Learning as you grow: Strategic planning in Russia

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Evgeniya Uvarkina - CEO, Trio, Agribusiness, Russia

Trio is a Russian agribusiness company founded in 1997 by two entrepreneurs as a grain and sugar-trading venture. In 2003, the company ventured into the agricultural business.

Today, Trio is a multifaceted enterprise, with turnover exceeding US$100 million, and is one of the leading suppliers of potatoes to Frito-Lay/PepsiCo. It has also diversified into grain, sugar, dairy and potato production.

And, yet, as founder and CEO Evgeniya Uvarkina acknowledges, they knew virtually nothing about agriculture when they started out: “Actually, I think it was easier to make decisions back then precisely because we knew so little about the sector. We’d had no agricultural training, and didn’t have the relevant experience. But, what we did have was energy, ambition, and an appetite for trying something new.” In fact, that’s a good definition of an entrepreneur, and Evgeniya’s experience is a great illustration of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s description of entrepreneurship: “It’s like throwing yourself off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down." 

Evgeniya Uvarkina - CEO, Trio, Russia

Evgeniya Uvarkina - CEO, Trio, Russia

In Trio’s case, the new “airplane” seeks to tap the full potential of advanced technology. Trio has invested significantly in this area. As Evgeniya says, “By studying American technology, we learned that the best way to increase our sugar output is by enhancing the plant’s production cycle, which is what we did.” The required investment volume is significantly lower than investing in expanding capacity, which is the European approach. In addition, the company also makes maximum use of automation to improve productivity. They’ve automated the management of sugar plants, dairy farms, and potato crops using GPS devices, with all the data sent remotely to smartphones. The company has also implemented an irrigation management plan, which provides for the maximum yield of the highest quality potatoes while rationing the use of water. Further automation of potato stock control helps to preserve quality potatoes throughout the year, because potatoes are harvested in autumn but only shipped to processing plants from January through to July. It is especially important to preserve potato quality until July, as the standards for crisp-making are higher than for ordinary potatoes. Evgeniya adds, “We have to deliver that level of quality if we’re going to remain one of Frito-Lay’s preferred suppliers.”

Trio CEO Evgeniya Uvarkina

The past 12 months have been a “year of quality” for Trio as the company has been focused on areas like health and safety; the next task is to increase production and develop an IT strategy.

Professionalisation is another priority. When Trio started, the company didn’t have an HR department so the managers had to teach themselves and then, in turn, teach their staff. Today, the company wants to develop its staff in a more professional way by taking a more focused approach to staff induction processes, development and education.

Evgeniya Uvarkina adds, “We also want to delegate more powers and responsibilities to our managers. We understand that we, as founders, cannot control everything or make every decision. So, I would like to see us becoming more like a conventional board over the next five years, with the day-to-day management fully run by our top managers. Then, we will be able to devote more time to analysing new directions for the business.”

Trio already has a strong financial partner in Sberbank, but Evgeniya sees a full share listing as the longer-term goal. She says that the process of preparing for a listing will mean an even higher degree of transparency and discipline, which is only a positive.

In the next five years, the company plans to double its revenues and earnings. As Evgeniya notes, “We have a strategic plan to do that. But, taking a broader view, our aim is to be doing something completely different by the end of that time. What might that be? Right now, I don’t know. It could be a new product, a new idea, or a new way of doing things. That’s the spirit that we started with when we founded Trio – at heart, we will always be entrepreneurs.”

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