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Ruben Vardanyan: “We are going to face either reformation or revolution or inquisition”

Ruben Vardanyan
Ruben Vardanyan

Photo: “Troika Dialog”


Facts

Ruben Vardanyan


•    Born in Yerevan on May 25, 1968.
•    Married, has 4 children.
•    Studied: MSU, INSEAD, Harvard Business School.
•    Partner, founder and member of Coordination Board of the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO.
•    In 2011 was awarded with St. Mesrop Mashtots Order.

- In late January, Russian newspapers wrote that “Troika Dialog” “doesn’t exist anymore” meaning that after closing the deal of selling the company to Sberbank there will be no “Troika” brand any longer. You said in your interview to the “Vedomosti” that “there is no point in preserving the brand: if we want to develop the services of Sberbank Group it will be more proper to be called Sberbank”. Don’t you have any emotions on this occasion? For the brand you have been establishing since 1991 heading the first investment bank in the Soviet Union stops existing.

- We should understand that business has its own rules. Conditionally, when your daughter gets married she changes her surname. In reality, our business was built from scratch and we have done a lot over these 21 years. As for changing the brand, as I have already said in another interview, it’s quite proper. Maybe, it’s even for the better as if “Troika” remained as a brand but changed its content it were even worse.

“Troika Dialog” has always been associated with certain culture and positioning and that’s why when becoming a part of a bigger group it’s obvious that many things will change in its life. The world around us is changing and all of us should also change.

In the emotional perspective, indeed, it’s a bit sad but at the same them I’m somehow happy as well. Another phase is over and I think a new, more interesting and promising one is starting. That’s the continuation of the story in a different format.

- Are you in harmony with yourself after making the deal?

- That’s a good question (smiling). I think maybe the biggest happiness in the world is to be in harmony with yourself irrespective of what you are doing.

It was a completely conscious decision for me. Moreover, the decision was made quite a long time ago. Many people ask me why we didn’t sell “Troika Dialog” in 2007. Maybe, I didn’t do that because I didn’t want to be at odds with myself (smiling). I don’t regret at all not to have sold the company then though the price was much higher and it was an international bank and I could make a very interesting career of a banker in a major international company. But it was at that time, 5 years ago, that I pondered before signing the memorandum on the deal and suddenly realized that if I had done it I would not have been at peace with myself. Then, our partnership started working the way we planned and we had a dream to build a big bank representing Russia on the global markets and it would not be interesting to sell the company without trying to do that. The crisis in 2008 changed a lot of things in our industry. I understand what is going on with it now, what rules it has.

“Troika” and Sberbank
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“Troika” and Sberbank

Besides, I said that I was going to finish my career by 2012. I don’t need to rest and think it over, weighing all the pros and cons. I understand very well what I want to do next. I like it and I want to finish the history of “Troika” in a beautiful manner and realize a maximum successful integration so as both the partners and “Sberbank” could make much money on the deal.



- Not only your industry but the whole world is changing. One of my friends gave a very good definition to this, in my opinion. He said: “The world more and more resembles a jelly”. The world is becoming a mass in which nothing is constant and everything may change at any moment. Aren’t you afraid of this?

- In fact, a very unsteady construction is being observed. I agree the world resembles a jelly and vague structure. In the historical perspective, generally there used to be 2-3 empires in the world which determined the face of Europe and the world. And though everybody lived in conditions of constant threat there was still a clear system.

The situation today when there are numerous countries-actors in the world and not one or several hegemonies among them is indeed not the best one. Another delicate point is that we live in the world where there are no real strong and brilliant leaders. I don’t want to offend today’s politicians but they can hardly be compared with such leaders as de Gaulle or Churchill. There are less charismatic politicians now and the global system became unstable. I am concerned about the lack of leaders who could bring an order to it. But that’s the reality and we should live in it, accept it and try to be happy.

- Tremendous technological changes are going on in the world which provides citizens accessible tools of self-organization and it seems they don’t need traditional political and social institutions any more. For instance, the list of the speakers of a rally in Russia was defined by people who voted on the social networks. Of course, it has its advantages but a problem arises too. Frequently, people who didn’t achieve anything in the real life come to the foreground on the social networks - it’s more comfortable for them to ponder sitting by a computer than to act in real life. It results in a misbalance - new leaders emerge who are not leaders by their nature. Don’t you think this may eventually lead not to bigger democracy but a bigger mess?

- That’s a multi-layer question as we observe a fantastic technological progress which leaves far behind the political and economic systems. Generally, the subject of relations between technologies, business and politics, consciousness and behavior is extremely interesting.

As for the leaders and their popularity, I think (with all my due respect to democracy and people’s right to express themselves) the leader’s right and responsibility to make decisions shouldn’t only be based on his popularity among a big number of people. As, unfortunately, popularity doesn’t always mean that they are capable of making tough decisions necessary in the light of the changes in the world we talked to you above and be responsible for them.

The problem of escapism, people’s escape from reality, is today expressed by their high activity on Facebook and other social networks. People create their image in the virtual world and in fact some virtual communities are established which have their own laws and rules irrespective of reality. That’s why many of them who are active on the internet are very passive in their social life.

