“Come in!” says Vladimir as he welcomes us into his spacious office that offers sweeping views over St. Petersburg’s rooftops. “Wow!” says Maarten as he heads over to the full-length windows. “Talk about being on top of the world!”
Katya and I join him and try to spot some of the city’s landmarks. Vladimir comes to stand next to us and points out a sharp golden spire rising up on the banks of the Neva. “The Peter and Paul Fortress,” he says, “the citadel of St. Petersburg that was built by Peter the Great when he established the city in the early 1700s. For me this represents important aspects of Russia’s rich history.”
“In what way?” I ask.
“Peter the Great had real vision,” says Vladimir. “He wanted Russia to develop its trade links with maritime nations and the construction of St. Petersburg as a seaport was key to that. It allowed Russia to strengthen its role on the international stage.”
“Interesting… so how do you see that role today?” Maarten asks.
“I think our position may have weakened, but we can reclaim our strategic role,” Vladimir says. “In the Soviet era, we were strongly inward-looking. During Perestroika, we were oriented towards the U.S. Since then, our focus has concentrated more on Europe. And I think we have now reached the point where we should rise above all this – take a helicopter view.”
“Well it looks like you’re well positioned to do that from here, that’s for sure,” says Maarten.
Vladimir laughs. “I guess you’re right – this office definitely offers perspective… You know, Russia has changed very rapidly and fundamentally over the last 20 years. For some, it was even too rapid. But if you look at the big picture there are all sorts of opportunities for the future.”
“Which you can spot better if you have taken the helicopter view presumably,” says Maarten.
“Exactly,” says Vladimir. “Geographically we have a very strategic position between Europe and Asia. And we are also a multicultural country, a meeting point between east and west… We are ideally positioned to bridge the gaps between cultures and this is key. If we embraced this role, it could drastically change our position and image in the international arena. I think it would positively influence the way in which countries perceive us. And that is exactly what we need and what this generation and the generation after us is ready for.”
I open up my iPad and start taking notes: “Russia as a bridge between Europe and Asia,” I write.
“We need more openness, cooperation and communication with the rest of the world. We have to position ourselves economically and politically for this bridge function.”
“And what about your company?” asks Maarten. “The investment fund?”
“Well actually now that you mention it, our company is a good example: we are both Russian and international, which enhances trust, local knowledge and, therefore, success.
“And what about your client base, the investors?” I ask. “Are they mainly European?”
“Until recently, yes: our clients were mainly Europeans who wanted to invest in Russia,” says Vladimir. “But we are noticing a gradual shift, with more and more investors from South America, India and China.”
“So would you say that there is both a shift and a growing international interest in Russia?” Maarten asks.
“Definitely,” says Vladimir with conviction. “All we have to do is open up and claim our role! But let’s sit down,” he says pointing in the direction of large wooden conference table, “Let me tell you more about it!”
© 2013 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
Order a book on: