Ozon.ru is the largest online seller of books, movies, music, games, software and general merchandise in Russia. Founded in 1998, the company’s services are available to customers in over 56 countries worldwide. With more than 3.5 million different products available to 6 million customers, the website receives up to 15,000 orders a day.
The Russian ecommerce CEO is French national Maelle Gavet. Gavet studied Russian Language and Literature at prestigious Parisian institute, Sorbonne University and holds a Masters from the IEP Paris, the Institut d’Estudes polititques. Prior to Ozon, Gavet worked at the Boston Consulting Group and ran a corporate events company in the early 2000s.
Gavet first joined the company in 2009, when the previous CEO, Benard Lukey, offered her the position of Head of Marketing and Customer Relations. It was decided if she exceled in this role, she would be made the next CEO. Remarkably, this happened a year later in 2010.
Under Maëlle Gavet’s leadership, the company has doubled its profits. In just a year, the profits soared to $303 million in 2011. A year later in 2012 the company acquired sapato.ru, an online shoe retailer (Russia’s equivalent of Zappos). The company also received $100 million in new venture financing from several firms including, Index Ventures, Ru.net and Alpha Associates as well as Japanese retailer, Rakuten.
Gavet says the biggest challenge remains growth. It “generates constant reorganization” and the HR challenge that inevitably comes from that growth takes up more than 40% of her time.
Gavet proclaims she is a big believer in employee engagement, which she feels is absolutely critical to company culture, stating, “you try to create a culture that will appeal to the type of people you want to hire.”
When she’s not managing day-to-day operations, Gavet is focusing on Ozon’s long-term strategy.
Much of Ozon’s success has been achieved by finding new technical and operational solutions to meet demand. The company’s scalable platform is largely focused on ecommerce enablers. The company is now moving toward a ‘turnkey’ approach that will allow any brand that wants to create a Russian ecommerce website to benefit from the company’s services, logistics and market presence.
The platform is created for the company’s six million plus customers. A tall order, especially when one considers that Russia is the world’s largest country.
An upward curve
Retail sales in Russia increased by 4.1 percent from last year. This was significantly more than economists predicted in the median forecast. Experts say household finances have bolstered consumption. Gavet agrees that the Russian ecommerce space shows big potential. Ozon’s sales were achieved in the midst of a slowing economy.
Internet penetration is growing at breakneck speed. This is due to the general infrastructure getting better in terms of online payments and deliveries. Ozon’s logistics are so successful; it now delivers for other ecommerce companies. Overall, ecommerce accounts for about 2% of Russia’s total retail industry. Gavet says this is extremely small when compared to countries like the UK. In the UK, ecommerce represents about 10% of the total market, highlighting the potential for further growth.
While Gavet argues there isn’t a sliver bullet to creating a strong company culture, the answer to “the billion dollar question” can be found in delineating clear responsibility, timeframe and resources.
Gavet says listening is the biggest secret to engaging people. “It wasn’t very natural to me at the beginning. I’m a very rational, analytical person. If you want to engage people, you need to care and you need to listen”.
Leaders should avoid the temptation to push their agenda. Clarity is also important. This is perhaps the greatest challenge growing businesses face. Consistency, clarity, and long-term vision need to be regularly communicated.
Understandably, it becomes more difficult when you are dealing with thousands of employees and integration of an acquired business. While “people talk a lot about IT logistics and marketing integration”, it’s the cultural differences which Gavet finds most challenging with an acquisition. Time needs to be spent talking to people, explaining values and how different values fit together in order to bridge the gap. Ultimately, it’s a human process which Gavet acknowledges are difficult to manage.
On the other hand, it’s these very idiosyncratic elements of running a company, which Gavet believes are essential. There is a tendency to focus on the latest trends and bringing innovation the world. Yet, none of this would be possible without the people. She concludes, “We never talk about the people and I find that really weird. All these big tech companies have an incredible amount of talented people working for them.”
Surely, it’s more interesting to talk about the people who are shaping some of the biggest businesses in the world and disrupting how the world operates? “That’s really where the focus should be” she agrees.
With the sales figures soaring for Ozon this year, it’s clear the best investment the company has made is investing in the right people.