You hold a lot of academic qualifications, where did you first enter higher education and what did you study in the Netherlands?
I did my first degree at one of the very first business schools in Moscow. I entered the course in the 1990s when there were still a lot of big changes taking place in Russia so it was a very exciting place to be studying economics and accounting.
After a coincidental meeting with a Dutch professor lecturing on the economics of culture in Moscow I became more interested in Holland as a study destination. My English was very good and my English professor encouraged me to apply for an exchange programme at Groningen University. I applied for it and was successful and so I headed to the Netherlands for half a year.
What kind of things did you study during your exchange?
I was given huge freedom to choose which courses I wanted to follow as the courses wouldn’t count towards my final degree in Moscow anyway. They had a very informal and flexible system, so I did courses in European integration, economics and the business management of culture. Although my final grades didn’t contribute to my degree, I know that having studied abroad certainly did add a lot of depth to my CV.
Was it easy to integrate in to the Dutch way of life or did you suffer from culture shock?
I didn’t really have problems with culture shock in the Netherlands – that only happened when I had to return to Moscow at the end! It was really easy to get integrated into the Dutch way. Groningen is a great student city – full of cool people and cool places to hang out. I really loved the people and the atmosphere there. It was certainly a much more relaxed place than Moscow. The international students there have a very active social life, always going away on trips and so on and every exchange student gets a Dutch student who acts like a mentor to them and helps them to integrate and find their way around. I actually met a girlfriend there too, a Dutch girl who returned with me to Moscow for some years.
What did you do when you returned to Moscow?
I finished my degree and graduated in 2001. I then started to study part-time for a PhD in the economics of culture. The Deans at my university in Moscow were really keen for me to share my international experience with the students so I started teaching there whilst working on my PhD.
Two degrees and a PhD – that’s a lot of studying!
I know! Sadly I still haven’t finished my PhD yet. Shortly after starting my PhD I got offered a job at the Bertelsmann Music Group (now Sony BMG), who were just entering into the Russian market at that time. It was a great experience watching and learning and being part of a major western company as it started to establish itself in a foreign market and grow successfully.
What inspired you to start your own company?
After some years I had done all the jobs that I could working for Sony in Russia, there was not a lot of scope to move and work elsewhere in the company. I realised that actually I could do these things independently – run a music label and promote groups. Creating my own business was the chance to put all the elements of my education and work experience together and become independent. It gives you a tremendous sense of freedom to run your own company and it’s a great learning curve.
Do you ever think about finishing you PhD?
Yes I do. After 10 years in business I am very keen to get back to the science of things. I am relishing the chance to start getting into analysis of the why and how of things and really look at the development of culture in society today in academic terms. I am ready to go back to academia and finish my PhD now and I think I will probably go to the Netherlands to do it. In Groningen there are some really good professors working in exactly the fields I am interested in.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to go and study in the Netherlands?
Good luck! The Netherlands is a great place to study and I would advise everyone to really take advantage of all the opportunities there. There is so much readily available information, the libraries are fantastic. My advice is; don’t lose too much in the bars - study, study, study! Take as much out of it as you can.
And for fellow alumni who are just returning from the Netherlands?
Keep connected! After graduating, in eight years I had never been back once to the Netherlands and I lost touch with a lot of people. Now I am trying to get back into the Dutch culture again and reconnect. Brushing up on my Dutch language skills, reconnecting with professors and meeting up with other alumni. It is certainly more difficult to build up these networks this far down the line than just after graduating, but I am really glad I have made the effort.