Andrew Quayle, Heineken Russiaâs new Chief Financial Officer tells Moscow expat Life what life is like here after eight months in Russia.
Interview by:Â Peter Hainsworth
How long have you been in Russia?
For almost eight months.
What is the overriding impression you have about living in this city?
Itâs big, itâs busy, itâs noisy, and itâs congested, as it should be because it is a huge megacity. But actually I quite like it. It lives up to the expectations of what everybody says it is going to. Ok, maybe after eight months there are some surprises, which we havenât yet come across, but so far it has been a remarkably straightforward transition.
Did you have a choice of whether to come here or not?
In theory you have a choice. In my case I was presented with two options of where I might go next. Once I knew what the other choice was, there was only one place I wanted to go â here; although the other option would have probably been a more pleasant quality of life, but not as good a job. Some people turn down Moscow because they hear all sorts of stories about it, but that never entered our heads really. It was: letâs give it a go and see what happens.
What did you hear about Russian that might have put you off?
Because itâs Russia, and an important country on a global scale, you canât avoid being exposed to other peopleâs impressions. You read about Russia in the newspapers every day, you see it on the television news, you see it on the internet. Then you hear the stories of people who have been here and did not like it. Many of the people who like it are still here, quietly getting on with their jobs and lives. I have to say that after eight months, we think itâs a great place. You very rarely hear positive stories about Russia outside of the country, which is wrong.
To a certain extent we are used to this. Before we lived here, we lived in Romania, which has a very negative image in Western Europe particularly. But we thought Romania was a fantastic place and we enjoyed it a lot. I think Romanians are great people, and you wonât hear many people in Western Europe saying that. Perhaps that is because they donât know any. You donât hear too many people saying that Russia is a great place, unless they are Russian, which I think half the people in London are now.
Whatâs been the worst thing so far?
Well, somebody once told me that there is no such thing as bad weather; there are only bad clothes. Before we came we bought big heavy hats and coats, and, so far, we have survived the winter. I must admit that I find the darkness in the mornings goes on a long time (editor. This interview was conducted in the winter). Perhaps it has got something to do with the fact that the clocks donât change for wintertime like they do in most other countries.
It took a while to find somewhere to live, and thatâs very expensive obviously. Now we have a very nice apartment right in the heart of the city. We can walk just about everywhere, as although Moscow is huge the centre is actually fairly small. We are lucky because I have an assistant in the next office who handles all the bureaucracy, she just asks me to sign things. But I can image that if you donât have a big company behind you, then handling the bureaucracy can be tough; especially if youâve just arrived.
What about the best things?
We have genuinely been pleased with the hospitality of the people. Everywhere we go we find people who are happy to help in one way or the other. Despite what I have heard, if you can offer one or two words of Russian, and a smile, generally they smile back. There is none of this rough, gruff, dour Russian thing that we heard about. No doubt it is there, but we havenât experienced it. And the same goes for the situation at work. The Russians could have made it very difficult for somebody like me coming in but in fact, they have made it very easy, even when there is a recognition in business terms that we still have a lot of work to do.
What sort of things do you do at the weekends?
We have been walking around the city quite a lot. Liz is slowly expanding our walking routes, to try different parts of the city. When you arrive somewhere you work out a way to meet people, usually in bars and restaurants. Sure, maybe the people you meet, in expat life are sometimes transient; just when you make friends with somebody they leave! But we have met a few people, and had a few good nights out, and are able to make the best of things. All of our social connections are with expats, which I recognize is a limitation in that it would be nice to meet more local people and get a feel for Russian culture.
What about work, is it the same as in Romania?
It is very similar, because it is the same business, but everything here is about double the size. The fact that you are doing a job like I am doing in a culture and language that you donât know, make it a challenge, but this also makes the job very interesting. I realised that there are three parts to the continent we call Europe. There is Western Europe, Eastern Europe and there is Russia. I did make the initial mistake of lumping Russia together with Eastern Europe, but of course Russia is different, and half of it is in Asia anyway.
So Russian business culture is a long way from European culture?
Yes, and a long way from eastern European culture also. I fully understand this; it is a very big country and perfectly capable of standing on its own. So why should it be referred to as part of Eastern Europe? There is a cultural and historical background that makes us all a bit different. Romanians have a very âcan doâ attitude; they are not so interested in debating âwhy?â Here, the situation is a little bit more challenging. The attitude is letâs talk about this a bit more, and fully understand why we are doing something. So I find the approach here to be different, but also very healthy.