As the head of marketing at ROSNO, Ilya Lankevich is responsible for designing the marketing strategies for one of the largest Russian insurance companies; with 77 branches throughout the C.I.S. and two representative offices in Kazakhstan and Armenia. Twenty five year-old Lankevich explains the changing role of marketing within the insurance industry and describes the qualities he considers the most important for a successful marketing specialist.
How did you start your career in the insurance business?
It all happened recently; at the end of 1999, I left a company which had very little do with insurance business— its only connection with it was that ROSNO was one of its clients— and I started looking for a new job. Several competitors had offered me positions, but I did not accept them because I thought that would be unethical. There was a shortage of good marketing specialists, so I was offered a position of a marketing manager with a specialized insurance magazine. I agreed. My responsibility was to ensure the sales of the magazine, which was very young at that time.
Last August, ROSNO’s Executive Director, who happened to read an article of mine in the magazine, offered me a position with his company. That’s how I came to work at ROSNO.
You are only twenty-five years old but you already lead the Marketing Development and Auditing department. What helped you achieve this position?
To a certain extent it happened by chance. It had a lot to do with market conditions. The market is far from being fully developed, so it is going through a lot of changes. Sometimes you have to make very unorthodox decisions. One of these decisions for me was to change jobs. I suspect a good marketing specialist needs an ability to adapt. This skill is more important than extensive work experience.
ROSNO was founded in 1992. When was your position created?
I’ve been with the company for a year. The Marketing Development and Auditing department was created only last February to combine many marketing functions, such as advertising, marketing research and development, etc. However, a marketing department has been around for quite some time. Perhaps, it wasn’t as effective as we would’ve liked it to be, but it did its job. The market is becoming more competitive; so the value of a marketing department is increasing.
What is your role within the department? What is the role of your department within the company?
I am a marketer, a practicing professional. Myself and my department have to provide work for our sales force, the main breadwinners of the company, and to create favorable conditions for the company’s products to change in the right way at the right time, based on the market situation. The department is rather large, and is one of the largest spenders within ROSNO. We pay for advertising, which involves rather large sums, and that is why we are very significant within our company. The essence of our work is to choose what is applicable and easily adaptable from the whole array of existing methods and approaches that best suits the company’s needs.
What kind of qualities should a manager have today?
I would name three basic qualities. First is the ability to effectively communicate with people and to create long-term and, most importantly, privileged relations with all parties involved. Another is a capability to adapt because our market is not simply growing; it is experiencing a super growth of dozens of percent a year. Another quality is to be original and smart and not repeat yourself, be it your mistakes or successes. It’s important to be results-oriented.
What kind of background do you need to be successful?
I divide all specialists into two categories: those who possess good knowledge, and those with sound experience. Substantial work experience is synonymous with professionalism. Personal experience is knowledge that has been applied time and time again. But at the same time, more experience could means less knowledge, as some specialists begin to repeat their own successful solutions.
The idea that goals define methods used to be particularly important in the past. Today, priorities are changing. The method and its flexibility determine your goals and your strategies. That is why it’s very easy for those with a lot of knowledge and little experience to compete with those with a lot of experience but whose knowledge leaves much to be desired. Of course, a combination of both would be ideal, but specialists who possess this are rare.
What interests you the most in your work?
A colleague of mine likes to say that ninety percent of a marketer’s work is playing with very expensive marketing toys. The remaining ten percent is doing real work. So this ninety percent is, perhaps, what I find most attractive in my work.
How has the insurance industry developed since perestroika?
In Soviet times the state tried to use the insurance industry as an instrument of attracting money. But nothing good had come out of it. Perestroika brought major changes: first privately-owned companies appeared, and the Gosstrakh, a state-owned insurance system, was transformed into numerous joint-stock companies. In 1993, a law on insurance operations in Russia was passed. It was the birth of Russia’s insurance industry as we know it today.
The period before the 1998 crisis was marked by the industry’s substantial growth. Strange as it may sound, insurers recovered well after the crisis. It became possible to establish insurance lobbies. However, the period of rapid growth and expansion is now almost over. Now the attention has shifted to business planning, operational management, marketing and sales, financial and expense control, and mathematical analysis.
Some say the Russian market is unpredictable. Do you agree?
The unpredictability of the Russian market is largely a myth that is being widely exploited. It’s unpredictable, yes, but nobody could predict the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. In a way, all markets are unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean we should give up making plans or preparations or stop thinking about the future altogether. I think it’s important to be ahead.
What is ROSNO’s strategy in attracting new clients?
ROSNO believes that the insurance market in Russia will grow, and that the growth will be based on personal insurance. We believe that as the population reaches financial stability, the insurance market will grow.
How can a company become a leader in its field?
By correctly identifying its consumers and being the first ones to occupy the niche. This is a leader’s strategy.