Organizational Development in Action: The Russia Marketing Center
This post is a work in progress..
In 2002, I traveled to Russia on a whim for three weeks. The country and its history entranced me. It was also opening up and becoming the next great place to expand. Consequently, I began imagine working there. The following year, I came back and arranged a meeting with the President of Intel Russia in Moscow. We hit it off immediately and he vowed to look for a job for me. Over a year later, he found a great job for me; to start up Intel Russia’s first Marketing Center. I would live in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia 350 miles east of Moscow. Intel had a site there of about 400 people. Most of them were software developers working for a software products group. Intel wanted to grow their presence in Nizhny rather than Moscow due to cost. It was a standard model for Intel since most locations throughout the world are located in suburbs or smaller cities outside a large city. It was Nizhny’s turn to follow the model.
I served as Director of the Russia Marketing Center (RMC) in Nizhny-Novgorod and also acted as the co-site manager for the Nizhny-Novgorod and Sarov sites. My primary responsibilities included managing the following teams which were part of the RMC:
- Russia/CIS part of the EMEA Marketing Organization
- Russia/CIS Channel Marketing
- European Technical Group
- Russia/CIS Channel Finance in the region.
The full group was 30+ people. Some of these teams reported to me directly and some are matrixed. The focus for this job was primarily on organizational development, i.e., hiring, training, and integrating the team into the wider Intel Corporation.
How We Did It
Before I came onto the scene, The EMEA Sales and Marketing Organization for Intel created a long-term strategy to expand their reach into Russia/CIS.
A management steering committee had been set up with people from Swindon, UK and Moscow to kick off the RMC project long before I got involved. Representatives from Marketing, Finance, HR, and Operations had already rented office space and hired a few people to get the RMC going. It was my job to continue growing the team, establishing a public presence in Nizhny, and to get the new people “Intelized” and producing.
One of my earliest activities was to conduct a press conference at Nizhny’s city hall. I had barely moved to Russia and suddenly I was sitting in an assembly hall with the mayor and some university officials as if I were a dignitary. In the room were also close to 80 people, many of them media. I had a microphone and several recording devices sitting on the desk in front of me. Video cameras pointed at me and reporters with their notepads were ready and waiting. I made an opening statement about the launching of the Marketing Center and then took a barrage of questions. Most were polite softball questions and only one tough one came my way. Somehow, I managed to answer it effectively, finished the event, and went on my way. The whole experience was unreal. I had never been interviewed for anything before, let alone in a widely covered media event in Russia. I got high marks from Intel’s local public relations rep. All in all, a good start.
I can’t go on further without introducing my manager. Though Intel Russia’s President “discovered” me, I actually reported to the Sales and Marketing Manager for Russia/CIS. Ian was a Brit and one of the most memorable personalities I’ve come across. There was no greater fan of Ian than Ian himself. It was a wonder he could ever get his head through a door. He was damn good at what he did, but anyone who worked for him had to put up with a lot. He was the most demanding boss I ever had. If I missed anything, he was on me hard. Though he spent a ton of money bringing me all the way over to Russia, he had no qualms about dismissing me if I didn’t cut it. I figured that out because… well, he told me. He insisted that I give status on the project to every known stakeholder that existed over and over. I was a presentation machine. He was never satisfied with my pace and railed about it quite often. At the same time, we had an identical vision of what we wanted to do with Nizhny and every so often he would give me significant words of encouragement and acknowledgement of my hard work. We both were fascinated with Russia and though he lived in Moscow, he loved to come to Nizhny and spend time with my team. We both valued bringing new people in and enjoying the youthful enthusiasm that filled the office. He also wanted to expose me to as many things as possible. He was the one who pushed for me to do the press conference. He was the one who sent me all over Russia to meet customers and make speeches. And he was the one who saw promise in me to bring me over in the first place. As time went on, I got more and more used to his style and really started to get into a groove with him. On some days, he would pound on me, but then the next, after I regrouped and redoubled my efforts, he would say, “I have to give you credit, no matter how hard I am on you, you always fight back.” I can’t say I enjoyed the experience, but it did steel my fortitude under his watch. Meanwhile, we were making a lot of headway on the RMC and our stakeholders liked our results. Things were really starting to hum. Of course, then everything had to change and some even greater challenges came up.
