Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute
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"TsAGI is a real brand; we are well known internationally"

On April 1, 2017, the 25th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Economic Activities of TsAGI (DFEA) was celebrated. Created at the dawn of the new state and new economic realities, the Department managed to develop the right strategy, get support from foreign partners and build a solid reputation for TsAGI in the international market. Sofya Bluger, Head of TsAGI’s Department of Foreign Economic Activities told us about the experience accumulated by DFEA in 25 years, what in fact is meant by the letter “E” in its name, what is the favourite occupation of the DFEA’s team outside TsAGI and many other things.

Mrs. Bluger, you have been working at TsAGI since December 2015. Almost at the same time when you became the head of DFEA, the division of Foreign Economic Activities became a Department. What were the new opportunities opened by this?

I regard this step as recognition of the importance of international business in the overall development strategy of TsAGI and a certain credit given by the management. And, of course, this is a present for the 25th anniversary of DFEA!

A little bit about us to debunk the myths. The letter “E” in DFEA stands for “economic”. This concept is defining, but not exhaustive. Our core, the management team, handles foreign economic contracts and supports projects. The Administration Office takes care of event management. We also have a Customs Support Team, translators, IT and a Technical Support Team, as well as our corporate services. So our department is quite big and busy.

In your opinion, what is the competitive advantage of TsAGI in the global scale?

TsAGI is an absolute brand, almost a century-old, a name which is well known to and respected by all the global aeronautics market players. When I proudly present our team at various international events, I usually hear in response: “Ah, TsAGI, Chernyshev!” — people do know us.

During my first days of work at TsAGI, I took part in a strategic management session. We conducted a SWOT analysis of TsAGI’s operations and I was charged by a pleasant task: “S” (strengths). The list was very long, including R&D and experimental capabilities, unique experts and, of course, international experience.

Did sanctions and countersanctions between Russia and Western countries affect the international activities of TsAGI?

I recall a quote by one of the leaders of the EU research programs: “Countries have borders but science does not.” We work around the globe, despite the turbulent geopolitics, and, conversely, change the existing patterns. Just look at our recent joint seminar with NASA.

How does DFEA manage to diversify the portfolio of international projects and orders, and what are their dynamics in terms of number and scale?

In early 2016, we conducted a large-scale analysis of the foreign economic activities of TsAGI over the last 10 years (due diligence), which enabled us to identify the migration of our customers, country concentration, the demand for products and services of our competence centres. Understanding the historical base is very important for developing a sustainable development scenario and setting target forecast indicators. The year 2016 was very successful. There was a significant inflow of revenues from foreign commercial customers; revenues grew by more than one and half times! The traditional portfolio of Chinese orders was expanded by contracts with Germany, France, Kazakhstan and other countries. Contract work with Boeing (USA) and Embraer (Brazil) resumed. We hope to launch major projects both in the field of civil and military & technical cooperation through our long-standing partner, Rosoboronexport. Europe is a difficult market for us, but I put great hopes on the new contact bureau opened in Brussels, where real-time cooperation with key players will bring to TsAGI new orders from European customers.

The TsAGI contact bureau works successfully, foreign delegations visit TsAGI in Zhukovsky and Moscow, negotiations at major international events are underway. Please tell us about other methods DFEA employs to inform the world scientific community about the capacities of TsAGI and which of these methods, in your opinion, are the most effective?

You’ve just said that our permanent presence in the international arena is ensured in all possible formats, and you are absolutely right. The basic rule of marketing is to constantly be at the forefront. Indeed, our brand has powerful momentum but it needs to be constantly maintained.
It requires significant investments, but it is crucial to maintain and foster our international status. Despite the fact that our market segment (aviation science) is quite specific, we still can use marketing tools to promote services to our customers. Now we are preparing new marketing material that describes the capabilities of our competence centres and is designed for a wide range of potential customers, or, as I call it, aimed at “carpet bombing!” The second area is the targeted work with key customers when we develop targeted offers both for representatives of the Boeing (USA) — Airbus (France) duopoly, and for second-tier companies, such as Embraer (Brazil), and specialized companies such as Safran Tech (France).

What are the recent international events TsAGI took part in? What was the program
of DFEA at the MAKS air show?

It is neither possible nor necessary to be everywhere. Our task is to prioritize the zones where we operate and maximize the returns from the limited resources that TsAGI currently has
in these difficult times. Of course, there are landmark events, involving all the key players, and we need to be there. This year it included the Le Bourget air show, and, of course, our home-grown MAKS. We implemented an ambitious program at MAKS: we were the organizers of several international events covering all the regions where we operate. These include a meeting on the European AGILE project, the Russian-Chinese conference, as well as a youth event within the framework of IFAR (International Forum on Aviation Research).

It is very important that young prospective students along with venerable scientists have access to international communication. A high competence level, a desire to develop in this area and,
of course, decent language proficiency is important. Learn English, dear colleagues!

Please tell us about the events conducted by DFEA?

