Women in Retail Leadership Circle (WIRLC) recently released its first annual Top International Women in Retail report, an extension of its popular annual Top Women in Retail report. This latest report features in-depth interviews with 10 honorees from countries across the globe, including Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Australia, and Russia. One such leader featured in the report is Dagmara Ivanova, managing director, OneRetail Business Unit, M.Video-Eldorado Group, the leading consumer electronics retail chain in Russia. Here’s a sampling of the interview with Dagmara:

Women in Retail Leadership Circle: What do you love about working in the retail industry?
Dagmara Ivanova: Firstly, I love the pace of change in retail. It really differs from many other sectors. In retail, you can see very quickly whether decisions you’re making really work or something needs to be changed.

I started my career in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), in a company with its own manufacturing. There, it took a year or more to develop a product, launch it to the market and put it on store shelves before you see and evaluate the results. Retail on the contrary is developing so fast that you know at once what really makes a difference. You can try out an idea, pilot it in one location, and the effect would become apparent very quickly.

Dagmara Ivanova, Managing Director, OneRetail
Business Unit, M.Video-Eldorado Group

Even more important than an energetic pace though is the opportunity for ongoing interaction with people. This opportunity to interact with colleagues and customers in the field, exchange that special energy with them is very special. This energy motivates and inspires me.

WIRLC: What’s unique about the retail market in your country?
DI: The logistics part of the puzzle. Russia spans 11 time zones, which creates logistical difficulties and a barrier for newcomers unwilling to invest in infrastructure to enter the market. Therefore, the Russian retail market is still less saturated and less consolidated than retail markets in the United States or Western Europe. In Russia, it’s not the case where one company like Amazon.com or one or two competitors dominate the entire market.

WIRLC: Did you always want to be a leader? If so, can you talk about a time in your younger life when you took on a leadership role?
DI: When I was younger, I planned to be a mathematician. I could see the spire of Moscow State University, renowned for math and sciences, from the window of my family’s flat. I was also strong academically, especially when it came to math. So, the choice seemed to be a straightforward one for me when I was a schoolgirl.

At university though, I didn’t feel like a math star. There were also some financial considerations, as my parents were scientists — not a lucrative field to be in at that time in Russia. So, I began working during my third year of university doing research at an FMCG company. There, I rose through the ranks to become a marketing director, but I felt that industry wasn’t quite right for me.

I set a goal for myself of moving into retail, but without sacrificing the level of seniority I had already achieved by then. This was no small task, given my lack of experience in retail. This is where grit came in. I decided that quantity will eventually turn into quality, applying for every suitable retail position I could find. Predictably, I got a lot of rejections due to my lack of industry experience. Eventually though, this strategy paid off and my career in the retail sector began.

In retrospect, it was a good challenge and a good experience for me to meet so much rejection, and nevertheless keep moving ahead no matter what.

WIRLC: Can you talk about a time in your career when you took a risk and it paid off?
DI: One of the biggest risks I took in my career was to leave a good company where I worked, a large food retailer, without having my next job lined up. My boss was leaving the company due to a change of strategic vision. And as we developed the previous plan together and believed in it, I felt that to quit was the more honest choice for me.

While leaving was a risk, I eventually joined another retailer as commercial director. This was a more senior role, which gave me a greater range of expertise and responsibility to oversee marketing, sales, purchasing and e-commerce functions.

I believe I made a difficult decision because it felt like the right thing to do, and it paid off in the end.

WIRLC: What do you think companies should do to retain and attract more women?
DI: Even though a strict lockdown only lasted in Russia for a few months, this was a difficult time for all of our employees, especially women, who also bore the brunt of childcare responsibilities. To support them, we took special measures to ensure their comfort and safety. For example, we fixed monthly salaries at a certain level to ensure they no longer depended on monthly sales. In addition, we provided some options to staff of closed stores to switch to courier, call-center work, or to another operating department for the duration of the lockdown. All employees received life and health insurance, as well as access to online medical support. Anyone who fell ill with COVID also received additional financial assistance.

Today, we continue to operate in a “hybrid” work environment, where employees can choose the working format that’s right for them, be it working remotely, working from the office full time, or doing some combination of the two. In the retail environment, we’ve implemented flexible working arrangements, which enable individuals to choose the hours that would work best for them.

WIRLC: What energizes you the most, both personally and professionally?
DI: I call my approach “long-term multitasking.” This means switching between different personal and professional projects every day, which helps me remain energized.

For example, I’m passionate about horseback riding, a hobby I’ve had for a long time. I wake up at 4:40 a.m. six days a week to train with my horses. Once there, I’m completely immersed in this training, which allows me to shift my focus and clear my head until about 7:30 — the time I get back and prepare for work.

This approach allows me to be refreshed and focused when considering business objectives once at the office. My mornings really let me recharge, making it easier for me to share this positive energy with my team.

In the evenings, I turn my complete attention to my family. My daughter has worked very hard to prepare for university and was recently admitted to a prestigious one in London. It was a challenging process, which required lots of support from our entire family.

To read the full interview with Dagmara Ivanova, managing director, OneRetail Business Unit, M.Video-Eldorado Group, as well as the rest of the honorees featured in the 2021 Top International Women in Retail report, download it today!