefer to take full responsibility for the decisions I take.

Team building has become a buzzword in the corporate world, yet many still not see the value in applying it to their group or organisation. What are your beliefs and or successes around team building?
I have tried various team building activities throughout my career. At the end of the day I believe that sports activities really bring people together. Needless to say, one must always be aware of fitness levels and age restrictions of your team members, but there’s always a sport which can be enjoyed together.

For years I’ve been playing volleyball with many of my team members and colleagues from other departments – sport always helps to understand each other better – the synergy you get on a playing filed then is taken to the office. Charity activities also help a lot to cement the relationships and raise it to higher levels, it’s equally beneficial for employees and bosses alike.

When it comes to morning or weekly briefings do you conduct those in person or via a memo?

I prefer to have personal meetings if possible, however many of my colleagues used to work in different time zones so we have used teleconferencing. We always try to keep these meetings short, focusing only on the important items. There is always a memo to follow afterwards to all the participants and we would normally start a new meeting with a recap of the previous one.

How do you decide to be available to your team (i.e. text/email/voice call/video call)? How do you determine the best way for them to contact you that does not interrupt your workflow?

I always try to communicate with my team in person whenever possible, however in the past I used to travel a lot. My team members can always reach me on my phone number, and they can call my directly – however they never misuse this opportunity knowing that a phone call is reserved to urgent matters only. In many cases a few words could just help to solve a matter so I tend to use messengers – it seems currently they are the the most effective way to be reached 24/7, when needed.

Do you make yourself available to your team 24/7 or do you define ‘down’ time that your team knows you will not be available for a reply unless under unique urgent situations?

As I work with multiple international partners in different time zones, I can not afford to stick to business hours of my country, your work-life balance notwithstanding. I am available 24/7.

Also from Best Boss series – Minter Dial: “You’ll only get established if you lay out what your legacy will be when you leave”.

Explain how you work with HR for recruiting and interviewing. What works for you and how do you handle the interviewing process for vetting candidates?

Normally I prefer to set the target for the recruiter myself and make sure that we are on the same page with the understanding of the vacancy’s requirements. I trust my HR colleagues (both internal or external) to make a shortlist of candidates and always listen to their recommendations and advice. Before making the final choice I usually ask my HR lead to provide me with a list of candidates’ pros and cons to have a neutral opinion before I make my final decision.