Russia is changing at a faster pace than the rest of the world
Australian businessman Campbell Bethwaite arrived to Russia in 2006 as an American investment bank employee. After a couple of years he left the company and started his own business – the nightclub and bar Garage, followed later by the hotel project Moscow Suites. This was not his first business – Campbell has worked with startups from Australia, the US, Russia and Nigeria since his days as a student. Currently he is the founder of a holding of more than ten projects, the largest of which specializes in online loans to small and medium businesses called SimpleFinance. Bethwaite creates his own ecosystem: the holding has transportation projects, a b2b platform for selling bulk goods, a network of warehouses for storage, etc. The businesses complement and support one another. During his interview with Capital Ideas, Campbell Bethwaite spoke about what sectors in Russia have the most potential and what qualities a businessman should have to be successful in our country.
How did your move to Russia come about?
I worked in New York on Wall Street, in Salomon Smith Barney (owned by Citigroup). We frequently discussed opportunities for growth in countries with potentially large markets – India, Russia, China, Africa. Once I had a chance discussion with my boss in the elevator, and he asked me if I would like to work in Russia. I answered “why not?” and in 2006 I headed to Citigroup’s Moscow office.
You had not been to Russia before then?
I always travelled a lot and had been in Russia a few times since the end of the 90‘s. For example, in 2004 I took part in a trip along the Trans Siberian Railroad from Saint Petersburg to Beijing, but I did not speak Russian and had no contacts here.
So, you were observing Russia during the most momentous period of its development. What were your impressions?
Every time I arrived here there was some noticeable development, but it seems to me that the largest visible changes did not take place between the 90’s to 2006, but over the last 8-10 years. This is accurate if you speak of the market, technology and physical changes. For example, the center of Moscow has become completely different. People’s attitudes have also changed, which is especially noticeable on the road. I enjoy biking to work on the newly constructed embankments and bicycle lanes, which did not exist merely 5 years ago. Drivers have also become more patient and corruption overall in the country has improved.
Much has changed in the areas which I often frequent, namely Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Krasnodar, and other large cities. They are not changing quite so furiously as Moscow, but still very quickly.
In general Russia is changing much more quickly than the rest of the world, and over the past 5 years life has become significantly more comfortable and pleasant, especially for foreigners.
Why did you decide to stay here after leaving Citigroup?
I saw what enormous potential Russia has – here life moves so quickly and the opportunities are practically boundless. I have the impression that everything is possible here.
Would you recommend going into business in Russia to your friends?
That depends on the type of person; if you have a strong sense of entrepreneurship and are flexible and ready to face different challenges, you will be successful. Success comes from acting on ideas, not just promoting them.
Do you share the opinion that Russia has more risks for foreign businessmen?
There are risks everywhere, and every country has its own. I have worked on businesses in Africa, Australia, America – every country has its nuances. Russia has no more than any other country.
What is unique about our country?
Russia is unique in many ways, for example legislation changes quickly and frequently, often with aspects contradicting each other. You need to study the terms of a contract and its associated nuances very carefully, because most likely not all the terms will be reflected in it. Another example is that everyone has a rapidly changing schedule. In New York, meetings can be arranged three weeks in advance, with both parties usually sticking to it. Here that is impossible, that is just the way the mentality is. This heavily impacts efficiency. I am able to be flexible, but there should be a balance.
People in Russia are very straightforward and say what they think. Especially when comparing them to America, where from a young age everyone is taught to speak in certain sentences and smile. It is not like that here and I find that very refreshing as a foreigner.
How do you choose which sectors to invest in?
I invest into sectors where I personally see a trend. For example, it is my belief that the small to medium business segment has a lot of potential, and will experience rapid development and profitability in the next 10 years. I see big opportunities for this economy in this sector.
In second place I look for businesses that could support our ecosystem – all my businesses work in synergy. That is a key factor which I look at when I pick a new sector for investment.
In all, which business sectors do you consider the most perspective for investment?
I see a lot of potential in such sectors such as technology financing, the entire sphere of technological instruments, medical technology, the pharmaceutical industry, telemedicine and b2b.
Are blockchain and cryptocurrency in style?
No one has convinced me that blockchain can be more useful than an existing technology. That includes cryptocurrency. So far I have not seen a case where blockchain is more efficient that technology that is already in place. Same for Bitcoin.
Although I have studied these topics in detail, I still believe that there is a lot more to learn, and therefore prefer to venture into businesses that I understand well.
Do you aim to personally manage the entire business process, or do you delegate authority?
I try to delegate as much as possible and give the company’s general directors the opportunity to work independently on strategic development. I do not believe in micro-management, the general director of each respective business should be the one who manages and is responsible for his business.
What should your team be like?
I have my own team which has been with me since the beginning, and I trust them. That means a lot. In our businesses we allocate a lot of time and resources to team-building events – trainings, corporate events, various qualifying courses and athletic competitions. That is one of HR’s biggest tasks.
Would you tell us about your plans for opening new business sectors?
I have a lot of plans and ideas, which I would not like to reveal quite yet. Behind every investment there is a lot of preliminary work and research. We never announce new sectors at the pilot stage of the project because it is not clear how successful they will wind up being and what will come from them.
Do you associate the rest of your life with Russia?
I still see much potential here and am not thinking of leaving.
How do you relax?
I try to leave the city or country to restart my mind. I believe that you cannot achieve success if you work all the time. I love skiing, sports in general and travel very often – I have been to over 140 countries. In Russia I climbed Mount Elbrus, have been to the southern regions, skied in Kamchatka and swam in Baikal. I have been to Sochi before and after the Olympics, there is a lot of infrastructure there for sports. I have been to in the Arctic zone and I want to go to Altai, they say it is very beautiful there.
Is your family here in Moscow?
My wife is from Finland, we met in Moscow in 2014. Like me, she also came here to work. Now she is defending her Phd in International Relations.
Is there anything which you miss that you can not get here?
My loved ones and friends and occasionally the weather. Australia is considerably warmer than here. I am from Sydney and life there is completely different.
What are your dreams?
I dream of a good solution for geopolitical issues, about the dynamic development of my businesses and finding a good balance between work and personal life. I often dream of sleeping slightly more than I do now.