Let Sleeping Bears Lie? - Ruben Vardanian at the Helm of Troika Dialog

Ruben Vardanian, CEO of Troika, is a “golden boy of Russian capitalism”. Unlike many fellow members of the Russian oligarchs’ club, Vardanian started from the bottom and climbed upwards. In this case study, Ruben Vardanian at the Helm of Troika Dialog, by Stanislav Shekshnia, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD, with Manfred Kets de Vries, Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Professor of Human Resource Management at INSEAD, scrutinizes Vardanian’s success as he guides his investment bank, Troika Dialog, to a new level and scale of business.

by Manfred Kets de Vries, Stanislav Shekshnia
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Ruben Vardanian joined Troika in 1991 when he was 22. Now one of Russia’s leading investment banks, Troika had been created earlier that year and Vardanian was one of the company’s four original – and unpaid –associates. They powered Troika into an organization with an enviable clientele and a worldwide reputation for fair practice. Ten years later, Vardanian was CEO and president of Troika, the undisputed head of the company and a father-figure to his employees. In 2001, Vardanian decided to move up into another gear, leading Troika Dialog and a consortium of investors in a historic deal to acquire 49% of Rosgostrakh, a former insurance monopoly in the Russian Federation and one of the post-Soviet “sleeping bears”.

In response to this bold initiative, the Bank of Moscow, Troika’s major shareholder, openly criticized Vardanian for engaging Troika in a risky long-term investment project, and demanded that he step down as Troika’s CEO if he was to be involved in the running of Rosgostrakh. Naturally, this did not fit with Vardanian’s personal vision for the long-term development of Troika and Rosgostrakh and he refused to release the reins. Matching his firm stand, Troika’s management openly expressed their unequivocal support for Vardanian.

It wasn’t long before a potential Russian shareholder came forward to help Vardanian in his tussle with the Bank Of Moscow. In response to the shareholder’s efforts, the Bank of Moscow softened its position and agreed to sell its 81% stake in Troika for $50 million. The path was clear – Vardanian had succeeded.In finding a way around the stalled negotiations with the Bank of Moscow and the Russian government, Ruben Vardanian had once again proved he was a man to be reckoned with. Yet what price victory?

This case by Stanislav Shekshnia, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD, with Manfred Kets de Vries, Raoul de Vitry d’Avaucourt Professor of Human Resource Management at INSEAD, examines how and why Vardanian found himself at the head of two very different organizations, each presenting radically different leadership challenges.

Was Ruben Vardanian ready to tackle the challenges he faced? His general management experience was limited to one relatively small but extremely successful organization. Would Vardanian’s favourite leadership tools work with people in a different kind of organization? Or would he have to learn totally new skills and techniques? Ruben Vardanian appeared to have the ability to lead himself and others on to new achievements, learning new competencies and behaviors. In the past it had made him a successful business leader. Could he do it again?

INSEAD 2003

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