Inna Kuznetsova’s background is unique compared to most in the automotive and logistics industries. Having studied non-linear differential equations at Moscow State university, she left mathematics for business when academic funding dried up in the Perestroika years of the Soviet Union. Although growing up in what she calls the ‘gone with the wind’ generation of Russia, the influx of global companies that followed the end of communism provided more opportunities for professionally minded women. Following a move to the US and the completion of an MBA at Columbia, she progressed quickly from the technical side of the business to climb the executive ranks of IBM. She became the first vice president of Russian origin at IBM headquarters in 2009. She is also a popular blogger and best-selling author in Russia. She joined Ceva at the beginning of this year.
What attracted you to take on the role at Ceva and leave IBM?
Inna Kuznetsova: It was a hard decision because I truly enjoyed my job at IBM. I learned a lot and am grateful, but three factors tipped the scale. First, this was a chance to join a company with a vision at the moment of a major industry evolution. Market volatility and globalisation are forcing business leaders to integrate their supply chains and optimise endto- end. This calls for a different type of partner in logistics and Ceva is designed to be a one-stop shop.
Second, it was an opportunity to join the executive board, run a very large organisation and head a function, having a far higher impact both on organisational performance and talent development.
Third, it offered me a unique opportunity to learn a completely new area, supported and encouraged by an entrepreneurial culture and a great team around me.
Given your background, how would you describe your transition to the logistics sector?
IK: I previously had to learn completely new areas and technologies when shifting between IBM divisions, so I am not afraid to admit ignorance and ask questions— and my colleagues have been incredibly patient and supportive. I enjoy learning about logistics and getting a deeper insight into our customers’ operations. I started reading a lot as well, and talking to supply chain management contacts in advance of starting the job. I also spend a considerable amount of time on site learning about operations— on the warehouse floor, in a port, even sitting with people filling in pick-up forms and house bills. It also helped that I have a general business education and while I never worked in logistics, I have had my share of exposure to different business areas.
My unusual background is also a benefit. It allows me to get a better feeling of our customers’ strategic priorities and business models without being caught up in minor details. Second, the IT industry has pioneered a lot of sales management and organisational developments that are yet to be implemented in logistics. When transplanted, they will help us bring a value focus to a new level for our customers.
Automotive is an important areas for Ceva. Are there approaches from your past experience that you think will help benefit Ceva’s business in this sector?
IK: The success of value chain optimisation in automotive depends not only on operations excellence, but also on good management and analysis of supply chain data. My experience with business analytics and software product management should help Ceva to further enhance its valuable IT asset, namely the ‘Matrix’ family of products. It helps automotive companies achieve better visibility, control and eventually optimisation areas of operations, such as spare parts.
You wrote a a book on career development in Russia. What do you think about the country’s business climate for career development?
IK: The Russian market has changed considerably since my time there, both in numbers of multinationals moving in and local companies developing more sophisticated business practices. The demand for professionals is high, so good specialists with experience and networks have much less difficulty in finding jobs.
On the flip side, staff turnover runs high and people management practices often lag behind, so the opportunities for development are less advanced than in Western countries. Plus most multinationals keep sales, services and supporting operations in Russia while key product or strategy decisions are made in the headquarters abroad. So the growth path beyond regional operations often means leaving the country and learning to work in a foreign environment.
Have you relocated to the Netherlands?
IK: While my office is in Amsterdam, I only spend a week per month there. My place is where the rubber hits the road—in the countries with customers and the sales team. I allocate at least 50% of my time to customer meetings and use the rest to connect to my new organisation around the world to lead the transformation. The New York suburbs remain my home. I can fly to meet customers from JKF as well as I can from Amsterdam [Schiphol].