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'It is Crucial for Graduates to Get out of the 'Comfort Zone'

Adelina Ishmuratova graduated from the 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia' programme, having defended her thesis concerning exporting organization to the PRC. Currently, Adelina has experience in attracting investments in the SEZ 'Alabuga', as well as in the Investment Development Agency of the Moscow Region. In our interview, she shares insights on working in a special economic zone and recommendations for building her career path.

'It is Crucial for Graduates to Get out of the 'Comfort Zone'

Angelina Ishmuratova's Archive

– Adelina, what inspired you to choose your Master's programme in 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia'?

I graduated from St. Petersburg State University with a bachelor degree in Advertising and Public Relations. Even then, I was interested in China. From the second year, I went to the Confucius Institute to learn Chinese - I considered it a good investment into myself and a way to form my own USP (unique selling proposition). In my fourth year, when I was focused on my thesis, I tried to somehow integrate two key interests for me at that time and wrote about PR tools that would allow attracting Chinese investments for the implementation of projects in Russia. At that moment, I was already working in the field of organizing the 'Business with China' forum.

At the time of my graduation from the bachelor's degree, I did not have a clear-cut answer as to which master's programme in Russia would help to strengthen my competencies. In this regard, I applied for a grant and went to Beijing to study Chinese for a year. It was a kind of gap year that helped me understand how and in what direction to move. While further exploring the master's programs of Russian universities, I was very encouraged by the idea of ​​the St. Petersburg HSE campus about such a symbiosis of the spheres of my interest. The program was just being launched at that time and has, probably, become something I always tried to find.

– During your graduate studies, what disciplines or projects were most useful for your further career path?

I cannot fail to mention the course on international investment, which is directly related to my current professional activity. In general, I remember the economic section more, in particular, the lectures of my scientific supervisor Dr Ivan Kotliarov, where we studied economic integration, financial institutions, international organizations, and the historical formation of the currency. The lectures by Dr Svetlana Krivokhizh on cultural identity, soft power, and the structure of the political system of China were very useful. They not only helped me to structure many things in this area for myself, but also made me reflect and ask additional questions - this is generally one of the key criteria, in my opinion. Moreover, of course, I would like to highlight the 'Methods' (Methodology of Modern Research in Oriental Studies) - a course that, despite its difficulty for many, is the most applied subject.

– Your master's thesis was of an applied nature (the topic 'Exporting Russian Products to China through the Cross-Border E-commerce Platforms (Librederm Case)'). Could you tell us about the conclusions of your research?

At that time, I worked in a team that only organized this case step by step. The key conclusion is that, despite the complexity and little comprehensibility for Russian companies, this process is feasible - Russian products have a chance to win over the Chinese consumer. However, to achieve this, it is necessary to invest enough energy and resources. It was painful to realize that there are a lot of good and talented manufacturers in Russia, but sometimes their main obstacles are ignorance of the peculiarities of the Chinese mentality, cost savings at the expense of translators, and the lack of an integrated approach. Nevertheless, all this can be optimized: the cross-border online trading platforms are such a tool that can help Russian companies test how the Chinese consumer perceives their product, what needs to be changed, how to interact with the said consumer. It is important to understand here that the number of users of cross-border online platforms is not the coverage of the entire Chinese market, and Tmall Global is only a small share of Tmall, which, however, is suitable for the first steps in export activities.

– Please, share your experience in the labour market after graduation from HSE? Was it difficult for you to find a job?

I have been working since my fourth year of my bachelor's degree, always trying to find opportunities to fulfil my potential. And upon my return from China, I already had a more complex idea of ​​the areas that interest me. Initially, I got a job at a traditional Chinese medicine clinic as an assistant manager. It was during that period that I was noticed and invited to a project related to the Librederm case, which served as the basis for my thesis. After the implementation of this project, I realized that I want something more ambitious. This is how 'Alabuga' appeared in my life after two months of constant monitoring. I was faced with a difficult choice back then, in which two factors played a role: moving to another city and the feeling that you cannot enter such a large company right after graduation. Nevertheless, I still got out of my comfort zone and decided to give it a try. 'Alabuga' is indeed a unique place where yesterday's students can truly realize themselves: they are not afraid to trust you with projects, to assign responsibility - this teaches you not to be afraid to make decisions and be responsible for them.

– In your opinion, what competencies have become decisive when you succeeded to be selected as an employee of the SEZ 'Alabuga'?

