75 years ago, Chester Carlson created an easier way to duplicate information on paper. His invention, xerography, revolutionized the way information is shared. Since the very first xerographic copy was made, Xerox continues to give its customers the freedom to focus on what matters most: their real business, according to Vladimir Lavrov, General Manager of Xerox Eurasia, which spans 12 countries including Russia. The largest regional Xerox office in Russia is in St. Petersburg where all aspects of the company are represented.
Lavrov sat down with The St. Petersburg Times in Xerox’s local office on the Neva embankment during a recent visit to St. Petersburg and talked about Xerox in Russia, how the company continues to lead the market, employee creativity, and why he’s remained loyal to the same company for almost 20 years.
Q: You’ve worked for Xerox since 1994. What did you do before joining the company?
A: After I graduated from the St. Petersburg State Electrotechnical University, I worked for a Soviet–Italian company specializing in numerical control. Due to historical circumstances [the breakup of the Soviet Union], everything changed in Russia and I joined a commercial company specializing in office equipment. This was the first time I encountered copying equipment, or duplicating machines, as we called them, and it was during this time that I became interested in Xerox. It was a successful business here and I found what they did interesting. I went through the selection process and was hired by the company.
Q: Was it a difficult process?
A: Yes, it was rather serious: there were about five interviews in both St. Petersburg and Moscow, where Xerox’ headquarters are based.
Q: Was such a selection process unusual in Russia at that time?
A: I found it rather unusual. First of all, there were language interviews in both English and Russian and there was a final interview with the general manager of the company in Russia and the CIS. It was also unusual since, despite the fact that I was applying for a regional position, the company spent a lot of time on the selection process. Candidates, whether in St. Petersburg or Novosibirsk, in Moscow or the Far East, have to be professionals knowledgeable in many different fields since every such post is an important one — management, product knowledge, solutions, partnership relationships, etc. It is the link between all business lines we have today.
Q: What was your first position in Xerox?
A: I was a regional representative but, before being given this title, we were called dealer managers. We decided to change the name since it did not reflect the essence of the position. A regional representative is the spokesperson for all or most of our business assets in the region where the person works. I started in this position and then became the head of indirect sales, the head of partner sales in the region, the head of our St. Petersburg office, the head of corporate business in Russia and eventually the General Manager of Xerox Russia before becoming the general manager for Eurasia.
Q: What does a person need to do to manage such a large, corporate structure?
A: First of all, a strong team is needed. Only when there is a group of like-minded people, with everyone working towards a common goal and having certain responsibilities, can a stable platform for consistent success be created. This must be an important part of the corporate culture. The second thing is a development strategy. Many people are working towards a result then and there but there should be a process that takes into account difficult and unpredictable situations, especially in developing markets. We should understand how to handle these problems and the general manager’s task is to coordinate the development process in this way. It is an important feature and the general manager should have the necessary time, resources and creativity. It can be difficult sometimes to get away from the routine and look forward. The third thing is a clear goal for the organization. These are three important platform strategies.
Q: Everything started with the idea of simplifying a process. Is this still Xerox’s aim?
A: Absolutely. The idea has not changed. We still offer a variety of services for business processes and document management. We offer solutions for personal users just as we provide solutions for retailers, banks, the oil and gas industry, the public sector and other major industries where Xerox is represented. Another direction is outsourcing. Many companies today think about this strategy.
Q: Because outsourcing providers approach things more professionally?
A: Yes, and it is less expensive for customers. Sometimes, it allows them to save 30 to 40 percent in comparison with the expenses when they do everything on their own. Our task is to offer the services we have to make the process more efficient. This is already a standard practice in America and Europe.
Q: And what about Russia? Is outsourcing becoming popular here?
A: It is just beginning but developing efficiently. We have seen an annual increase of 33 percent in this sector. And this is not only in Russia but Belarus and Ukraine are also very involved in it.
Q: Xerox Eurasia consists of 12 countries: Why were they united into one region?
