Post-Release of the SPIBA General Meeting 06/07/2023

The world is becoming increasingly digital, but no artificial intelligence can replace SPIBA and face-to-face communication.

On July 6, 2023, the Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg hosted the General Meeting of Members of the St. Petersburg International Business Association (SPIBA).

No matter how exciting SPIBA events may be, perhaps one of the most beloved regular events remains the General Meeting of Association Members. Here, participants have the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the city’s leading companies, learn the latest news from the business community firsthand, and simply enjoy spending time with like-minded individuals.

Stefan Van Doorslaer, Chairman of the Executive Committee of SPIBA and President of the Ahlers Group of Companies, who opened the General Meeting, was pleased that despite the good summer weather, over a hundred people attended the meeting. We are increasingly transitioning to a digital world. Since the pandemic, we have become acquainted with various formats of remote digital interaction. Digital intelligence threatens to replace live speakers. But Stefan is 100% confident that artificial intelligence will never replace SPIBA. The way we meet and communicate in SPIBA cannot be replaced.

The new members of SPIBA agree with this sentiment, as they were traditionally presented at the General Meeting. Representatives of both Russian and international companies from various business sectors reported that they not only remain but also successfully develop in the Russian market and are delighted to have the opportunity to expand their connections on the path to success.

Successful practical experience is crucial at the moment. Their expertise is the most valuable for the business community. Perhaps this is the reason why prominent business figures have been speaking more frequently at the General Meeting of SPIBA members than government officials.

Introducing new and interesting speakers, Mr. Van Doorslaer promised that they would talk about working in the digital world and trends in HR.

Maria Zaikina, Director of B2B Marketing and Business Communications at OZON, titled her presentation “E-commerce: How the Platform Economy Changes People’s Lives for the Better.” She talked about the development of the platform industry, marketplace industry in general, and enthusiastically and proudly shared the progress of OZON.

OZON started in St. Petersburg in 1998. It was challenging to grow because the audience perceived the company as a “bookstore”.

Online sales started to grow five years ago. In 2018, Russia was the only country in the world with a top 1000 Internet stores. Marketplaces started to appear in 2008, and over the past five years, the platform industry has greatly transformed our lives. Currently, approximately half of the country’s population makes online purchases. Out of the 72 million people visiting the Russian Internet, 37 million come to OZON. It is expected that by the end of 2023, customers will spend around 6 trillion rubles on online purchases.

People are transitioning from spontaneous online purchases to regular ones. They buy practically everything. While electronics have been purchased online for a long time, now almost half of clothing sales happen online.

Online shopping has become very popular in regions because marketplaces have the infrastructure to provide fast delivery and offer a wide range of products. The accessibility of marketplaces has become almost equivalent to offline stores. Maria gave an example of how even a resident of a village can set up an OZON pickup center in their own home.

In 2022, two marketplaces, alongside leading offline sellers, entered the top 5 trading companies in the country.

The platform industry has numerous opportunities for development. Marketplaces are changing the franchise market, the labor market (with a shift from employment to entrepreneurship, creating new positions such as marketplace managers), and the advertising market (large companies, sellers, brands, online cinemas, etc., are spending more on advertising on marketplaces than on other platforms).

The figures presented to support the development of the platform industry are truly impressive. Maria Zaikina assures that the online segment will continue to grow (especially in regions, even more than in Moscow and St. Petersburg), and by 2027, almost everything will be purchased online. There are no signs of market saturation yet.

The platform remains stable even in times of instability. Despite a 5% decrease in the assortment due to the departure of certain brands, sales of Russian brands on OZON have tripled. Over the course of a year, the number of sellers has increased by 2.5 times, and the international direction is growing significantly (by 6 times). Currently, Ozon Global is present in Turkey and China (with a focus on attracting sellers to serve Russian consumers).

