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Microsoft takes Swiss approach in Russia

Russia is catching up fast with the west in terms of technology and lifestyle, says Stephano Santinelli.

(SP)

Microsoft Russia's young marketing director Stephano Santinelli tells swissinfo about the challenges of working in Russia's booming computer market.

The 36-year-old Russophile from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland describes the opportunities and difficulties of working in the fast-moving Russian market, where industry leaders can "hope to see annual growth of 80 to 100 per cent".

After studying computer science at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Santinelli taught for a year at Moscow State University.

Ten years later his dream has come true: he is back in the Russian capital, but this time as marketing director of Microsoft Russia – a post with large responsibilities.

swissinfo: What are the main stumbling blocks you have come up against?

Stephano Santinelli: The chief problem is a geographical one. Russia is divided into 11 different time zones and has weak infrastructure. It's not easy to communicate outside the capital with the country's 140 million consumers.

Russia's administration is also extremely cumbersome, even if the state is trying to do its best to make companies' lives easier, particularly in terms of customs rights and taxation.

It's also difficult to recruit talented young managers, as well-educated job seekers might have around ten to 15 different jobs to choose from.

As far as software is concerned, we have huge problems regarding property rights. Software pirates are very clever; we are working closely with the Russian authorities on a number of different projects to tackle the issue.

We are also collaborating with computer hardware distributors to make our products more accessible, integrating them directly into certain hardware.

swissinfo: Are you planning to sell pre-paid computers in Russia?

S.S.: We launched a pilot project a few weeks ago targeting around 20 million people who can buy a computer worth $1,000 with a simple $100 down payment. They then make regular payments using pre-payment cards to be able to use the computer.

swissinfo: Microsoft recently bought a Zurich-based company involved in internet telephony. What are the Swiss computer market's strong points?

S.S.: Switzerland is probably one of the most innovative computer markets. All the latest technologies are there, both in the office and at home.

Switzerland is where you can test out new ideas such as internet telephony. Swiss workers are also highly educated and well trained. For Microsoft the country is synonymous with quality and innovation.

swissinfo: Does the fact that you are Swiss help you at work?

S.S.: Absolutely. In Switzerland you grow up understanding the meaning of being able to speak another language and adapting your behaviour according to people's culture. Russians also have an image of Switzerland as being a place of quality and professionalism – traits that are both highly regarded here.

But I often have to explain Switzerland's position on different issues, such as our relations with the European Union and our neutrality during the Second World War. People want to know what it means to be Swiss and what my fellow compatriots think of their country.

swissinfo: Why are you fascinated by Russia?

S.S.: People have a love-hate relationship with the country. But I'm a big fan. It has an extremely rich culture. In Moscow alone, there are around 1,200 museums and 300 theatres.

The people are very well educated, cultivated and have a multicultural outlook on life. And from a business point of view Russia is now a leading market for many western European firms, as well as for Microsoft.

swissinfo: Why is that?

S.S.: Russia's gross domestic product (GDP) is expanding by ten per cent a year. If you are the leader in a particular sector you can hope to see your business grow by 80 to 100 per cent annually.

Russians now have more money to spend and the country should catch up with the West in terms of technology and lifestyle. Today everyone wants a fridge, a washing machine or a computer.

The country is developing rapidly and quite a number of large multinationals are investing. There are many opportunities; as a businessman you have to be a good decision-maker and be able to prioritise.

swissinfo-interview: Mathias Froidevaux

In brief

Stephano Santinelli was born in 1970 in the southern Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland.

After studying computer science at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he taught for a year at Moscow State University.

He worked for the Swiss-Swedish engineering group, ABB, and for several companies in the United States where he also completed an MBA at Rochester University.

Santinelli worked for Microsoft Switzerland for two years before his appointment as Microsoft Russia's marketing director.

He speaks six languages: French, Italian, German, English, Russian and Spanish.

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