From Junior Product Specialist to Head of Product Strategy

November 02, 2021

Petr Cherskashin talks about his career path and the role of her MBA

Can you, please, share with us your career development until now? What stages in your life have had the greatest impact on you and why?

I would certainly mention at least three most important personal landmarks which impacted a lot at my further career and professional development.

The first happened during my student times in the early 2000s when I started studying English intensively. Another one when I relocated from my hometown to Moscow in 2007, this opened a completely different world of opportunities for me. The third one was when I joined a fast growing company operating in retail automation where I made my way up from a junior product specialist to head of a business unit.

Those were great years full of challenges and interesting projects, and it resulted in two things happening almost at once: I headed another retail-centric startup company in a general management role, and I decided to apply for an MBA program abroad. As I am now completing this program, another big change just happened: after almost 13 years in retail automation, I moved to the mobility sector. I joined Arrival, a very dynamic company that develops commercial electric cars, as their Head of Product Strategy.

Did you originally want to pursue a different career? If so, what made you change your plans?

Generally, no. When I think back to my teenage years and early twenties, I was interested in IT, tech and everything related to it. I was dreaming about a career in this field, but it was all foggy how to bring it to reality. As a computer science student at the local Volgograd State Technical University, I started to realize that I’d barely enjoy a career of a software engineer, as commercial and business aspects attract me more.

While staying at my hometown, I took a part-time job for one Moscow-based company, translating and adopting English-language web content for their newsletter website. Later, I moved to Moscow for a full-time job related to importing mobile electronics and selling it in Russia – products, prices, localization, etc. That’s how it started – all my subsequent jobs were IT-centric and focused on product and general management. And I keep enjoying it so far.

What was your biggest professional/personal success?

My biggest personal success is my family for sure and that quality of life we managed to achieve so far given our background as 1990s.

Regarding a professional side of the story, it’s more difficult to highlight any single thing. During last years, we managed to develop plenty of great products in the retail automation field – point of sale (POS) systems, mobile data collecting terminals – those products gradually captured double-digit market shares in corresponding segments and won RedDot Awards for the best industrial design. Even after several years passed, these products still stay competitive against Tier1 worldwide vendors’ products in our domestic market.

What was your biggest challenge? What was your biggest professional mistake (from which you learned a lot)?

In 2014, oil prices dropped more than twice, resulting in USD-RUB exchange rate skyrocketing more than twice in just several months. At that time, we were mostly working with imported Tier1 vendors’ products, with its nominated in US dollars and euro. We had to take utmost efforts to rapidly seek for and carefully select substitute products from China, Korea, and Taiwan. My team and myself had been spending months on business trips across Asia – dozens of cities and new suppliers, lots of resources spent on launching, marketing new products and switching our sales channels – hundreds of business partners! – to our new portfolio and our private label.

One should never underestimate business risks – and must permanently seek more effective business models. Later, we managed to switch from private label distribution to full-cycle product development – and then I realized how mission-critical is it to have a talented, experienced, and motivated team who can generate new ideas and are also capable of turning it into reality.

Which 3 most important experiences in your life have led you to where you are right now?

  1. Back in the early 2000s, it was commonly believed in Russia that it’s very good to have a higher education degree in economics. However, my parents alternatively advised me to consider studying English – so I spent huge amounts of time sacrificing my “social time” to do just that; it was rather rare that I was able to participate in student parties and so on, but, I never had any regrets about it afterwards, not at all!

  2. Once in my early adult years, I had received two job offers in the same day – and I virtually spent that day pacing back and forth thinking about which one to accept. I chose that one with a lower compensation but with more relevancy to my feelings and professional interests – and in the long run this turned out to be very good decision.

  3. The known “10,000 hours” rule is very true. I’ve been in and across product management field for long years, and I like the current outcomes.

When you think of the most talented high potential in your company, what 3 pieces of advice would you give him/her to live a successful and fulfilling life?

  • You’d better concentrate on your professional growth and delivering great results rather than chasing the money.

  • Set ambitious goals and focus on achieving them – our world provides great opportunities to those who make an effort.

  • We are all different, and that’s great. Be yourself and accept yourself as you are. Know your strong points and your limitations - make the most of your talents and mitigate your weak sides.

Using just 5 words, how would your team describe you as a leader?

Result-driven, determined, polite, analytical mindset, fair-minded.

What has changed in your career because of your MBA degree? How did the program support you in reaching your career goals? What concrete career opportunities have opened up for you?

This program helped me structure my managerial mindset and provided me with relevant and viable tools and frameworks that turned to be very helpful in practical business situations. In fact, I use them for my practical work almost daily. As soon as we had learned something applicable to my daily business routine, I always tried to test it and look what happened.

Generally, I suppose that my Global Executive MBA degree simplified my move from retail automation to another business domain and served as proof of my broader managerial mindset and skills.

As far as the workload is concerned, how did you manage an MBA next to a demanding job and your family life?

It turned to be not easy, but I was aware of it well in advance as I had talked to my colleagues who had taken MBA journeys before. I spoke openly to my family members before applying for the program and made sure they supported my decision and realized that I would have to devote much of my time to studying in upcoming 16months or so and this would come, largely, with the price of sacrificing time we would spend together. We considered this as a kind of investment for our better future.

Also, in a practical sense, my advice here would be to spread one’s time and efforts for studying and completing assignments over the entire period – which is always defined in advance – and avoid pushing it away for the last days before deadlines. This way it will be less stressful for you and you won’t end up in burnout.

What do you consider a “great luxury”?

To be the master of your reality and especially of your time – the most precious non-renewable resource as well as good health. This may not seem so when you are young, but with another year passing by you are likely to treasure your time and your life more and more. Your life is here and now, not sometime in the future.

What was the last book/movie you really enjoyed?

Oh, that’s a surprisingly tough question as it seems I am too concentrated on my jobs. I am not used to watching any TV shows, maybe only some news occasionally. And very rarely do I have the chance and enough spare time to watch movies: before COVID, I mostly had time during long-haul flights. Then my MBA journey took up most of my time – to be frankly honest, I really enjoyed some of content of the program and handouts we were given to read. As this program is now over, I have started to study Spanish – so, again no time for movies and books – however, I used to read a lot of them in my teen ages, and hopefully I’ll have enough time again when I am retired.

If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

Well, abstracting from this first idea that crosses my mind – to change places with anyone who is a recognized business idol, like Elon Musk or Richard Branson, I’d rather like to become a CEO of a huge airline for a day as aviation industry always attracted me. Or even better to become a captain pilot for a day – I believe this could be a great experience.

Read more interesting career stories of our students and graduates here.

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