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Jeroen Ketting. The Lighthouse Group

'Whatever You Say About Russia, the Opposite Is Always True as Well'

Jeroen Ketting, founder of The Lighthouse Group.

You've been living and working in Russia for almost 26 years now. Where is home for you? Russia or still the Netherlands?

It's hard to say where home is but what I do know is that I couldn't live without Russia. I have become used to the pulse and the heartbeat of Russian life. And although I enjoy being in the Netherlands every two months or so, I can’t imagine what it would be like to live there all the time. 

What is the key to business success, talent or ambition? What should you focus on? 

As I usually say in my training sessions, there are three keys to success in Russia. The first is your capacity and readiness to understand, accept and respect the country. This will help you create the relationships you need, because in Russian business the personal relationship is the key, although not the guarantee.

What guarantees your business success in Russia is the second key — your readiness to deal with the challenges and surprises that life in Russia prepares for you. I always say that Russia is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

But what I see with most of our clients is that for real success in Russia, you need to have the third key which is the intercultural X-Factor consisting of curiosity, empathy, kindness, and consistency.

What do you think will be the greatest challenge that the businessmen and women of today will face in their future? What can they do to prepare themselves for it?

There will be no "business as usual" anymore. To succeed in this ever-changing business world, you will need to have strong personal values and vision. You will need to have strong strategic skills and be able to prioritize, make choices and take tough decisions.
You will need to realize that real growth in business means developing your value proposition, delivering higher quality and adding more value for your clients. This means you will continuously need to acquire new skill sets and capabilities, become more competitive, and make sure your business model is sustainable for the long-term.

You need to have a growth mindset that embraces challenges, creates resilience in facing difficulties, and is ready to learn from one's own mistakes and others' successes. 

You need to be ready to plan, initiate, execute and control your actions.

What can Dutch entrepreneurs learn from Russians? And Russians from Dutch?

As I usually say in my presentations, the Russian philosopher Berdyaev wrote that "with Russia's inexplicable strength and power comes a great responsibility that hasn't been assumed yet by the Russian people. A responsibility to cease relying upon fate, upon chance, upon the evil eye, upon luck, upon non-human and outside forces, and to rather show strength of will, to organize one's power." I think Russians can learn this from the Dutch.
Russians can teach the Dutch the real meaning of resilience, entrepreneurship, ingenuity and pure human strength.

What is the Russian economy's main problem? What needs to be changed?

What we are learning from our own and our clients' businesses is that there are many problems such as the lack of diversification of the economy, the underdeveloped small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector and the disconnection of Russia from international markets and the global economy.
Education, healthcare, and infrastructure need to be brought up to international standards. The role of SMEs in the economy needs to be increased. Labor efficiency needs to be increased through professional education. Bureaucracy and administrative burdens on private businesses need to be decreased. The middle class needs to get a chance to grow. A level legal playing field should be created. And Russia should reopen itself to international business and integration, even if the West doesn’t do the same.

If you compare the Russia of today and the Russia of 25 years ago. What has changed the most?

I loved the Russian of the nineties. From my arrival in 1994 until the crisis in August 1998 there was so much hope, positive energy, and entrepreneurship. Moscow in the nineties was the most exciting city in the world.

What has changed is that people have less hope and positive energy and the government is doing all it can to stifle entrepreneurship instead of promoting it.

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about Russia and Russians?

What I see when I work with international companies is that many foreigners confuse politics with real life. Without exception, the clients, friends, and family who have visited me in Russia have been positively surprised by Russia and Russians.

When they arrive I remind them of the wise words of Lev Tolstoy, who said, "If I would give one piece of advice that I consider to be the most applicable for people of our times, I would say just one thing: Please, stop just for a moment, stop working, look around."

And when they do just that, "stopping for a moment and looking around," then they see that Russia is much more than the stereotypes of vodka, bears, snow, mafia, oil, gas, oligarchs, gloom and doom. There is some truth in every stereotype — as the Russians say there is a bit of a joke in every joke — but there is also another side that is often less evident to foreigners. That other side my foreign visitors see is culture, nature, hospitality, human energy and talent, color and humor.

For me personally, my life has been enriched by the warmth, hospitality, unconditional friendships, and craziness that I have experienced thanks to Russia and Russians. Russia is unmeasurable, limitless, deep, and emotional. Russia can also be extreme and contradictory and if one has the time then one can extend this list of characteristics indefinitely. Whatever you say about Russia, the opposite is always true as well.

This is what I share with our clients in training, mentoring, and strategy sessions and I see that once they understand, accept and respect Russia, life and work in Russia becomes much easier for them.

Jeroen Ketting founded The Lighthouse Group in Russia in 1994 and is an expert in intercultural business and doing business in Russia, a business mentor and a trainer. The Lighthouse Group companies are involved in the import of dry bulk handling equipment, business services for foreign companies in Russia and business training sessions for Russian professionals.