Articles / Rubric: People

I Try to Do a Little Bit of Everything
June 2012 | People

He built a successful business from scratch - creating the first private company that emerged from the ministry walls of the USSR -  is among Russia’s top 100 richest men (according to “Forbes Magazine”), and recently started focusing on investments. Anatoly LOMAKIN, the President of the International Potash Company and a Doctor of Economics, talked to WEj reporters Anastasia Yakovleva and Yuliya Petrova about the reliability of the Japanese and Italian functionality.


Anastasia Yakovleva (A.Y.): Anatoly, how did you come up with the idea for the International Potash Company?
Well, I think a large part of it came from the spirit of the times. The foundation of the company coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Potash Industry was one of the largest in the world at that time – three separate enterprises throughout the Perm Region and Belarus provided potash for them. And when the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s-early 1990s, the potash consumption in Russia production fell sharply, mostly because the purchasing power of Russian villages fell drastically.

Yulia Petrova (Y.P.): So there was a time when selling potash became impossible?
Yes, before the Soviet collapse, potash was supplied by companies under government contracts – then, in the early 90s, they ceased to exists, and that freedom allowed us to establish the International Potash Company.

A.Y.: Was it difficult to enter the global market?
When we first started exporting our products to foreign markets, our goods weren’t in demand, and because of the tough competition, it was rather difficult to begin with.

A.Y.: But now, your company has affiliates in Belarus, China, and the UK – would you call your Russian manufacturers the world leaders in this industry?
Yes, definitely. But we always learn from each other, because this industry is so competitive globally. Within 20 years, we have been able to raise the consumption of potash, both in the domestic market and exporting to the foreign markets, and Russian potash is now being exported to 70 different countries.

A.Y.: This year, you decided to sell the business and focus on investing. What projects are you currently working on?
I have a business that deals with the international trade of fertilizers and agricultural products in Europe, and a second business in development. I’m also doing some work in the transportation industry, both on the railways and on the road.

Y.P.: Out of the many fields you are currently working in, which industry do you prefer?
I try to do a little bit of everything – you cannot go too far in one direction, because you could miss important innovations in other sectors while your head is turned.

A.Y.: Would you say that’s your business philosophy?
I think so!

A.Y.: What do you take into consideration when choosing future business partners?
I believe that the more complex your cooperation agreement is from the beginning, the stronger it will be in the future. If your partner just agrees to everything, he or she could give up on everything just as easily tomorrow.

Y.P.: Are there any characteristic features in international businessmen that you can tell us about? Every nation has its own culture, after all.
Well, selling potash in China was too dangerous 20 years ago – you could be cheated and end up not getting the money for it. But today, it is a civilized country, and many things have changed.

A.Y.: Many believe that the Japanese make the most reliable business partners.
Yes, they are very serious and stable - you can bargain with them over one cent for weeks. When the Japanese ask you how long you’ll be staying in the country, you can be sure that the contract will be exact up to your very last day in Japan. But the North Koreans negotiate on a day-to-day basis.

A.Y.: You like to travel a lot, is that correct? What is the main component of a holiday for you?
A siesta! Taking an afternoon nap is an important part of any holiday. I also like taking a vacation at the beach, because I see many landmarks and major cities on business trips.

Y.P.: What are your favorite vacation spots?
I love Spain, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, and, of course, Brazil. I’d say Brazil is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Unfortunately, you can’t really swim in Brazil, despite its beautiful beaches, because of the strong underwater currents. I do love swimming, but in Brazil, all you can do is splash around in the shallows like a little kid.

A.Y.: With all these opportunities to travel, you must have tried almost every cuisine in the world!
Yes, I’ve tried many of them. I have this habit of eating local cuisine whenever I visit a different country – so I eat borscht in Ukraine, Tom Yam in Thailand, and rice in China. I’m also partial to Japanese food.

A.Y.: Do you have any hobbies?
Well, my philosophy towards hobbies is very similar to my philosophy in business – that is, I like to try a little bit of everything, such as sports and cars.

J.P.: What kind of cars do you prefer?
I like big cars, but not too big – my ideal car is an SUV. On weekdays, I have my driver drive me around, but on the weekends, I try to find the time to drive myself, because I like feeling the car’s speed. But I still have my very first car, the Zhiguli, sitting in my garage.

A.Y.: How old is it now, twenty years old?
Even older! It was manufactured in 1985, which makes it a rarity nowadays.
 
A.Y.: Did you tune it up at all?
I didn’t, time took care of both the tuning and the restyling. It was a very good car back then, though.

Y.P.: Tell us about your family.
I’ve been married for a very long time now, and I have two grown-up daughters, both of whom graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, and now live on their own.

Y.P.: Do your daughters live in Russia?
Yes, they do.

Y.P.: Haven’t you instilled the “cosmopolitan” spirit in them?
Travel is only good when you have loved ones waiting for you back home, no matter where you go.

A.Y.: Do you have any family traditions – family meet-ups on Sundays, for example?
Yes, we do! I have a wife and two daughters, what do you think that means?

Y.P.: Freedom!
No, freedom applies only for me - for them, our family gatherings are on a strict diet. Therefore, when we do meet, we replace cakes and desserts with lighter dishes. The more “serious” food goes to the other members of the family – our two cats and dog.

Y.P.: I cannot help but ask about your taste.
Well, I have a very discriminating taste!

A.Y.: Yes, we noticed as soon as we entered!
Y.P.: You have a very beautiful meeting room.
Everything here is made in the Italian style – the fireplace, the armchairs, the table, everything! I believe that everything in the office should be functional, with nothing “extra”. It can be expensive, but function is more important. Most of this furniture was picked out by the women in my office, but I always have the final word – “We’ll take it!”

Y.P.: What would you say is most important, a successful career or family?
Well, I made my way in the business world a long time ago. I became a CEO 20 years ago, and while making those decisions gives me a lot a freedom, it also comes with a lot of responsibility. I would say that family comes first, but after you’re already on the path to a successful career.

A.Y.: What is your primary goal?
To quote Karl Marx, maximizing profits. Developing something I like and am interested in is always the goal – I prefer to work on something that requires effort and time, but produces results. Even if they’re poor results, it gives me satisfaction.

Photo: Ivan Dedenev


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