GR of Alibaba Russia in times of business strategy change

December 06, 2019
Head of GR at Alibaba Russia Sergey Lebedev met with students from the Higher School of Economics to share his experience of GR work at a global Chinese retailer.

At the very beginning, Sergey provided statistics to give a bigger picture of e-commerce globally. He stated that the value of e-commerce in the world is USD 3.5 trillion, while China's share of the market is circa 55% at USD 1.94 trillion.

Interestingly, Alibaba sales on the so-called Singles' Day on 11th November hit USD 38 billion, while Russia's entire annual e-commerce market accounts for only USD 20.3 billion. The penetration of internet retail in Russia is so far only 4.7%.

During his presentation, Sergey also provided an overview of the key features of his work:

  • Sergey spent 12 years working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including four years with the Russian Embassy in China during his first posting and five years as Head of the External Relations and PR office during his second posting. He later spent two years working at the Russian Export Center, a state body that supports Russian export operations, as head of the Business Development for China board. This solid experience helps him to establish and develop relations with state authorities both in Russia and in China.

  • According to Sergey, a foreign investor receives the best prospects to advance GR efforts in Russia by teaming up with a well-respected national company, with a leader who holds strong ties with the key stakeholders.

  • "Respect to Chinese partners is the key pillar required to establish and maintain relations within China and advocate your position at the highest levels of Chinese hierarchy," stated Sergey.

  • In China, Sergey said, Alibaba is one of the major IT companies. It represents a large ecosystem of services to its consumers, including online platforms for retail, entertainment, social networks and lifestyle, as well as a number of internal services that support the ecosystem.

  • In Russia Alibaba has changed its strategy by shifting the focus from cross-border to local-to-local sales. The company introduced its service Tmall, a platform for B2C sales inside Russia. Tmall also allows Russian sellers to ship their products to Belarus and Kazakhstan. For this purpose, Tmall has rented a large warehouse near Moscow. The list of products distributed includes Russian and international brands such as Apple, Lego and P&G, and a number of Russian brands, including Lucky Child, Kot Markot, Kitfort, Tricolor TV, ECOTEX, REDMOND and Oodji.

  • Moreover, Alibaba has introduced an opportunity for Russian companies to promote and sell their products to end consumers, both in China and globally. Russian brands are trying to use this opportunity. Although the key challenge for their promotion remains low brand awareness. Alibaba supports the Russian government's effort to increase exports of national consumer products.

Sergey's presentation was followed by a discussion with the audience on the importance of high-level summits for networking and building relationships with stakeholders; and the importance of speaking the national language and understand peculiarities of foreign culture to succeed in an international company.

Kesarev has been partnering with the Higher School of Economics (HSE) for five years as part of the specially-designed course "Interaction with state authorities: GR-management". The course is delivered by Kesarev Partners Evgeny Roshkov, Yury Panasik and Pavel Melnikov.