Ilijana VavanManaging Director
Advice on how to build a career is simple: work hard, work smart, be clear about what you want.
I think that two personal qualities have helped me advance my career: persistence and persuasion.
I am currently responsible for all of the business Kaspersy Lab does in Europe. The most interesting part of my job is meeting people. My colleagues represent diverse cultural backgrounds and engage in different ways of doing business, so you always learn something new.
I am responsible not only for business but for people, too. Sometimes I have to make tough and unpopular decisions and that’s never easy.
I am proud that as a specialist, I have achieved and surpassed all the possible goals in my profession. I’d like to continue being an expert in everything I do at the company.
Sometimes I feel like I'm a superwoman. Especially when influential people at important meetings listen to my opinion.
I’d like to think that by doing my job I’m saving the world. I wouldn’t mind having a superpower. If it were up to me I'd choose the ability to do everything at the speed of light.
I try to be myself no matter what. My husband and son are very supportive of me.
Lyudmila SmirnovaChief Financial Officer
It’s considered a corporate governance best practice to have women make up at least 35% of the board of directors. Our BoD is 24% female, which is a pretty decent level for the IT industry, and I think it’s only right that we’re making progress in this direction.
I am responsible at Kaspersky Lab for all the finance-related processes: bookkeeping, reporting, cash management, tax management, accounting, and payroll.
I have always been ambitious, but got into finance by accident. I saw myself as a liberal arts person: my interests were history and art. After graduating from high school, I enrolled in the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives. In 1991, it became the foundation for the Russian State University for the Humanities, and my Department of State Document Research was transformed into the Department of Management. The curriculum was very broad: we studied marketing, management, computer programming, we even wrote code on AI systems. When I was in my second or third year, some friends invited me to do the books for them, to do accounting. That was a time when financial and tax accounting was just beginning to emerge.
By the time I graduated from university, I considered myself an accounting guru. During my final-year internship, I got a job at Hewlett-Packard as a tax accountant. It was pretty clear by then that I’d be in finance for the rest of my life.
Finance is more about decision making and risk management than it is about math. As a manager, you don’t have to figure out the intricacies of methodology or book-specific items – you have a team to do all of that. And this means resource management.
The work-life balance is always a compromise: yes, I have to go on business trips, but I arrange things in my family in such a way that I am able to do so.
Efficient management? My husband calls it MBWA (management by walking around) – going around the office, talking with everyone, finding out something new, collecting information, figuring out what’s going on, forming your own opinion.
I can't say that image doesn't count. I can stay in character, but not so much to achieve a certain professional goal as to live up to a certain status. So, when I’m at a large industry event everyone can see right away that they’re looking at the CFO of a major company.
I am always at the stage of “the more I know, the more I realize I know nothing”: with every new step in my career, I face limitless new horizons.
I’d like to be able to read other people’s thoughts so I could find a compromise faster. It’s important to me to have open trusting relationships both with my boss and my team. This makes my work easier and more pleasant. For now, I am learning to read non-verbal cues.
Sharing information is extremely important. Once a week on Fridays we have department meetings, standing up. This is to make sure everyone speaks concisely and to the point. This is an effective method of communication that ensures cross-functional interaction. I often see that a colleague’s story suddenly triggers a response from someone, and helps to resolve certain issues.
In the sphere of business decision making, gender differences are erased. We all work for the same common goal, and every talented person, male or female, can share their perspective and help us find the right solution.
Marina AlekseevaChief Human Resources Officer
Our business is built on a foundation of intellectual labor. That means people, rather than processes or tools, are the most important asset of the company. Our success as a team and as a company depends on what kind of people join the company, how they grow and develop their skills, and how well they are motivated. Payroll accounts for 50% of our expenses and HR is responsible for the return on investment in our employees.
Our global HR strategy is my responsibility. We may have our headquarters in Moscow, but we are running a global business, with offices and subsidiaries in more than 30 different countries, which means we have a highly diverse culture. HR is a department which doesn’t lend itself easily to centralization, unlike IT or Finance, because you can’t beat personal face-to-face interaction with an individual.
We’re setting the global rules of the game. I think that Kaspersky Lab is the only Russian employer with this kind of capability, and that is absolutely great.
I still remember the day in my first year of university when I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be awesome to become head of HR at a multinational, but I guess that’s just impossible.”
Work must bring pleasure. It’s just not right to dedicate eight hours of your time every day to something you don’t like. Unfortunately, this is something people are doing all around the world. It’s my dream to see everyone doing something they really love and enjoy.
Formally, my career has been very simple: I came aboard as a Deputy Chief HR Officer, and then became the Chief HR Officer. However, 10 years ago the company had only 800 employees, and the majority were based in Russia. We were known as an antivirus vendor, had an HR team of four who were busy with HR administration and recruitment. Now I am working for a global company with 4,000 employees offering a full portfolio of cybersecurity solutions. The HR Department has added new functions: an HR operations center, training, a salesperson training center, and benefits management. We are developing incentive plans for employees. We have started collaborating with universities worldwide. Currently, my team comprises of 88 people. We are still handling the hiring process; we filled more than 700 vacancies last year alone.
