Olga Dergunova, businessperson

It cannot be a bad feeling to have the President of Russia tell you “I think you are right” on national television. This was in fact Vladimir Putin’s reply when Olga Dergunova said in a recent televised roundtable that state functionaries’ computer literacy leaves much to be desired.

Yet it is not as if Dergunova, 36, needed to prove herself, even to the president. As General Director of Microsoft Russia for the past six years, Dergunova has racked up an impressive list of awards: in 1999 she was ranked as the #1 manager in Russia’s information technology (IT) and telecom industry; in 2001, Company magazine ranked her as the top Russian IT company manager; in 2001 the Wall Street Journal listed her as one of the 30 most influential women in European business.

Dergunova joined Microsoft Russia as employee number 13 just 18 months after the subsidiary was founded. Her first big assignment was launching Microsoft’s corporate licensing program. It was the first time in Russia when software was sold not in a box, but as a license—this at a time when the software piracy rate was around 99%. The program was a huge success and corporate sales grew 100%.

In 1995, Dergunova was herself promoted to the position of Country Manager of Microsoft CIS. Since that time, she has grown the company from 20 to 70 employees, and from $10 mn in annual revenues to nearly $50 mn. She steered the company through the difficult political and economic crises of 1996-98, resulting in Microsoft Russia’s being ranked best international vendor of software in 1998-9.

Dergunova attributes much of her success to her parents, who taught her the importance of hard work and whose professions ensured that computers would be in her veins: her father was head of the Informatics Department at the Plekhanov Institute and her mother was a software specialist. “I kept on hearing at home: ‘Don’t bother dad, he is writing his dissertation, then, his doctorate,’” she told Dengi weekly.

When it came time to select her own career, Dergunova followed her father’s advice: “If you don’t feel a distinct penchant for some specific activity, take up a science that is at the juncture of several. When you grow up, you will ‘swing’ towards one or the other.” So she enrolled in the Economic Cybernetics faculty at the Plekhanov institute, a discipline at “the juncture of math and economics.” During her fourth year at the institute, she “swung” towards systemic mathematical support of software programs. That same year she also gave birth to her daughter, Nina.

For Dergunova, the birth of her daughter motivated her to prove that she was capable of pursuing her studies, and moreover, of receiving a diploma. She also sought to prove something to those in her institute who thought girls were only potential housewives.

After graduating from the institute, Dergunova began work at the Computing Center of the Academy of Sciences. There she became acquainted with the author of the once popular Russian software program, Lexicon. He needed someone with a good knowledge of economics and technology to market his product. Dergunova stepped in and her career as a manager began.

Today, as a Country Manager for Microsoft, Dergunova wears many hats, overseeing everything from the company’s financial management, to marketing, to relations with the Russian Government. She has been particularly active in the latter, working to combat software piracy, which still stands at nearly 90% in Russia. “So you can imagine how much software companies working in Russia lose,” Dergunova said.

All of this leaves Dergunova with “very little time for hobbies.” For her, work is her lifestyle. She likes golf, tennis and downhill skiing, but her favorite form of relaxation is to spend time with her family on weekends. Indeed, finding time for family with her hectic work schedule can often mean meetings in airport lounges, as was the case recently when she and her husband (also a successful IT business professional) did not see each other for an extended period and had to find some “quality time” while he shuttled her from Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport to Domodevo airport, for a flight on to Krasnoyarsk.

In the aforementioned roundtable between President Putin and IT leaders, including Dergunova, the president reportedly took 20 pages of notes over a three hour meeting. “The president made it clear that the IT sector is a priority for the government and is considered a potential point for Russia’s breakthrough to the world market,” Dergunova said.

When that breakthrough happens, you can be sure Olga Dergunova will be leading the charge.

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