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Helena Baturina, new owner of Morrisons

December 2, 2013

by Sergey Tarutin

An interview with Helena Baturina, the new owner of Morrisons.

Your latest project is a hotel chain, which connects four cities – Vienna, Karlovy Vary, St. Petersburg and Dublin. How do you plan to expand it? What other cities will enter the network? Following the example of the Morrison hotel in Dublin, will the Hilton hotel franchise be utilised or will your own hotel brand be used?

To date, we have made decisions to create hotel clusters in regions where we already have a presence such as Ireland, Britain, Northern Italy, Austria, Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Baltic countries. Specific acquisitions depend, of course, on the market. Right now we are getting a very large amount of offers regarding sale of hotels from these countries as well as many others, from which we choose those that match the concept of our network.

Regarding the franchise, probably not. We have a management company in Vienna which successfully manages all the hotels, both owned and passed under the control of their owners. In addition, we strive to maintain the individuality of each hotel, without turning them into members of a similar brand. We refused this consciously, as often the person feels in branded hotels, like in a big machine. Our mission is to try to provide a more personal service.

How has Irish property become of interest to you? Irish newspapers wrote that your purchases may make property in Ireland more popular and desirable to Russians.

I like Ireland, firstly, because of its simplicity and freedom. This country is not tied up in conditions of protocols. The people here seem to know how to look at things and just see what is important about them. In general, it seems to me that the Irish and Russian world views are very similar. Additionally, Ireland has always been very interesting to me as a country where people share my passion for equestrian sports. I can openly say that I consider the Morrison my proudest investment. And if my example will be an inspiration to someone else’s business projects in Ireland, I would only be too happy.

Realtors in London claim that every tenth purchase is made by Russians. In your opinion, what is Dublin lacking in terms of these successes?

There is a long history between London with Russian buyers, as well as it being mostly fashionable. However, in the last decade, we have seen many examples of how the emphasis in business, cultural and political life shifts from established metropolitan areas in the direction of the young developing cities. I believe that Dublin is quite capable of creating its own trends, now the city hosts many international events, congresses and festivals. If Dublin will continue to be open to foreign investment with a positive attitude, breaking down bureaucratic obstacles and willing to develop in line with the needs of modern businesses, then over time, I think, Dublin realtors will have an answer to their London colleagues.

In your opinion, is it possible to increase the investment attractiveness of a country? Surely developing tourism is of importance to your business?

Developing Ireland as a tourist country is certainly not only possible, but is necessary. The main premise, which I personally see to increase the investment attractiveness of the country lies in the fact that the Irish are really willing to work in order to overcome the results of crisis. To understand what happened, why it happened, and be prepared to make every necessary effort to correct the situation. The main conditions for the development of the country are the same way as for the development of any business.

Do you think that there is enough information about Ireland in the Russian language? Would you support the production of a tourist guide for Ireland?

Unfortunately, I do not have enough information regarding the adequacy or inadequacy of Russian-language materials about Ireland. But like any owner of the hotel business, I am willing to support initiatives aimed at the development of the tourism sector.

Is there the desire to return to the real estate development business at a European level?

Together with our Western partners, we have established two investment funds operating in the field of development. They are Queen’s Gate in Europe and Rosamund in America.

How safe do Russians feel in London? The British media have been reporting threats to Andrei Borodin, and the recent history of the death of famous people do not give cause for a quiet life. Does anything threaten you or your loved ones?

I can only answer for myself and for my family.  We love London, here we feel quite comfortable due to the familiar language environment and the fact that London is an international metropolis in the life of which foreigners have become an integral and organic part. Personally, I have no reason to worry here for the family.

Do you expect a new wave of immigrants from Russia, after another “anti-corruption” of the company?

I read somewhere that according to the Russian Central Bank, for the first quarter of this year, the outflow of capital amounted to 25.8 billion dollars. But I’m not sure that this flight is due solely to the anti-corruption campaign. Until the Russian market clearly establishes rules to ensure the safety of long-term investments and property, the money will likely continue to leave the country.

You and your daughters were required to move to London. They were studying at university in Moscow. Have there been difficulties in the transition to the English system of education? Will they take part of the family business?

Certainly, the British education system is different from the Russian one. For example, in England, the students have a lot of autonomous learning to do, that requires a lot of will power and perseverance. In addition, at first the girls had to improve on their English. And as for their future, I want them to build it themselves, and that’s what I’m trying to lead them to. I have never included the girls in my business projects, but if they suddenly become interested in my pursuits, they are certainly welcome.

Would you be interested to support not only business but also social projects such as charity, social events, media Russian community in Dublin and London?

Support and development of social projects has been an important part of my work for over 20 years. For example, a little over a year ago, we established a humanitarian fund BE OPEN to create an international platform for creative people, including leading experts in various fields of design, as well as talented young people to share ideas that can change the world around us for the better. In September of last year, one of our events took place in London during the traditional Design Festival, which has become an integral part of a large-scale project on researching the five main senses: sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing.

In addition we organized conferences and open discussions, to the development of sound design, with our support the BE OPEN Sound Portal was set up in Trafalgar Square. This sound portal is a kind of mobile laboratory to study the limits of what can be achieved with the help of audio technology. After the Design Festival finished, the portal was moved to the Chelsea College of Art and Design, where it became part of a project to study different aspects of sound, the implementation of which was attended by several colleges that make up the University of the Arts London. The results of this were announced at the symposium Sounding Space, which took place as recently as early June. BE OPEN is an international project, I believe that talent is unique to each nation. Therefore, we are looking for talent everywhere, and we do not care what country a talented person was born in. The foundation has already run significant events in Milan, Basel, Miami and London. If we talk specifically about Ireland, I want to point out that among the participants of open art competitions organised by BE OPEN there have been talented people from Ireland. We will be very happy to have their numbers increase, and the work of our Foundation be attended by well-known Irish authorities in the field of design.

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