Monday, December 14, 2009

The Siberian Climate

I was born and grew up in Siberia. More precisely, in the Altai region, in the South of Western Siberia. Why be so precise? Because there are many different climates, landscapes, cities and ethnic groups united under the common name “Siberia”. The large territory between the Ural mountains (known as a border between Europe and Asia) and Russia’s Far East varies much from the cold North to the sunny and fertile soiled South, and from the woody East to the industrial West.

Winter park There are some popular stereotypes about Siberia, and the first one is that Siberia is a Territory of Frost. Well, winters are really cold in Siberia, even in its Southern regions. In my hometown, in January, temperatures below -30C (-20F) may stay for 2-3 weeks, and on some days it may be as cold as -45 C (-53F). The first snow normally occurs in mid October, but melts away. Usually, the snow extends from November to April. However, summers in Altai are hot and dry. Thus, +30C (90F) is a normal temperature for July. Altai has enough sunny days in Summer to plant watermelons and grapes (the watermelon in the picture was planted by my dad).

Siberian water melon Summer follows Winter so fast that there is almost no Spring. The short period of time when all the snow (of about 1.5-2 meters deep) melts away lasts about two weeks and ends with a wild and rapid boom of blooming. Autumns are also short, just a few weeks between the Summer heat and snow.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Siberian Cities look like

Like almost all inhabitants of my hometown, Barnaul, I was pretty sure that I lived in a small town. It had a population of 650 000. When my English improved so that I could communicate with people from other countries, my international friends didn’t understand why I considered the Barnaul city a small town. The reason was that near Barnaul, there was Novosibirsk city with a population of over 1 million. To the West, there was another city — Omsk with a population of over 1 million. To the East, there was Krasnoyarsk city, that has a population of about 1 million. Indeed, Barnaul was like a suburban village compared to other Siberian cities. To my surprise, in Europe and North America the scale of what is a large city and what is not, differs much from mine. Now I realize that Barnaul, though not being the largest city in Siberia, is quite a big industrial center with well-developed infrastructure.

Wooden houses are not common in Siberian cities. Normally, private houses are built from bricks, we call them cottages.Often, cottage communities are separated from the rest of the city and located in the suburban areas. The vast majority of people in Siberia live in condos. During the 1960s, the Soviet government deployed a country-wide construction program in order to solve the shortage of residential real estate in cities. Since then typical, rather ugly condos were built all across the country. Siberia was not an exception. According to the Soviet government, it was a temporary solution, but, like Russians used to say, there’s nothing more permanent than temporary solutions. These condos still serve people, and more new condos were built during last 20 years.

During World War II, many industrial enterprises and factories were moved from the European part of Russia to Siberia by the rail way. While Western Russia was at high risk of being occupied, Siberia seemed to be a pretty safe place. Most factories in Barnaul and Novosibirsk are ones that were moved there during WWII. Since then Western Siberia has been an important industrial region with a predominantly urban population.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Verbal Agreement vs Contract

Russian market analyst Eldar Murtazin wrote in his blog a history of a conflict between Sony Ericsson and Euroset, the largest handset retail chain in Russia. According to Murtazin, one year ago, Sony Ericsson pushed their handsets to Euroset really hard, being very happy to supply to Euroset with as many phones as possible at any conditions. Euroset set a very important condition: to pay to SE no sooner than when the handsets are sold. It was a verbal arrangement, that was always a preferred way of doing business for Euroset. The SE guys believed that verbal arrangements meant nothing, only printed contracts were important. SE sent some handsets to Euroset, but sales were pretty weak. After a few months, SE started asking for money for their handsets from Euroset, but Euroset reminded SE about the agreement and refused to pay. That is how the conflict began. During next few months, SE and Euroset were blaming each other for unfair practices, that was not good for anyone — the vendor, retailer and consumers. Recently, SE announced that the company has no claims against Euroset and agreed to renew supplies to the retailer in 2010 (I should say, SE market share decreased dramatically and takes only 3% in Russia).

Putting aside all the boring business issues, I see clearly cross-cultural nature of this conflict. Sony Ericsson, being a western company, pays attention to papers, contracts and fine print, while Russian business tends to trust verbal agreements considering papers nothing but a mere formality. In Russia’s business (and criminal) culture, a person is absolutely responsible for his words, it is a virtue to be responsible for your words. Papers are treated with less (or no) respect. Both sides of the conflict developed their expectations regarding the deal on the base of their own business culture and experience. No surprise that neither Euroset’s nor SE’s expectations were met.