Lou Naumovski

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Vice President and General Director of Kinross Gold Corporation’s Moscow Office and Chairman of the National Board of Directors, Canada-Eurasia-Russia Business Association (CERBA)

What does CERBA do?

Founded more than 10 years ago, CERBA is the premier Canada-based business association in Russia, bringing together about 140 company members from Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan and other Eurasian countries engaged or interested in trade and investment between Canada and Eurasian countries of the former USSR. With offices in Toronto, Ottawa / Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, Moscow and Almaty, Kazakhstan, the Association provides business information and support services to its membership and organizes conferences, seminars, events and business missions designed to develop networking opportunities and generate business leads for its membership.

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How are CERBA members handling the current geopolitical situation?

Certain sector sanctions (oil and gas equipment, for example), and Russian food sanctions (pork meat from Canada) have certainly caused two-way trade to decrease significantly since 2014. However, Canadian companies are educating themselves (with CERBA’s help) to better understand the effects of sanctions and to remain compliant with regulations. Trade continues nonetheless in areas such as business aviation, and companies that have extensive investments in Russia, such as Kinross which I represent, are committed to staying the course and have been (just like Russian companies) able to benefit from the depreciation in the value of the rouble. Our Association has been active with representatives of the Canadian and Russian governments, with the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists and other business groups in expressing our opposition to sanctions. We remain united in our hope that the political situation can improve to the point where we can once again talk about expanding trade and investment.

How many Canadians are there in Russia?

Like with many expatriate communities, the number of Canadians in Russia has diminished in the past few years. I am not sure of the exact number, but there are no more than several hundred business people, academics/teachers and their families resident in Russia. However, if you were to include those Russians who have at some point lived in Canada and obtained permanent resident status or citizenship and who now reside in Russia, the number could be over several thousand individuals.

What are the main social and cultural differences between Russians and Canadians?

I think that one would have to answer this question with what are the similarities between the two peoples, before discussing the differences. First and foremost, our climates and geographies are very similar (Canada is the second largest country after Russia), which has fostered similar attitudes towards dealing with natural adversity and engendered a love of the great outdoors. For example, both countries are blessed with abundant natural resources and both peoples have had to conquer vast areas of unexplored territories where mining and forestry have become the cornerstones of economic activity.

As the two greatest Arctic countries, Canada and Russia have a lot in common related to the responsible development of the Arctic and the common obligation to respect the rights of the indigenous peoples of both countries, which have close ethnic and even genetic links.

On a lighter note, Canadians have their ‘cottages’ and Russians have their ‘dachas,’ and are perhaps the strongest international adherents to this type of relaxation and way of bringing families together.

Canada has also been blessed with a large contingent of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and other Slavic countries. As a consequence, Canadians of other ethnic backgrounds are familiar with Slavic languages and the Orthodox Church. The ethnic cuisine brought to Canada from Ukraine is enjoyed right across Canada.

As concerns cultural and social differences, I think the key divergence is that Russia is an ancient country, culture and society, while Canada is relatively young (we will be celebrating our 150th birthday in 2017). Canada’s relative youth and history as a British colony has made it relatively much easier to build a society ‘from the ground up’. What I mean by this is that the initial settlers (both British and French) brought with them traditions of social organization, representative government and civil and common law that was introduced even before Canada became officially sovereign! Canadian government, public administration and society is quite well organized and structured. The rule of law is firmly entrenched and (mostly) beyond reproach. This history has certainly infused all aspects of life in Canada; social order, education, governance, business, etc.

One often reads or hears that ‘Russia suffers from too much history.’ What makes the society so fascinating for people like me (I first came to Russia in 1982 and have spent most of my career working in or on Russia) is also what makes it extremely difficult to govern, to reform and to organize. Not to say that Russia does not demonstrate some of the best aspects of a modern European society, but I have observed the shock and consternation on the faces of many western friends and acquaintances when they encounter some behaviours in business (or even on the roads and highways of Russia) that are anathema to societies such as Canada or even the UK. As a Slav myself, I had been prepared quite well by observing the behaviour of my parents and relatives growing up in Canada.

How does this filter through into business practices?

In business over my 33 plus years in Russia, I think it is fair to say that I have observed huge progress in the development of basic business knowledge and management skills. My direct experience has been very positive in recruiting, training and mentoring young Russian specialists. While I was at Visa, we had absolutely the best team anywhere in the Visa emerging markets – and they were all Russian except for me! The biggest mistake that I have seen amongst western business people is their willingness to accept at face value what they hear (or think they hear) from their Russian interlocutors. This does not mean that Russian business people deliberately mislead their western partners. Rather, it means that western (and Canadian) business people do not invest enough time and personal capital to get to know their partners well enough and to the point that there is a complete understanding between them. As a consequence too many business deals and transactions falter too quickly. Still, those who do take the time and make the effort can be richly rewarded in this fascinating, frustrating and wonderful country!