For the first international edition of our ongoing Employee Stories series, we’re heading to Singapore to catch up with Serguei Edrenkine, General Director of SEFE Marketing & Trading Singapore, Country Chair.
Serguei sat down with us to discuss his background, how he originally came to work for SEFE Marketing & Trading, and a host of his experiences working in Russia and France before settling in Singapore. He also offers some invaluable tips for leaders of all kinds, and talks us through his own personal and professional achievements.
For aspiring leaders with a desire for international work, Serguei’s responses offer up plenty of insight and advice. Read on for more of his journey with SEFE Marketing & Trading…
Hello Serguei, thanks for talking with us today. Could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to join SEFE Marketing & Trading Singapore?
With a degree in Engineering from the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute and a degree in Economics of Foreign Trade from the USSR Foreign Trade Academy (both with honours), my background is in both Engineering and Economy. Very early in my career, I got a position at Electronorgtechnica, a trading company under the Ministry of Foreign Trade in Russia. I was first with the company’s branch in their Moscow office, before moving to Paris as the company’s branch Deputy Director in 1989.
I continued my career in Paris with an eight-year stretch as Commercial Director of SOFRACI, a French company jointly owned by Greficomex and Sovfintrade from 1996. I then joined SEFE Marketing & Trading Export’s Paris office as Chief Examiner in 2004 before eventually taking on the position of Administrative Director at SEFE Marketing & Trading France in 2006.
My next career move was in December 2010 when I was posted to Singapore to assume the role of General Director of SEFE Marketing & Trading Singapore. As General Director, I oversaw the functional departments of the company. My main responsibility was managing global business activities based in Singapore through SEFE Marketing & Trading Singapore’s relationship with our parent company, PAO SEFE Marketing & Trading, along with leading the organisational back-office structure tied to our UK headquarters’ global functional activities.
We also partially acted as SEFE Marketing & Trading Group’s representative office in Asia Pacific, supporting the Group’s interests, business activities, and corporate projects in the region.
How does working in Singapore feel compare to other parts of the world you have worked at?
I would say the experience has been very different to my assignments in Russia and France.
Working in Singapore means working in a society where everything is business-oriented, extremely efficient, and things are very much done by the book. People have the right approach to living and working here.
I have never faced a situation when politics ends up taking over any business interests, for instance. The environment is designed to support small, middle and large businesses; it’s been a great pleasure to work here.
Could you give a high-level overview of what your day-to-day role involves? How does this strategically fit into the company’s wider operations?
My main purpose as the Country Chair is to represent SEFE Marketing & Trading and its interests in the region while promoting the highest standards of integrity, along with maintaining effective relations and open communication within the team.
So, not only is it important to ensure that agreed strategies and policies are effectively implemented by our local team, but it’s also crucial to create an environment that allows constructive debates and challenges. This approach leads to fresh insights and perspectives, and eventually to the overall success of the team.
It was always easy to represent SEFE Marketing & Trading in France as everyone would know what the brand stands for. But 10 years ago, in Southeast Asia, it was very much a different story. It was important to turn the brand into something trusted and recognisable far beyond the industry limits when we opened operations in the region. I’m proud to have received recognition on many levels over the years.
We share common values with Singapore’s society and provide thorough support whenever we can. We’re looking for every possibility to be helpful here. Whether it’s charity, supporting less privileged youth, promoting cultural development in Singapore, or offering a helping hand to people and organisations in need during these challenging times.
What would you say are the essential traits needed to carry out your duties?
Being a wise leader who can see strong traits in their team members is important. Really, it’s not me but my team who has done well over the years.
Elsewhere, I believe in the following: make sure everything is aligned and everyone is on the right page. Always be supportive, keep deep and meaningful relationships with every member of the team.
I have never been an authoritarian leader. The Singapore office is very multinational, while the local culture and the ways of handling business here are generally quite different from Russia and Europe.
I believe being open-minded and democratic has helped me to build this office and a culture that allows people to openly share their perspectives and unique visions of how to handle various matters. I always have trust in my team and let them handle things the way they believe would work best.
Everyone’s opinion matters here. However, the most challenging part is integrating these differing visions and approaches of our colleagues to get best results for the company and the great success we have all achieved together. This kind of collaboration is very much a success story of my team as opposed to myself.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your role? And how do you work to resolve problems when they arise?
I would say, it was rather challenging to open, build and sustain a new SEFE Marketing & Trading wing at a totally new and quite remote part of the world 10 years back.
Also, growing the right culture in the new office and creating a sense of belonging for our team so people would genuinely be keen to contribute to its success doesn’t just happen overnight. And sustaining it is an even bigger challenge. It’s only natural that some people leave the company and others join the team, so it is crucial to always communicate and keep the culture going.
This has been especially challenging in times of COVID where we’ve worked remotely. When possible, I would still try to make sure I communicate with every team member personally – preferably face to face – to understand their issues and uncertainties. Over this difficult time, we’ve tried to help those in need and support them as much as we possibly could.
How do you feel about the culture at SEFE Marketing & Trading compared to places you’ve worked previously?
Generally, there have been similar values everywhere I worked for so far.
However, the Singapore office is a multinational office with no place for conflicts. There is equal respect and acceptance for everyone, and it’s very much a culture inspired by Singapore’s society as a whole. I appreciate and support it a lot.
What would you say have been your highlights of working at SEFE Marketing & Trading so far? And are there any career milestones or specific projects that you’re really proud of?
In terms of the company’s achievements, I am proud to mention that SEFE Marketing & Trading Singapore has been voted to join the list of 1000 best companies in Singapore by DP Information Group!
On a personal level, I have always been delighted to work with the hugely intelligent and incredibly bright people here; people of quality and integrity from construction workers to presidents and execs. It continually impresses me how great human potential can be and how much it has played a role in my own personal and professional growth.
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