Virtuality and reality, populism and elitism, modern technologies and outdated political system altogether can be very dangerous to us.

- How will the problem be solved? Will the people themselves sort it all out on social networks or there will be new charismatic leaders who will take the control over everything?

- Some time ago I read an interesting idea - all the changes in the word happen through reformation, revolution or inquisition. That is - there are only three mechanisms of realization of changes and there are no others. All of them entail a huge number of victims. I don’t want to scare anyone but that’s a rule of the history and tough times are lying ahead. Any change of the system entails victims - not always in the literary sense but many layers suffer very hard and that leads to a psychological crisis. There will be either reformation or revolution. Generally, “gray” leaders are replaced by “black” ones. In 20-s of the last century, a lot of gray leaders emerged in Europe and there was a lot of populism. People got tired after the World War 1, they wanted a break and the problems were either unsolved or solved partially. Tougher leaders made use of the situation which eventually gave rise to the World War 2. 


Photo: Mediamax

That’s why I believe we are to face the process of the collapse of the system. Who will the history push forward, what kind of leaders? I think we are on the threshold of serious social-political changes which will take place in 5-10 years.

- What do you think: is there more kind or evil people in the world?

- If there were more evil people in the world it would cease existing. Definitely, there are more kind people.

- If we are on the threshold of major risks and big changes I would like to believe that there are more good and kind people in reality. I think it’s one of the pledges for everything not to come down to the worst option - inquisition.

- (Laughing). The thing is that we take kind people for granted and that’s why evil people write more books and shoot more movies. My father used to say that an evil man is like a man with the flu in the crowd - he sneezes and coughs and that’s how he stands by. But there are always more kind people.

It’s very hard to talk about kindness; it seems to be more trivial, boring and vapid. Meanwhile, it’s much easier to represent the evil with all its horrors, exaggerations and intensification. That’s why we tell bad stories more - they are more interesting for us.

I would like to state again that I am deeply convinced that the world would stop existing if there were less normal and good people. We are all sinful yet we are not the children of the devil. The thing is that, unfortunately, in conditions of demolition of some fundamental principles it’s easier for the people with a bad inner drive to take over the power and the remaining. That’s why Hitler, who was a devil incarnate, came to power in such conditions.

The threat of revolution still exists and it’s a very serious one. But the world is becoming more open and it’s a very important element - people have more access to information. That’s why I hope the instinct of self-preservation will help us overcome the crisis. 

- You said in your interview to SPEAR’S magazine last year that man himself becomes more and more important element of success in the modern world – much more important than infrastructures or industrial capacities.

- Up to the 19th century, the overwhelming majority of people were peasants; the land was the main source of wealth, people fought for it and went for political maneuvers. Another part was, let’s say, a state officers while the rest of the people didn’t work. Then the industrial revolution started and more and more workers emerged who, roughly speaking, were the screws of the industrial system. The service sphere developed in the post-industrial society and now the majority of us don’t manufacture anything. Agriculture and industry are shrinking.

Man has always been important but when it turned out that the struggle is not for the natural resources, infrastructure or industrial capacities and when it became urgent to fight for the smallest percent of people we are really able to do more to work with you. It’s important to have the people work for you, so as you could find them and get maximum efficiency. It’s a new challenge from the perspective of political and economic processes.

Only priests and members of secret communities had access to information before and the ordinary man got only a minor stream of information which came from a teacher of priest. Everyone went to church to listen to the latest news. Today’s information flow descends on people as a waterfall and it’s very hard not to be drowned in it. Only a few people can select the necessary information from the flow, process it and create something new on that basis.

The world is undergoing global changes as well - it has become smaller and more accessible. Today you can have Russian citizenship, live in London and work in Indonesia at the same time your family may live, say, in Singapore. It’s a very critical quality change as man has become more mobile.

All these factors play a very important role in creating a new social-economic space.


Photo: Press office of President of RA

- There is a banal question which is always given to businessmen. It’s about the formula for success. For instance, there is a theory according to which one should always work hard to achieve success.

- That’s not true. (Laughing).

- Somebody, I think it was Warren Buffet- said that “it’s not important how well you row, it’s more important for you is to do it sitting in the right boat”.

- We should distinguish between those who just make money – especially in Russia and Armenia where you can make money on the imperfect state system and lobbying opportunities - and those people who can build a business. Abilities to make money and build a successful business are quite different. You can make money in various ways including illegal ones. You can have unique analytical skills and use your knowledge in decision-making which will anyway not be targeted for long-term results, to build a real business. Business building is another talent, another level and responsibility.

Healthy society stands out by identifying various groups of people and helping them select a right environment and system which will allow them to realize themselves. You should know whether you will have a professional growth in the country, whether your family will be secure, your children will be able to get good education and quality medical services.

There is also a problem of relations between the employer and creative people who don’t quite like the system of industrial management and you can’t avoid some a chaos in the system in their case. 95% of people want to be in the system, it’s the normal state of definiteness for them but 5% want to leap out of the system constantly. It’s much harder to manage such people but you should invest in them since their childhood.