From the point of view of corporate culture, 'Alabuga' has its own idea of ​​the necessary competencies: getting out of the comfort zone in communication, getting out of the comfort zone in analytics, faith in business, the ability to go until the end, striving for more. 'Alabuga' fosters in yesterday's student’s perseverance, interest, and willingness to take responsibility, the ability to work in a team and be a leader. The presence of these qualities and readiness to upgrade them must be demonstrated both during communication with HR and future leaders, and during the completion of an analytical task. Later, as a part of the staff, I interviewed applicants for projects in our department and was able to follow the hiring process from an employer's perspective. I want to pinpoint that the most frustrating thing is the lack of candidates’ motivation and their inability or unwillingness to show their strengths, interest in gaining experience and the desire to work in this particular company.

– Looking back at your student experience now, what was worth paying attention to during the period of study to increase competitiveness in employment?

I would participate in various events, internships, cooperate with other students to launch our projects even more. Managerial experience can be gained by implementing projects at the university level. In fact, I am very pleased to see that this practice is very well developed at the HSE: the teachers, the university management, and the administrative staff are always ready to help students in the implementation of their own projects. And of course, it is very important not to give up: the more attempts you make, the more likely you are to succeed.

– This year, SEZ 'Alabuga' became a partner of the Higher School of Economics. What joint projects do you think we could implement together?

First of all, the special economic zone develops human resources. From the point of view of the HSE, this is an opportunity for internship, as well as for participation in leadership programs held on an annual basis. Such programs include weekly training, computer simulators, creating and presenting your projects to the management of the SEZ, receiving feedback, and sometimes immediate job offers. Moreover, it is worth mentioning collaboration in the field of research because there is a project office in "Alabuga" that develops its own projects, both in the field of production, and in terms of analytics and elaboration of mechanisms that could stimulate the economy. Sensible people are always needed, and motivated people are needed even more.

– Who would you recommend to undergo an internship in the SEZ 'Alabuga'?

As a person who gave her heart to the Investment Attraction Department in 'Alabuga', I sincerely recommend this direction. This area, firstly, is suitable for pro-active people who want to work in the international sphere, because working in 'Alabuga' implies a lot of communication with foreign companies, business trips, exhibitions, events, project development, and communication with investors. In addition, I could recommend this direction to students, who are interested in finance: this is an opportunity to immerse yourself in real projects, study their business models and financial performance. Also, in the structure of the Office, there is a marketing and PR department - for those who like to write texts, organize events, shoot videos, prepare creatives, work with the media and government agencies. However, 'Alabuga' is not limited only to attracting investments; there is a legal department, commercial department, department for interaction with already existing residents, an operation service, a project office. 'Alabuga' is a huge mechanism, where each department has its own specifics, but it is always ambitious, and those key characteristics of a successful candidate - a responsible leader, who is ready to leave the comfort zone and work for a result, - remain essential for everyone who wants to work in the company.

– Adelina, we know that this month it was some changes in your carrier. Could you tell us where you work now? What does your organization do and what position do you occupy?

Actually, this month I moved from the SEZ 'Alabuga' to work at the Investment Development Agency of the Moscow Region - an organization subordinate to the Ministry of Investment, Industry and Science of the Moscow Region. However, the functionality is very similar to what I was doing at the 'Alabuga': it includes attracting investments, elaborating projects to localize production. In the Agency, the range of my tasks is much wider: I was engaged in projects within one specific economic zone (SEZ) in 'Alabuga', while here I do it for the whole region. To clarify: there are four SEZs and over five hundred industrial sites and industrial parks, both private and public, in the territory of the Moscow Region, and we work with all of them. In addition, we also help companies in obtaining tax incentives, subsidies and various support measures, as well as in interaction with funds.

Speaking of special economic zones, I like to mention China as an example: the mechanism of special economic zones helped a lot in its development. Due to the creation of special sites with preferential treatment and inexpensive labour, many large foreign enterprises preferred to locate their production there. The development of economic zones in Russia has begun in 2005, and 'Alabuga' was one of the first. In just a few years, a world-class infrastructure has been created, tax and customs benefits are provided to enterprises. In addition, now 'Alabuga' is also a leading platform in the field of training for future and existing residents. My task was to have more production facilities and residents on the territory of the special economic zone, so that industry would develop, and we would not import any finished products into Russia, but rather localize their production here.