How a Female Russian Entrepreneur Grew Her Company to 20,000 Employees
In the 90s, the professional community in Russia was just beginning to form. In 1994, Margarita Avdeeva discovered a new market and started a cleaning company with her husband. Today, her company Ronova has 20,000 employees, operates in 79 Russian cities, and serves 3,000 clients.
She attributes her ability to start from scratch and grow a grow a company to her internal drive, adventurism, and the habit of constantly setting new, complex goals. She always moves forward to meet her goals, no matter what!
We were grateful to talk to Margarita and learn how she carved her place in a new market at the time, what it is like as a female Russian entrepreneur, and how she has met her challenges to grow such a large and successful company.
1) To what do you attribute your and your company’s success?
MA: I am a linguist by education and I worked in this field after graduation, but this profession at that time had no prospects for growth. I came to the idea of creating my own business by chance. My mother worked in a large chain of dry cleaners, and I planned to collaborate with this company in the sphere of cleaning. When the partnership was terminated, I, along with my husband, decided to invest a little start-up capital in the development of the business – a cleaning company.
In my opinion, such personal qualities as an internal drive and adventurism helped me to build a business from scratch. The habit from childhood to achieve goals and move forward, no matter what, has done its job.
The first years were certainly not easy ones, but my husband supported me during the difficult time of forming the company. I’m not an economist, and I am weak in the exact sciences. That cannot be said about him – all the financial planning was on my spouse. I think the business would not have reached such proportions without him.
We were curious, and we were charged with a passion and desire to succeed.
I believe that we need to constantly set new, more complex goals. We could not imagine that Ronova will operate in 79 Russian cities with 3,000 customers. We just wanted to prosper in business and increase turnover, so we set high sales plans and executed them successfully.
We are constantly analyzing the market to find out how we can become better and how to be ahead of the field.
2) How did you grow your company to 20,000 people? What was your strategy?
MA: Ronova was founded in 1994. We started small – serviced apartments, holiday homes and restaurants. In the late 90s foreign companies started coming to the Russian market, commercial and business centers were built. It was then that there was a demand for professional cleaning. At that time and over the next 20 years, we have had many contacts with European and American suppliers. It was much easier to communicate with them since I know English (that’s where Margarita’s linguistics background came in to use). Reebok was our first client, and now Ronova serves clients ranging from shopping centers, office buildings, airports, train stations, car dealerships, sports and medical institutions, industrial complexes, large companies like Ikea and Dixie, and more.
In the Russia market, this was a new type of service. We got learned it through our own mistakes. Selection and recruitment of staff, organization of workflow, and search for clients – we had to learn all this from scratch. But, we insisted on getting to our goal. We were made thousands of calls in search of customers and extended the staff in every possible way.
As the company has grown, it has become much easier, but some difficulties remain. The most acute of these is staffing, because this business is directly connected with huge quantities of employees. The solution is the employment of citizens of neighboring countries who are less successful in economic sense. Unfortunately, few Russians want to work in the field of cleaning, cleaners profession in our country is considered to be undervalued. Thus, the problem of personnel requires lifting of prestige of cleaner profession among the Russian population. In this regard our company has been using a complex system of recruitment and personnel management for many years.
Every year Ronova is growing, revving up. We acquire new customers, open new businesses in the regions – it’s always interesting. The staffing problem is solvable. It is necessary to build a system of action for each employee of the company so that people wanted to work for us. Perhaps, taking into account the number of our existing staff, we can say that we are on the right path.
3) What advice would you give to other women in Russia who want to grow a company to the size you have? Or become entrepreneurs?
MA: My main advice is to think twice before opening your business. It is a big sacrifice that may be unjustified for some people. Being an entrepreneur will require giving the best years of your life, time, and attention; you should be ready for this. In Russia, any business is very tough and masculine, and for a woman it’s quite difficult to work independently.
4) What are your future goals?
MA: In recent years, running the company is organized in such a way that I can afford to devote much less time to work. Employees can work without my constant monitoring and four hours a day is enough for my oversight. I finally have the opportunity to give my time to my child. It is possible that at some point of time I will want to retire from business, but certainly not in the next five years. It is difficult to plan, besides, I cannot imagine what I would do without my company.
5) Tell us a little about how life as an entrepreneur in Russia has been- have you been well-received and supported?
MA: It is believed that a business woman stops to be attractive as a woman. Partly this is true. Your own business – it’s always a kind of a race in which the strongest wins. For successful business development in Russia a woman should have the iron, almost masculine, grip. Therefore, we can certainly say that being a business woman in Russia was not and never will be easy.
In the 1990’s the professional services industry was just beginning to form in Russia. Ronova can be called one of the pioneers of contract cleaning in Russia. We “discovered” this market, paving the hard way to success. Now, the cleaning market in Russia is quite extensive, which consequently generates considerable competition. However, according to a Interconnection Consulting study, Ronova is the leader of the Russian market of cleaning with 6.7% of the of the “cleaning” segment and 1.4% of the facility services foreign market.