The first problem that arose was the task of hiring a senior marketing person to lead my team and replace me after I left. We were now starting to learn how difficult it would be to realize all our dreams for the RMC in Nizhny. It was simply hard to find an experienced marketing person in Nizhny. Anyone worth their salt would have already left to Moscow for the big money and opportunities. My candidate options were slim. Hiring junior marketers was fairly easy, but finding senior marketers and then getting them to stay was harder. This was the first big and hard lesson we learned about doing business in Russia. Regardless, Ian was not satisfied with my progress. I had found someone who was close to the mark, but I wasn’t feeling 100% about him. A colleague in Moscow refused to sanction the hire. We fought about it a lot. At the same time, Ian was scaring the hell out of me for not hiring anyone yet. He said the guy I found was fine. Not able to stand up firmly and talk squarely about the problem, I hired the guy. After that, a lot of relationships between Moscow and Nizhny soured and my job got much more difficult.
Fortunately for Ian, he never had to deal with the residue. Not long after this situation, he announced that he needed to leave his job in Moscow and move back to England. There was some relief, to be sure, but I also feared losing all the good things I got from him. As you’ll see, I did.
Ian was replaced by Dmitri. Dmitri was Belarusian but had worked for Intel in Swindon for 9 years, serving as the Account Manager for IBM. He went to Oxford and was one of the smartest people around. In our first meeting over the phone, he dropped a bomb on me. He didn’t like the idea of the RMC being in Nizhny. He said it should be in Moscow. A week or two later, while I was in Moscow, he had dinner with me and reinforced his thoughts. He couldn’t say he was going to sabotage the project outright, but he did want to explore how much he could turn it back. I was devastated. I came all the way over here, put my heart in it, was doing a good job, and suddenly my own boss wants to put an end to it. For the next 9 months, my life was going to be rough.
I had to figure out what to do next. I always want to support my manager, but I also had a duty to deliver what my steering committee wanted from me. The committee included some pretty big players in Europe, some higher up than Dmitri. When conferring with them, they still believed we were doing the right thing and urged me to continue on. Meanwhile, Dmitri was fueling the fire with his staff, my peers, in Moscow. Moscow already had an arrogant attitude before, now it was getting worse. The President of Intel Russia, Steve, was on this committee and started having open feuds with Dmitri. It was getting ugly. Finally, Dmitri proposed that I do an in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of the project, work up the cost analysis, and everything else, and conduct a grand discussion with all major stakeholders about what we should do. I worked hours on end and utilized every resource, every ally, and every piece of data I could get my hands on to be prepared for this presentation. I went to Moscow to give my pitch. Two VP’s, my steering committee, and the head of European Marketing all attended the meeting. Dmitri and some Moscow people served as my debate opponents. I went through the presentation and was challenged on many points. Moscow’s opinion was that we should hire fewer people and have them all in Moscow. My argument was to continue the plan of building a full-service marketing organization in Nizhny. After all the back and forth, I won the argument in a landslide. It was definitely a victory, but I felt that it was a hollow one. I just knew Moscow was not going to surrender, so the fight would doubtfully never end.
There was a brief period of peace and I continued hiring more people and developing the organization. We found some of the most fantastic people. They quickly made an impact and just about every stakeholder in Western Europe was very impressed. I was a second-level manager managing the head of Channel Marketing, Distribution Finance, Corporate Marketing, Communications Product Marketing, and Technical Support. An Irish woman ran the Communications Product Marketing and a Brit managed the Tech Support team. The three of us lived in Nizhny and loved telling each other stories of the ridiculous things we encountered in Russia. All three of us loved what we were doing and felt energized by the team. We set up marketing events all over Russia, showed great business results, and managed to take over all the work that had been done in Western Europe before. We were doing everything we were supposed to be doing and having a lot of fun doing it. The team reached a total of about 30 people. I was responsible for making sure all the teams worked effectively together. Before our organization was built, marketing had been operating out of silos by different groups located in England and Germany. Now, we were really running tightly and creating some great marketing efforts. I still did not know much about marketing, but my team didn’t seem to need that kind of help. They wanted an Intel mentor and someone to learn from about how to succeed in their new careers. None of these people, nor their parents or grandparents, had ever worked for a real corporation before. They didn’t know how to act. I had to teach them a lot and it was very fulfilling. In all cases, despite the many problems mentioned in this summary, I received very good performance reviews and achieved some of the biggest results in my career. Each day was more interesting than the last. It was truly a blessing.