It’s now fashionable to state that people are the most valuable asset. I often ask people how much time they spend on their most valuable asset. If they reply “10% of time”, how will it be the most important asset?

- You spoke about “the industry of charity” in the same interview and pondered over the topic that maybe it’d be better not to allocate money for charity than to give a billion to “pay off”. What do you mean by “industry of charity”?

- In my view, the industry of charity should be built in such a way that people could understand their abilities. Sometimes people use the analogy “you should give not the fish but the rod”. I think Russia and Armenia should be given not just the rod but the best rod, the most modern one so as man could really become competitive and efficient. We should teach him how to use this new rod and don’t be afraid of it.

If you look at many of the projects I am implementing they have independent and effective operation so as they could be independent from each other and continue development. “Tatev’s Rebirth” is one of them; such are Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO and Dilijan School project. I think it’s critical to increase the share of social entrepreneurship for the sake of future success and development of Armenia when eventually you should make money and reinvest them to develop the established area.

Coming back to the industry of charity, I would like to note that it’s a very serious area such as tourism industry where professional accountants and lawyers should work. An accurate system of reporting and relationships with those who gave the money or want to give it as well as with those who operates it is needed.

Socialization of charity is unavoidable. If I build 20 churches and I think I did my job it’s not a job for the society. Here “I” prevails over the common interests. Industry of charity should become more attractive for professionals so as the best of them wanted to work in it, so as a clear system of relations with the public and private sectors is established and that’s a very interesting challenge.

It’s a very important element for me in respect of securing the future of our society as now we live in a system where people don’t feel their responsibilities and don’t believe in current mechanisms.

- So, are you more interested in the industry of charity or business now?


- I have always tried to do the job which could change the world around me. It all started from “Troika Dialog” established in January 1991 when the Soviet Union was ruled by the Communist Party. At that time, nobody knew what stock market is and I was sure mediators were needed to bring the market mechanism to Russia.

My philosophy has always been as follows: it’s not just a business where you can make as much as money as possible but some businesses which will help change the country. There have already been major changes and there are still many things to happen in Russia and “Troika” has its own big contribution in it.

Business and charity is a very interesting topic for me though I don’t approach it in terms of “if you made much money you should start doing charity”. I have a more professional approach to it and it is different from others in this regard.

- You reiterated many times that you are not going to be involved in politics, particularly in Armenia. Still sometimes one can hear an opinion that by implementing your projects in Armenia, Ruben Vardanyan, roughly speaking, “pays off” not to engage himself in the problems of Armenia “to the fullest”. On the other hand, any of your interviews gives rise to a wave of comments especially those of young people according to which Armenia needs such people in the first place now.

- That’s how people think and I can’t give any assessments. I respect the opinion of any person and I hear both many positive and negative things about me. However, I would like to outline several important points.

First of all, each of us should give an objective assessment to his strong and weak sides. I am a very good investment banker and I know it. I helped a great number of people to get rich and made money on it. But I am not a very good businessman from the perspective of establishing my own business and building industrial empires. I also think I am not a very good politician and government worker as well and I don’t see myself in these sphere as all. Yes, I am a leader with a broad vision and ability to unite people around myself to form a strong team but these qualities are not full enough to be an official or a politician. In short, each man should do his own business.

I think that as a person who can do a lot of useful things I should do it in the first place and the fact how I do it doesn’t at all imply state service. And finally I am quite sure that the leader of Armenia should come from Armenia. I don’t believe that the leader can come from another country and start saving Armenia. That’s my point of view but I may be mistaken. A team of various people should gather around the leader but the leader should be from the country.


Photo: Mediamax

I helped Armenia in 1990s and I have never flaunted it. In 2001, when we started working on “Armenia 2020” project we had several goals. The first was to try to ponder over Armenia’s future in 20 years’ time and understand what we should do today so as to reach a definite point in 20 years. The second goal was to plough up a mental field so as people could start a brand new discussion. And finally, we hoped that getting such a vision and arranging a discussion we would boost partnership between the leaders of the state and the society to implement the optimal scenario.

Very many of my and my friends’ projects left “Armenia 2020” project, for instance, “Yerevan” magazine. When we organize concerts of the world-famous classical musicians in Yerevan, it’s an attempt to get people especially the youth oriented to the best standards, an attempt to preserve some cultural level not to let it drop and thus not let Armenia lose its place in the world. There are many small yet important projects as well such as for example, reconstruction for the sculpture of David of Sasun. Today we work on the ambitious project of the Dilijan School. All of these projects are links of a single chain and I think they help us change our country for the better.
Armenia 2020
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Armenia 2020

“Rebirth of Tatev” was planned for the region to develop in a way the eight villages would get the opportunity to receive tourists. I am very happy that the Tatev projects were realized - a definite cluster is being built and the infrastructure is developing there - new tourism routes, restaurants. So, I see that the “dead place” began reviving and opening up and people started to believe anew that they do have a future. Besides, this project is also “a small bridge” to be linked with Karabakh.

So, using the analogy I already spoke about I am giving the rod but not the fish and I hope to teach people how to use it and believe in themselves.

Ruben Vardanyan was interviewed by Ara Tadevosyan.

English translation by Sirvard Amatuni.

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