“Recognise the strengths of each individual”

Anastasia Skachkova, 30, graduated in 2006 from her studies in linguistics and translation, with a focus on intercultural communication, at the University in Tula (Russia). In April 2007, she came to HeidelbergCement Russia as a translator and interpreter for Russian, German, and English; today, she is the assistant to the General Manager at the “TulaCement” plant. In 2012, she began studying business at the University in Tula.

Rainer Nobis, 60, studied mining at the University of Aachen (Germany) and joined HeidelbergCement in 1980 as a trainee. For many years, Mr. Nobis was Managing Director at the Heidelberg Technology Center, where he was responsible for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. After time spent in the US, Turkey, and Croatia, he moved to Moscow in September 2011 to take up the position Technical Director Russia. 

Mr. Nobis, you have spent your entire professional career with HeidelbergCement, and seen the way the company operates in many locations around the world. What are some of the differences and commonalities among the younger generation in the countries in which you have worked?

Nobis:
I lived for many years in the United States, and now I’m in Russia. Comparing the young people in these two countries, there’s a noticeable difference in the way American youngsters are able to speak freely and unabashedly, from the very start of their educational life. They call it “show and tell”.

Here in Russia, it seems that young people often have a lot to learn when it comes to speaking with authority figures – for instance their supervisors – especially when they first start to work.

We have many talented and dedicated young colleagues. But their reticence sometimes gets in the way, because important information ends up not being communicated. Young people have to show initiative – and I would like to see more assertiveness and confidence when it comes to expressing opinions.

But that is just my perception… How do you see it Anastasia?

Skachkova:
I would tend to agree. People in my age group are often still quite reserved when dealing with older, more experienced colleagues. But the manner in which communication takes place is an important factor: In the right atmosphere, we quickly lose our timidity. Personally, working here, I’ve learned to freely express my opinion. Of course, the boss always has the final word.

Employees from Russia

Would you say there is a generational conflict?

Nobis:
Well, at 41, the average age at our plants in Russia is considerably lower than in the other countries I’m familiar with. At the Tula plant, the average age is even lower, at 35! Younger workers are naturally more physically fit than older colleagues. They are more adaptable, and they learn quickly. On the other hand, older employees have more experience and are often more steady in their work. Ultimately, effective and conflict-free coaction is the key and the prerequisite for overall success.

I think flexibility is enormously important. We have to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of all age groups, and make the most of them. Every generation has something to offer.

And what do you personally find important?

Skachkova:
From me, it’s about finding the right balance between work, friends, free time, and family. Naturally, my career is important – as well as a materially secure future. But, I also have a five-year-old son, and don’t want to miss out on anything with him.

My dream is to someday start my own business, maybe in real estate.

Employees from Russia

Is that the way most young women in Russia think nowadays?

Skachkova:
I think so. Young women are looking for the right combination of family and work. But, perhaps you would find a difference between major cities and the countryside.

Nobis:
I think that work-life balance is more important now than it was in the past. Previously, there was more of a focus on work – family was often completely left out of the equation… Things are different today, and that’s a good thing.

Ms. Skachkova, you are part of the generation of "digital natives", young people who grew up with the World Wide Web. How would you say that these technologies have influenced your life?

Skachkova:
We should be grateful to the inventors of the Internet. It brings us all much closer together, and saves an immense amount of time. Studying, for instance, is something that I can hardly imagine without Internet access or a laptop. I’m able to log in to the University library from home, and I can study online. In the old days, students had to go to the library themselves and write down summaries of what they read. Today, we have access to modern textbooks with the click of a mouse – you can’t beat that!

Nobis:
I’m an expat in Russia, and my family lives in Germany. Skype helps me keep in contact with them, and doesn’t cost anything. But, we must not forget the importance of personal, emotional contact with one another.

Skachkova:
That’s right – I have relatives in Vladivostok, which is 9,000 km away from here. Of course digital communication can never replace personal contact, but it’s great that we can talk to each other using Skype, and even see each other.

Employees from Russia

Mr. Nobis, after such a long career with such a diversity of life experiences, you no doubt have a wealth of good advice. What can you offer to Ms. Skachkova as she makes her way in the world?

Nobis:
“Live and let live!” Every person and every society have the right to live life on their terms. Especially foreigners and expats, like me, tend to criticise local culture and societal norms. In this, we should be careful.

Skachkova:
Absolutely. Strictly speaking, I already live by that motto. And I have my own as well: “There is always a solution, it’s just a matter of finding it.” I resonate with that because it means that you should never give up and can never give up trying to find your way in life.

Is there a book that you would recommend to convey an understanding of life in your home country?

Nobis:
For that, I think, you would have to read the story of every country – what the people of Russia have been through: centuries of serfdom, Czarist rule, revolutions, communism, horrendous wars between our peoples, German reconstruction and reunification… If we keep all that in mind, we will understand the Russians better, and they the Germans!

Skachkova:
I think it would be best to read classical Russian literature. That would give you insight into the sometimes baffling Russian psyche. You would definitely have to include Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, about whom Russians say “Pushkin is our everything”. I would also add the stories of Kuprin and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” or “Virgin Soil Upturned” by Sholokhov.

And, what is your wish for HeidelbergCement as we celebrate the 140th anniversary of the company?

Nobis:
Naturally, every success in the future, stability, growth, and satisfied employees.

Skachkova: 
And, that the next generations around the world can proudly say: I am a “Heidelberger”! I would also voice my hope that the company will continue to focus on people, rather than just profit.

(The interview was conducted in 2013.)

More about HeidelbergCement in Russia