Officescape: Celebrating 10 Years of Growth
Mike Wheller is the founder, principal shareholder and CEO of Officescape which celebrates its 10th anniversary in Russia this year. He lives in Moscow where he is on the golf committee of the Moscow Country Club. He has two grown daughters in the UK and the eldest, Rebekah, married Aldershot football team goalkeeper Nikki Bull in June. Through the British Business Club, Officescape and Mr Wheller support a number of charities. He answered questions from James Blake.
Why you have chosen to open a business in Russia in the first place and how easy or diffi cult has it been?
Officescape Projects Limited originally came to Moscow because we were asked by a major office furniture manufacturer that we were dealing with in the UK to help them with one of their clients coming to Russia.
What have been the landmark projects/achievements of the past ten years?
Surviving the ‘98 crash in Russia was a major achievement and from that year when we carried out the project for KPMG’s new offi ces, we have had a landmark project most years including Deloitte, Shell, TNK-BP and numerous others. Securing a long term client like Mercury (Tsum, Barvikha Shops and restaurants, Polo Ralph Lauren) has been a huge part of our business.
What have been the most interesting observations you have made about doing business in Russia in the past ten years?
That most Western preconceptions about Russia and the Russian people are wrong and that you cannot just arrive from Europe and start doing business as if you are in Paris or Berlin. You have to remember that you are a guest in Russia and that you have to carry out your business within the structure that exists, no matter how frustrating and slow that may be from time to time.
What do you think about Russian architecture and office decors?
As far as I know the best Russian architects are just successful copiers of Western architecture. When it comes to interiors there have been some interesting works from both Western and Russian architects and designers. Western architects tend to introduce a classical approach and state-of-the-art examples; Russian architects introduce super luxury designs for customers without necessarily appreciating the budgets and design principles which achieve the best use of space for the functions and purpose that the client really requires Western architects when working with offices even in the most creative way put function first, where Russian architects tend to put form first, sometimes forsaking function entirely.
As a design firm, how do you see client demand for top quality design and fit out changing in Russia?
First of all it must be said that our clients in the main are not looking for top of the range design. The majority of our clients are those who need fast-track installation design and building program that is within their budgets, with just a small amount of design in certain featured areas and this situation hasn’t really changed a lot in recent times. Certainly some Russian companies have become much richer over the past five to eight years and want to change their architectural image to meet their new financial strength. Some of them order a very modern westernlooking offi ce from either a Western or Russian architectural company; others remain very patriotic and order neo-soviet interiors from an oldfashioned design bureau, looking back to styles reminiscent of the old days. Companies which demand high-quality interior design were always in the market and I don’t think anything has changed in their approach, but they were and are ordering design from leading architectural companies. What we’re best at is providing turn key services for those companies with no fixed requirements, wanting to move in quickly, minimizing risks to themselves and over the years we get more and more inquires both from returning clients and many new clients who have emerged due to market growth.
How do you see this industry developing and what do you think the major changes will be?
The industry needs to develop more on the supply side - Western manufacturers need to open Russian based operations and Russian manufacturers need to match delivery times and quality with their Western counterparts.
A more major construction companies will develop specialist office fit out divisions as they see that a higher skill level is needed to produce the fi nish that clients are looking for.
What are your aims for the next ten years for Officescape?
As long as we remain pre-eminent in our fi eld then I think we will continue to do well. We will always be looking to improve our service and delivery for our clients but I don’t think we will chase projects just to increase turnover, but provid services and complete projects on time and in budget.
Can you give us an estimate of your company turnover and how many employees you have?
In 2007 we should exceed 625 million roubles and we currently have over five hundred employees, the majority of whom are Russian.