A: This is the post-Soviet zone and while there are differences, there is also a lot in common when it comes to economic and industrial organization. Our task, as a company, is to identify these features and move in a way that strengthens these markets. We are trying to develop our strategy globally but we should take into account that some market segments are more developed in Russia, than, for example, in Ukraine, while others could potentially develop there.
Q: Any examples?
A: There is oil in Russia but not in Ukraine. We need to develop certain solutions for the oil and gas market in Russia while keeping an eye on those developing in Ukraine, such as metallurgy and banking. In this sense, Russia is close to Kazakhstan because it also has an oil and resource-based economy. We can’t have the same solutions for every country, though. This is the essence of our work in developing markets with a great variety of cultural, economical, political and financial factors that influence our approach.
Q: What is the structure of Xerox Russia?
A: We have nine offices — St. Petersburg, Moscow (both the company headquarters and the regional office), Rostov on Don, Yekaterinburg, Tumen, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and Kazan. We want to be close to our customers and the market. Clients should feel protected and be provided with quality service. Every region has its specific issues; we try to understand these as they continue to develop. Life is changing and the economy and society do not remain the same. At the same time, Xerox Russia represents one business model.
Q: Is St. Petersburg a good market for your business?
A: St. Petersburg is a large city. It has a strong public sector as well as a strong educational system, retail and banking block, research institutes, transportation and construction. Each of these segments wants solutions to their problems. The financial and retail sectors of the local economy are focused on efficiency, so we can provide outsourcing. Industries need help with their technology processes while schools and local libraries demand improvements in the efficiency of the education system and the creation of digital archives. St. Petersburg is a melting pot of various industrial segments and it has always been an important area for us. The people who work in the St. Petersburg office need to have more than just the qualities I mentioned earlier. There are some segments of the market where we are just one of the market players but, in general, we are the leaders on the St. Petersburg market.
Of course, the Xerox brand helps but one cannot keep a position simply because of name recognition. It takes hard work. It takes a constant search for innovative opportunities as markets change in front of our eyes. Just ten years ago the digital polygraph industry was created and we were leading the industry. As for the question of why I’ve been with Xerox for so long, I can say it is because it is interesting, it satisfies my inner demands and requirements. We always tell our colleagues that they should adapt to and accept change since life is constantly changing. If you do not change, you will never make a difference in your professional area.
Q: Is your job really that creative?
A: The dualism is very important. On the one hand, there should be an idea. On the other, there needs to be the execution of the idea. An idea alone is not good enough; we do not need people who only have ideas. We need people who see opportunities and have the potential to make them a reality. If you only have ideas, you should be a writer or painter.
Q: What are Xerox’s most interesting projects?
A: One of our first outsourcing projects was with Alfa Bank. Outsourcing was not a well-known business tactic at that time but they believed in us and their expenses were reduced by 47 percent. Another remarkable project was one that allowed for the paperless reception and payment of electricity bills over the Internet. It was unusual for Xerox but we did it. The X5 Retail Group, the leading Russian food retailer, asked us to handle all primary accounting documents. Small- and medium-sized businesses also use our solutions.
Q: Are these locally developed solutions?
A: We have five research centers worldwide and we have our own center of integration and localization for solutions in Russia. We’re able to adapt to any of our customers’ needs; we could have a powerful system but what’s the point if the customer cannot use it? Our integration center can improve this process and offer much more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1989-1990 — Graduated Moscow Business School under the USSR Council of Ministers
1987 - Graduated LETI St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University
2011-present — General Manager, Xerox Eurasia
2006-2011 — General Manager, Xerox Russia
1998-2006 — Head of regional representative office in St.
Petersburg, Xerox Russia
1996-1998 — Senior Dealer Manager in North-West region, Xerox Russia
1994-1996 — Dealer Manager in North-West region, Xerox Russia
1993-1994 — Head of electrical goods department, Balchug-Petersburg
1987-1993 — Junior research associate, Leningrad scientific and production association Electromash