We are already preparing for the 100th anniversary of TsAGI. A whole block of international events is planned. In its anniversary year, TsAGI will become the venue for a conference
on spacecraft, hypersonic systems and technologies under the auspices of the AIAA, a meeting of the Supersonic Tunnel Association International (STAI), a summit of the International Forum on Aviation Research (IFAR), and the TsAGI-ONERA conference. Surely, we’ll figure out something else....

What is the strongest point of DFEA, in your opinion? How does its work change, and what else can be improved?

That’s a good question, thank you. In fact, that is what foreigners usually say, when the question is difficult and they do not know what to answer without a pause. Perhaps, the willingness to develop.... I’ll explain why. Change management is considered one of the most complex areas of management theory. People by nature are not inclined to change, a change implies going out of one’s comfort zone. My arrival was associated with certain scepticism about the innovations, and, indeed, not all innovations were established, and this is normal. Now I can confidently say that our team is open to new ideas and, most importantly, it generates them with might and main! We are changing, and changing for the better.

Please tell us more about the Forecast DB contract database, implemented in DFEA’s operations. What data does it contain and what tasks does it help solve?

Both operations and planning and forecasting of foreign economic activities of TsAGI are carried out using a forecast database. This is the know-how developed by DFEA, which has been put to use since the beginning of last year.

This tool fully covers the topics, contracts and projects within the area of responsibility of DFEA, from initiation of requests to completion of work, including allocation of project managers and monitoring of financial flows. The implementation of the database made it possible to effectively coordinate project management and maximize our win rate. The database can provide any analytical data online.

What are the goals and objectives of the Board for Foreign Economic Activities (FEA) established in 2016?

The Board for Foreign Economic Activities, which resumed its work in early 2016 after a long break, is a venue for discussion of key issues, making decisions in major areas of international operations and getting support from management for their implementation. So, for example, one of the meetings of the Board for Foreign Economic Activities included a demo session of the database I mentioned earlier. On the other meeting, we defended the strategy of development of foreign economic activity, making a bet not on short-term growth in revenue, but on creating the prerequisites for sustained growth in foreign economic activities. Within the framework of the plan approved by the FEA, an outpost for the development of international activities was established in every research department. It includes young innovative people with good English; we now have our own network of contacts (NIO i-network). Over the past few months, we have held about 20 meetings with competence centres to represent their capabilities in a structured way and develop a plan to expand the international presence of each centre.

Mrs. Bluger, can you recall some remarkable events in the life of the department?

This is more of a question to my colleagues who, over the 25-year history of the DFEA, have gone through fire and water and, perhaps, are already willing to publish a book titled “DFEA Tales.” As to funny things, I recall a letter from 1998, which is now on the wall in our manager’s office, from the European Commission with the final phrase “Please convey our greetings to Professor N.E. Zhukovsky!”

Such a long history of the team has its drawbacks as well — some kind of routine
in relationships. I wanted to do a reboot — shake off the usual perception of colleagues. And in our modern history, the most memorable, of course, were two team-building retreats. We improved teamwork skills: we wrote the script ourselves, broke up into teams, invented slogans, passed obstacle courses, and made a quiz on the history of TsAGI. At a recent anniversary event, there was a quest which culminated in a treasure trove which, just imagine, included
T-shirts with the DFEA logo!

Has your past work experience been useful at DFEA?

Honestly, I am lucky, I, as they say, “inherited” a wonderful team: Sergei Ivanovich Sidorov, the “mammoth” of international cooperation, and Irina Valerievna Bezmenova, a business protocol professional, are securely watching our back, which allows me to channel energy into the generation of new ideas and development. I have to admit that I did not even expect that my set of skills and client experience (before joining TsAGI I worked for more than 15 years at KPMG, the Big Four company) will be so much in demand in the new place. Undoubtedly, there was a stress from the cardinal change of the business field, and the support of colleagues and family was very helpful.

In conclusion, let me ask you a few personal questions. What is your way of setting yourself up for effective work?

First of all, it is a clear organization of the working day and time management. These invaluable skills allow you to maintain work-life balance. With three children, it’s just a recipe for survival! I honestly try to find time in the tight schedule to hold time management training for the DFEA team. Well, of course, this is a positive attitude I came to work with every day!

What qualities do you value most in people?

I bow to seasoned professionals in every area, be it science, accounting or event management. Among the specific qualities, I value very much responsibility, ability to work in a team and out-of-the-box thinking.

How do you prefer to relax outside of working hours?

Probably, it is already clear that I have a proactive attitude towards life. And first of all it “affects” my family. We travel a lot, play volleyball and go skiing together. We also try to build communication between DFEA outside the workplace. We started our chat room, where we share news and information; there were attempts to go to concerts in the House of TsAGI Scientists and skate together.

Finally, please tell us about the last book you read and remember.

It was not a book, but an aviation newsletter from the 81st Division. “He who owns the information, owns the world.” This is the task facing DFEA TsAGI!

Mrs. Bluger, thank you for an interesting and informative conversation.

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