The topic of cooperation with Asian countries has been raised in SPIBA multiple times. Maria continued the discussion, sharing the experience of Ozon Global in China and giving her recommendations. Despite the country spending two and a half years in a strict lockdown, the significance of offline presence there is very high. The effect of seriousness in presence is important. Therefore, to achieve success, it is necessary to “be on-site, right there” (one offline meeting can replace three months of online negotiations), be present both online and offline, speak the same language, find a field of expertise (it is important for Chinese sellers, in particular, to understand the characteristics of Russian buyers), and maximize the potential of local partners.

There were numerous questions for the Director of B2B Marketing and Business Communications at OZON. Discussions included counterfeit products, the development of the premium segment on the platform, and ensuring safety. Maria considers trust and transparency to be extremely important in her work.

“It is necessary to inform about possible changes in a timely manner. We work with our clients,” concluded Maria Zaikina her presentation.

Roman Gubanov, Head of Sales at Avito Jobs, discussed the transformation of the labor market in 2023.

The internet is deeply penetrating our lives, Roman emphasized. In 2022, Avito became the largest online classifieds platform in the world. The company’s five business directions – transportation, jobs, real estate, services, and goods – essentially represent five separate markets. Avito Jobs, with 10 years of development in the market, focusing on the mass professions segment, became the second largest player in the Russian labor market among the five. Avito Jobs covers all segments of employers, with over 2.5 million people using the platform daily. The company helps 27 million people find employment each year.

Currently, according to Roman, the “employment market” is undergoing significant changes and becoming increasingly digital. It is becoming a job seeker’s market: amidst decreasing job seeker activity, demand from employers is growing (competition for job seekers in the most mass sectors has increased tenfold in the past 12 months), and the volume of vacancies on Avito Jobs has grown by 82% in the past year. Consequently, there is an increase in offered salaries. Non-standard forms of employment (part-time work, self-employment, job sharing, side jobs) are gaining popularity.

When discussing the proper selection and combination of personnel recruitment tools and employee engagement to retain the best talent, Roman Gubanov provided a detailed case study of Avito. With some embarrassment, he noted that what he was sharing might not be groundbreaking. However, the achievement figures he presented confirm the effectiveness of the work done and the unquestionable success of the company.

“We constantly work on the internal HR brand of the company. This allows us to retain the best employees who are proud of the brand. The Engagement Index, which is the indicator of employee engagement, is 91% in the company. All employees, regardless of their position, understand for whom and why we create the product, who our end user is. Employees set individual goals for the year and understand their contribution to the company’s overall goals. A culture of high collaboration is developing and maintained at Avito. We emphasize well-being in all manifestations – from free consultations with psychologists to lectures and workshops on mental and physical health. All of this greatly motivates employees,” shared Roman Gubanov. “The question is whether you implement it and not just continue to declare it. We not only talk but also act. Thanks to this, we achieve results.”

“When we invite you to speak at SPIBA, it means you are successful,” confirmed Stefan Van Doorslaer.

The official part of the General Meeting concluded with the election of the Executive Committee of SPIBA.

The candidates for the Executive Committee unanimously emphasized that the business association is an essential element in the work of businesses. To develop in new conditions, it is important to preserve the long-standing community culture that “combines the best of European practices and the Russian mentality.”

Despite the uncertainty and fragility of the surrounding world, there is confidence among the Association members. Representatives from different sectors of business and various perspectives can share their expertise and work together on issues and challenges. It is impossible to completely “digitize” SPIBA. The warmth of face-to-face communication cannot be replaced. Through the joint work of committees and participants, SPIBA continues to move forward and develop successfully. Furthermore, SPIBA remains an INTERNATIONAL association. Regardless of changes on the geopolitical map, there is a simultaneous interpreter booth at the General Meeting. This means that the voice of SPIBA, the voice of business, continues to be heard in different languages and can be recognized by the international business community.


The St. Petersburg International Business Association (SPIBA) is an independent non-profit organization that brings together foreign and Russian companies who share and support its mission and principles. The mission of SPIBA is to be the voice of business and assist its members in developing their businesses in Northwest Russia through the exchange of information and experience, open dialogue with government authorities and officials, and establishing business contacts in an informal and friendly atmosphere.

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