Ivan Blanarik: Experimenting with Success
Published: July 30, 2014 (Issue # 1822)
The Carpathian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean have excited Ivan Blanarik’s admiration for nature. Blanarik, the general director of German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim’s Russian division, was in awe during his mountainside hiking tours as a youth. A college student in Czechoslovakia at the time, he said the rough and ragged terrain commanded respect and caution.
Later on, at a Boehringer posting in Portugal, Blanarik experienced similar feelings when sailing a boat in the often fierce winds of Guincho Beach and Cabo da Roca.
Yet there is another side of nature that he is familiar with as a pharmacy student. It is the inner workings of the human body, whose intricacy and perfection he extols with the passion of a BBC documentary maker.
Blanarik sat down with The St. Petersburg Times to talk about his work as a postman, learning his way with one of the first personal computers in Bratislava and the spirit of open-mindedness he picked up from his parents.
Q: Why did you come to Russia?
A: I was interested because Russia is an important world player, not only in pharmaceuticals. Russia also kept appearing on my radar in Helsinki, where I had my previous posting. You could get a radio station from Russia — and in Russian — I think it was Mayak. So, I was hearing a lot about Russia going around Helsinki in a car. Additionally, over weekends, the center of Helsinki had a lot of Russian visitors from St. Petersburg.
Q: What advice would you offer a foreigner who wants to invest or expand in Russia?
A: To learn, unlearn and relearn is an important skill. If you stick to your methods, which might have been successful, they probably will give you some mileage, but every market requires an open mind. That applies even more to Russia, given its size and complexity.
I had to relearn plenty of things in Russia. Coming from Finland, I concluded that these countries are the high and low of the hierarchy scale. Russia is a culture that is more hierarchical. The boss decides everything.
In Finland, it is very flat instead: “You are the boss. OK, so what?” In Russia, I had to tune myself. People expect orders.
I did not come completely unaware of these things. I had some background experience when I worked in Kiev in the 1990s. That was my introduction to the region. Many elements were the same or similar.
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