There is a line in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita: “Don’t you ever ask anyone for anything!.. They will offer it to you themselves and they’re going to give it to you themselves!” I am positive that a reward always finds its rightful recipient, but this is more of a consequence than an end in itself. I am simply doing my best to do my job well myself, and I ask my team to do the same.
I am jealous of people who can get by on five hours of sleep.
I have tried all the time management techniques I could find. I ended up using the Bullet Journal method. This approach has been helping me to get my thoughts and my work schedule in order for the past two years.
Gender equality should not become purely formal, when the very purpose is lost to blindly following formal guidelines. We select candidates exclusively on the strength of their professional qualities, and we will never tell anyone that cybersecurity is not an industry for women, or that women would have a very hard time getting into this field. We are open to everyone, male or female, who comes to us bringing talent, ambition and a willingness to work.
Alina TopchyDeputy CBO
As Deputy CBO for Operations, I’m deeply involved with processes that have to do with transactional sales management. My area of responsibility includes projects dealing with optimization of certain operations, with “grounding” chief executive decisions about the structure, allocation, and re-distribution of assets, as well as all the busy daily activities revolving around the salespeople. I also spend a lot of time on matters of strategy and planning. Many people take them for granted but actually they have to be created and developed.
It’s gratifying to see how the ideas we implement are helping the company to move ahead. A long time ago, we were among the first to “revitalize” sales operations. In other words, we were one of the first companies in Russia to implement this functionality. Many people had their doubts about it at the time. They thought it was a hybrid function that tried to cover too much ground and would not be useful at all. And now people who work for large corporations like Microsoft keep telling us how awesome it’s, how well we have built it and how much easier it makes the life for salespeople. This is very satisfying.
I’m proud to be part of a company that makes money only out of brain power. Everybody knows Russia as a nation of smart people, but most people around the world think of Russia mostly as a weapon-manufacturing country relying on oil and gas. So, working for a company – pretty much from its inception – that has reached US$ 700 million in sales without any of that is a great honor.
In my youth, I had to choose between going into mathematics or dancing. I was pretty good at sports ballroom dancing. I competed in championship and other events. I went on tours. But at one point my favorite math teacher told me, “I’m giving you a C for the term ahead of time,” because I was skipping classes, coming to tests in my dancing makeup, so I did pretty badly on those tests. At that moment, I realized that I had to make my choice. So I decided I had to stop dancing.
I never thought if I wanted to make a career. I always wanted to live an interesting life. And I believe this is a fundamental need of any person regardless of their gender. I was born in the Soviet times in Kazakhstan, where many people had pretty specific notions of what women could and could not do and what men should and should not do. However, in my family and among the people I was growing up with everyone had the freedom to choose their own way.
If someone tries to tell me I have no right to think or voice certain things, I will at least be very surprised. These barriers just do not exist in my world.
There are people who run in the lead and people who do the catching-up. And I’m someone who always runs in the lead. I always need to catch something that is falling, do something, accomplish things, get results and feel proud of them. I’ve got to keep moving forward. I cannot help it. And when I see someone is slowing down, running late with a task or doesn’t want to do it I find it hard to restrain myself. And one cannot be a proper manager without accepting this in people. So as my team is getting bigger, as new functions are added, I am working on my patience. And acceptance. And developing the skill of speeding people up :)
I believe in stress. Actually, I’m a big fan! It is necessary, it’s inevitable, it’s beautiful. You just have to know how to manage it. If you’re at the peak of an adrenalin rush but completely aware that you’re in a stressful situation this helps a lot, both to activate your creativity and your ability to focus and do the best you can.
People who firmly believe they are dealing with stress by, say, skydiving, are not really dealing with stress at all. It’s just that at some point in time they scare themselves so much that all their other problems recede into the background, seem less important. The artificial threat to their life they created for themselves takes priority over any other problems they might have. I’m pretty skeptical about the benefits of this method.
I love sleeping and reading. I also like the feeling you get on a train or a plane looking out of the window, watching the view change outside Moving forward every moment while sitting still! It’s like you’re forced to take a pause. But the result is always excellent. I always get to my destination, right? Very convenient.
I try to delegate a lot to my team. This is probably my only answer to the question “How can you accomplish a lot?” Everyone has a large area of responsibility that’s important to the company. We structure our work process in a way to make it clear-cut and straightforward. Of course, the work process is never perfect. We are constantly refining it taking mistakes into account. The important thing is to keep moving, knowing exactly what you’re doing and deliberately moving forward.
There’s no such thing as male or female logic. You either have logic or not. I have effective professionals working in my team, both women and men. If we look at everything through the prism of the statement above, most things will get simpler and easier to understand.