Moscow still gave us fits, though, and once, when Dmitri’s boss came to Nizhny, an Executive Vice President, he pounced on him and told him to support the effort or else. Dmitri was even forced to apologize to me. (that was an uncomfortable moment, I have to say)
The only thing Dmitri could do now was go along with it reluctantly, but he did figure out one way to slow it down. He could start asking how much longer I had to stay in the job. Intel was starting to do headcount freezes and revenue growth in Russia was flattening out, so in actuality, my job was starting to become less needed. I just had to hire one more senior person, and then my tenure would cease. I think it was a reasonable conclusion, but deep down, I just felt like Dmitri wanted me out of there. Two more things popped up that made my transition out extremely difficult. First of all, the controversial hire I made was not working out. Many people didn’t see that he was adding any value and just flailing. He couldn’t find his place, so we had to reduce the scope of his job. Eventually, it was becoming clear that I had to let him go. To fire anyone at Intel is a long, painstaking process. I always laugh when people accuse managers of liking firing people. What a joke, it’s miserable. In parallel, we did find a very good senior marketing person who was willing to move to Nizhny. I was very enthused about it since Moscow liked him. But then in one fell swoop, HR discovered that he had submitted a fake diploma, which automatically disqualified him from being hired. (this is a very common phenomenon in Russia, by the way) Right toward the end of my stint, I got a double whammy. I had to fire someone and the potential savior got booted out. I never had time to find a replacement. It was at that point that they decided to hire the role in Moscow. Despite all that I had achieved, which was a lot, I had to end it in that way. It was very disappointing. And as I mentioned in a conversation before, about half of the people in Nizhny have since been moved to Moscow. In the end, I guess I was perhaps half-successful in the long-term. By the time I left the role, I guess I can give myself a break and say that I had been mostly successful. Some things were simply out of my hands. I always look at that job with both joy and disappointment. At least I know that I personally hired most of the people that are still in Marketing today. Dmitri can thank me for that.
The skill I learned the most is navigating through competing interests. I had to identify where I could deliver value despite unclear direction from stakeholders. I was stuck in the middle of opposing views of the future and had to figure out how I could do the right thing for the company. I also had to get real work done without there being a backlash against me to the point where everyone turned against me. I’ve looked at this job from afar so many times, and I’m still not sure what I would have done differently. The two things I would have changed, however, was not to hire the person I ended up firing, and then also looking for the second senior marketing person sooner. When hiring people, you need to have all stakeholders enthusiastic about the person. If you don’t, then even if the person is good, you risk poisoning the environment and making it difficult for him to succeed. Hiring the other marketing person sooner would have given me more wiggle room if he hadn’t worked out.
Another thing I learned that is to witness how higher level people cope with working with peers that have completely different visions. Steve, the President of Intel, was constantly fighting with Dmitri, but neither one seemed very affected by it. I suspect they were putting up a good front. Moving upward involves dealing with these kinds of situations regularly.
During this job, I discovered that I possess a great presence in front of an audience, can think fairly well on my feet, and don’t get nervous doing public speaking. I had often done fine with corporate presentations but never had the forum to do public speaking before I went to Russia. It was a pleasant surprise to see how well I took to it.
I also learned that I can build organizations very well. I know how to hire good people and I know how to harness a team’s enthusiasm. With one exception, I hired people that became very successful and either stayed at Intel a long time or moved to other companies and took senior positions.
This was also my first experience managing managers. It was a bit tough for me, though I learned much about how to deal with very independent, headstrong people. I learned ways to make them accountable and to keep them going in the right direction. I didn’t master it, but I gained a strong sense of the issues that will always come up in these situations. It prepared me more for my software development manager position and will prepare me more for future opportunities.
I also learned how to keep fighting despite multiple obstacles and setbacks. I never gave up and worked through the stress, always stayed prepared, and showed a lot of guts. All these skills will come in handy in the future.
- Organizational Development: Dave championed the success of the RMC for the past year in several ways. He managed the resources effectively to enable the organization to grow by approximately 17 roles and planned the integration of these EE’s, interns, and RCG’s. In Q4, Dave worked closely with C&B to analyze our salary problems and drove the necessary focal budget changes to correct our below-market position. The impact of this effort is that RCIS region now has a bigger team for driving marketing, channel finance, and design-in support for the region for the long-term. The team still needs to grow their skills but the energy and desire are pre-requisites for future success.
- Dave owned the visit of Paul Otellini to Russia. Dave spent two months directing the visit team locally and engaging the EMEA and U.S. participants in order to put together a robust agenda for the trip and executed it successfully. Dave made sure that all briefing documents were published with the highest quality, that logistics ran smoothly, and that all major events satisfied both Otellini and the region. As a result, Otellini rated his EMEA trip as his best ever and that events such as the technical demo, Russia Business Council, and the Open Forums were some of his favorite experiences of the trip. This should give the region more visibility and spread the word of the value of our engineering and sales and marketing teams.
- Dave owned the formation of the Energy Taskforce and it’s ultimate strategy development and recommendations for 2006. Dave brought all key Energy players in EMEA and Russia together to consolidate efforts. Dave directed key people to create an analysis of the market so that a clear understanding of opportunities available in the market could be assessed and prioritized. He also pieced together, with the Enterprise Sales team, potential strategies for some elements of broad marketing, advertising, certain solution stacks, and new technologies so that a united effort could be forged to maximize revenue from Russia’s energy market.