Where dreams take you
I always considered one of my virtues to be the ability to set goals for myself decades in advance and to dream about something immense. While a student, when perestroika began, I formulated how I wanted to see myself in 20-30 years. I defined my global task to be changing the environment around myself for the better in an evolutionary manner. First, working for the long term. This means that all the projects I will engage in will be designed for the long-term horizon and effect. Second, always and in everything I strive for the absolute benchmark – I was taught this by my father. I always enjoyed setting challenges for myself as a way of living. I am stubborn, even single-minded. If any particular task seems infeasible, this means you must prove to yourself and those nearby that the impossible is possible. Third, I find the right partners for projects and “infect” them with my ideas. In other words, I attract those who are ready to share my dream and together with me bring them to fruition. I am a communicative person, and I have quite extensive connections, both business-related and friendships. This allows me to involve in projects a great number of talented people who are successful in different areas. We exchange experience and learn from each other. This enriches the project and helps solve another fundamental task – expanding the circle of trust.
Troika Dialog is an illustrative example of how these principles work. It was founded in 1991 by Peter Derby, an American of Russian descent. At the time two professors in Moscow and another ten people working at Vnesheconombank knew with certainty what the stock market was and how it operated. If I had said back then that Troika would become a leader of the investment banking industry, even beyond Russia, that top personnel from the entire market would come to work there, and lastly that Western banks would want to buy it – no one would have believed me. And even ten years later, when Troika had become quite famous and successful, few believed it when I said in another ten years our company would be worth over one billion dollars.
Nevertheless, in 1991 I joined unheard-of Troika Dialog, risking a career in one of the country’s prominent banks, because I believed the country would have a market economy, and hence would have a stock market, and that it’s possible to create a Russian company according to international standards which will become leader of this market. Of course, this takes years, although, like I said, I was ready to work for the long term.
Our model initially presumed that we can be successful only in a civilized milieu, which was yet to be created. As many recall, a true jungle existed in Russia during the 1990s. Troika did a lot so that the burgeoning “capitalism” in our country acquired a “human face”. And I am grateful to Peter since he, as shareholder, allowed us to follow the model and lofty standards which we chose for ourselves. The range of our impact was quite broad – from legislative initiatives and participation in creating stock market infrastructure to publishing textbooks and international bestsellers on the stock market and supporting other educational projects. Overall, Troika was never solely a business project. Its commercial and philanthropic activities are inseparable: the money we earned helped to implement various initiatives aimed at creating a healthier society. I’m glad that this principle operates at the company to this day.
Meriting separate mention are the business standards that were accepted at Troika. The company represented a symbiosis of Russian and world experience. Troika was a Russian company where foreigners came to work, while usually it’s the opposite, and they brought with them best international practices. They laid the company’s multiplicative foundation, its openness to everything new. Playing a tremendous role in this was managing director Bernard Sucher.
In our work we followed three main principles. First, we are not geared towards immediate benefit. Because of this, perhaps, Troika earned less than other players on the market did. And yet we honorably endured several economic crises in Russia, in contrast to many others who were more focused on money and took greater risks. Second, we are a service company, meaning we serve our clients, making them wealthier and more successful, and thereby we make money. Third, we respect ourselves. This means the criterion for measuring our success is the respect and trust of our clients, as well as the fact that we succeeded as professionals.
Thanks to this model and consistency therein, Troika gradually came to be listened to and trusted. The key element is trust, something created over years, and I am proud that we earned it. And I am also proud of the partnership model created at Troika – such existed nowhere else in Russia. Any employee could potentially become a partner, regardless of title or age. New partners were chosen by existing partners, propounding the candidacies of colleagues who, in their opinion, were most deserving. On the eve of Sberbank’s purchase of Troika Dialog, the company had 123 partners. These included not only top managers and business representatives but also specialists from support divisions. Becoming a partner at Troika was both an honor and major responsibility. All of the company’s most crucial decisions were taken collectively. Each partner was entitled to one vote, irrespective of how many shares he or she held. People understood that they truly were co-owners of the business, and this is a whole different level of responsibility.
The decision to sell Troika Dialog was also discussed by all the partners. We concluded that the best option for the company’s long-term growth was to seek the right partner. Due to many factors, Sberbank proved to be such a partner. As is perfectly logical, after becoming part of Sberbank, the company changed its name and now offers its services under another brand. I never wanted to be an investment banker forever, so the Troika Dialog project, I think, has been honorably furthered.
I am grateful to everyone who was with me all these years, with whom I shared successes and misfortunes along this challenging path. Troika became a big dream where many talented and vastly different people united. Its history, like that of Russia’s stock market, was what we ourselves created. I’m certain there is room in Russia for professional companies rendering high-quality services and operating under international standards. Yet this will be a completely different story.