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投资者不应该轻易放弃俄罗斯

Mealle Gavet 2013年11月06日

没错,腐败、官僚主义、不够民主,这些都是俄罗斯存在的问题,但它的经济增长同样不容否认,它的投资机会也不容忽视。总体来说,俄罗斯的情况并不像西方媒体所说的那么糟糕,对于寻找投资机会的外国人来说,俄罗斯的机遇大于风险。

    今年早些时候我遇到过一位西方记者。他遍访莫斯科的大街小巷,想拍摄一些无家可归者的画面。但他没能找到一个这样的人,这似乎让他感到失望,因为他想用这样的影像来描绘一个“真实的俄罗斯”。

    我不知道他到底想拍到什么。也许是在红场上骑着狗熊猛灌伏特加的人?但有一点令人感到惋惜,那就是很大一部分西方媒体通常都以他这样的态度和方式来报道我的第二故乡。

    俄罗斯不光有伏特加、寒冷的气候、朋克乐队Pussy Riot、反同性恋法、为点儿小事就喋喋不休的政治寡头以及偶尔会入狱的总统主要政治对手。人们不能把这样一个幅员辽阔、充满活力而又多姿多彩的国家压缩成仅仅几个话题。

    并不是说独立新闻媒体不应该报道这些内容;也不可否认,这个国家有很多问题,比如它对待个人自由和反对党的方式。但情况并不像西方媒体所描述的那么糟糕,而且对于寻找投资机会的外国人来说,俄罗斯的利大于弊。

    作为俄罗斯最大电子商务集团Ozon的首席执行官,我和许多职业投资人都有过交流。我的感受是,他们普遍认为俄罗斯的投资风险差不多是世界上最高的。当我追问理由时,他们一般都会说,俄罗斯大得难以捉摸,而且不是民主国家,因此必然存在风险。

    当然,说俄罗斯面积广大无可辩驳。实际上,这是一个增长迅速的巨型市场,有1.42亿消费者(而且数量还在上升)。2012年加入世界贸易组织(World Trade Organization)后,俄罗斯已经成为全球第九大消费品市场。它有欧洲最大的手机用户群体。通信行业研究咨询机构ACM Consulting估算,目前俄罗斯正在使用的手机有2.60亿部。另外,数据统计网站Internet World Stats 在2012年发布的报告显示,俄罗斯有6800万网民。今年,在安永(Ernst & Young)的对外国直接投资吸引力排行榜上,俄罗斯名列全球第六。

    我们可以继续发掘相关数据,比如俄罗斯较低的历史失业率(5.4%)。但我要传递的关键信息是,人们有理由对俄罗斯的经济和增长前景持乐观态度,特别是在数字领域。

    一些投资者认为俄罗斯的问题在于它不是民主国家,对此我要说的是,民主和稳定的商业环境是两件截然不同的事情。看看民主共和国塞浦路斯的情况吧,那里的银行系统似乎在一夜之间就轰然倒塌。或者大家还可以想一想中国。这些年来投资者源源不断地把资金投入中国,尽管它在言论自由,或者说由此体现的民主水平方面还不如俄罗斯。

    另一个让投资者不屑于考虑俄罗斯投资机会的原因往往是腐败,对此我要做何解释呢?作为一家有2000名员工、五个业务部门的大型跨地区企业的经营者,我可以谈一谈我的亲身感受。Ozon在腐败方面执行零容忍政策。投入运营15年来,我们从未贿赂过任何人。我们没有把资金用于贿赂、好处费和封口费这些阴暗的文化产物,但我们照样实现了增长。这就是说,其他公司也可以做到这一点。

    当然,腐败确实存在——而且我要说,许许多多的国家都有腐败问题,包括大量西方国家——但问题在于腐败实际上有多普遍以及它对商业环境稳定性的影响是否大到像某些媒体和投资者所说的程度。

    Earlier this year, I encountered a Western journalist who was scouring the streets of Moscow looking for homeless people to film. He seemed disappointed when he was unable to find any to include in his footage, which was meant to depict the "real Russia."

    I'm not sure what exactly he was expecting -- perhaps people swigging from vodka bottles astride bears in the middle of Red Square -- but his attitude is unfortunately typical of much of the Western media's approach to reporting on my adopted country.

    Russia is more than vodka, cold temperatures, Pussy Riot, anti-gay legislation, squabbling oligarchs, and the occasional jailing of a prominent opponent to its President. You simply can't boil down such a vast, vibrant, and complex country to just a few talking points.

    Not that they aren't legitimate topics for stories a free press should be reporting on, and one cannot deny that there are many questions about how personal freedoms and opposition to the Kremlin, among other issues, are handled in this country. But things aren't as bad here as Western media makes it seem, and the good outweighs the bad for foreigners looking to make investments in Russia.

    As the CEO of Ozon, the largest e-commerce group in Russia, I've had many conversations with professional investors. A common sentiment that surfaces is the need to factor in a higher risk ratio when investing in Russia, compared to almost anywhere else in the world. When pressed for an explanation, the typical answer is that Russia is unfathomably vast and not a democracy -- and thus inherently risky.

    It's hard to argue that Russia is anything but vast, of course. In fact, it's a rapidly developing mega-market of 142 million consumers (and counting). A member of the World Trade Organization since 2012, Russia has become the ninth-largest consumer market in the world. It is the biggest mobile phone market in Europe, with an estimated 260 million phones in use (according to ACM Consulting), and an online population of 68 million (according to a 2012 Internet World Stats report). And this year, Ernst & Young ranked Russia as the sixth most attractive region in the world for foreign direct investments.

    We can keep digging up relevant numbers, such as Russia's historically low unemployment rate (5.4%), but the key message is that there's reason to be optimistic about the country's economy and growth prospects, especially in the digital realm.

    As for some investors' stated problem with Russia not being a democracy, I'd argue that democracy and a stable business environment are two quite different things. Just look at what happened in the democratic republic of Cyprus, where the banking system collapsed seemingly overnight. Or the way investors have been pumping money into China for years, despite the fact that there's less freedom of expression -- or indeed, democracy, for that matter – there than in Russia.

    And what to say about corruption, another thing often to be a reason for investors not to bother with looking at opportunities in Russia? As someone who has been running a large cross-border company with 2,000 employees across five businesses in Russia, I can comment based on personal experience. Ozon operates a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any form of corruption and hasn't paid a single bribe in its 15 years of operation. We've managed to grow without money flowing through a shadowy culture of bribes, sweeteners, and pay-offs, which means others can, too.

    Of course corruption occurs -- and I would argue it happens in a lot of countries, including many Western nations -- but the question is how prevalent it really is, and whether the effect on the stability of the business environment is as big as some media and investors make it out to be.

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