Presenting to Business Students from Germany

In the 17 years since I founded Russian Pointe, I’ve learned so much, from leading the company throughout its growth and development, from my advanced business studies at Harvard, and from networking with other entrepreneurs.

It is very satisfying to be able to pass some of that knowledge on to the next generation of businesspeople. On Thursday, July 16, I had that opportunity during a visit from 40 German students studying for their master’s degrees.

The students, who are earning their master’s of science in business from Germany’s Business and Information Technology School (BiTS), have been in Chicago for an intensive one-month “business boot camp” at Kendall College. The visit to Russian Pointe was arranged by their instructor Valerie Beck, an adjunct professor at Kendall, founder and CEO of Chocolate Uplift, and my fellow Harvard alumna.

“I was excited to bring them to Aleksandra on one of the Leadership and Organizational Culture excursions I arranged,” Valerie said, “so that instead of just reading about business, they could experience an exceptional case study come to life. In visiting Aleksandra, students heard from a successful businesswoman who exemplifies the American Dream of coming to the United States and creating an innovative business through hard work, perseverance, constant improvement and strong values. Students were inspired by Aleksandra’s current success and future dreams [and] the organizational culture of excellence that she created through her clear leadership.”

The visit included a tour of Russian Pointe and a presentation and Q&A in my conference room. I began the presentation by handing around Russian Pointe’s products, to give students an anchor for our discussion of how I built and continue to lead the company. After they had a basic understanding of my company’s history, I gave a presentation about the importance of vision, mission, strategy and leadership for any business. Throughout the presentation, I addressed both business theory and its actualization in my leadership of Russian Pointe.

I was impressed by the engagement of the students. They were fascinated by my story of founding Russian Pointe on a shoestring while still in college (long enough ago that I had to find potential clients by combing Yellow Pages from around the country!) and inspired by how such a niche product – pointe shoes for ballet dancers – could be the basis of my business success.

The students asked fabulous questions, such as why my products continue to be made in Russia (because of the tradition on which they’re based), and how being an immigrant has affected my development.

Student Lara Eisermann posted her report about the visit on the BiTS Chicago blog. Her post included these comments:

“Aleksandra Efimova not only gave us insight of how she does business, but also of how she started the company and made it a real success. Although questions like ‘How do I pay my bills?’ or ‘How do I sell my ballet shoes?’ played a major part at the beginning of Russian Pointe, Aleksandra followed her dream and made her passion, the ballet, a working business. What made her succeed were the things she learned from dancing: discipline and the power of endurance. And those things are what she represents as a leader today. This plays a major role for her message’s credibility. She is still very passionate about her company [and] it is easy to believe when she talks about her company’s core values as she still reflects the same kind of discipline today. During her presentation, she mentioned some challenges she faced, especially at the beginning of Russian Pointe. The most important message of this was the fact that she was never afraid of failing but regarded everything as a challenge.

“What I learned from Aleksandra is the way you have to embody your mission and vision statement in order to create a certain kind of credibility. For me, the slogan ‘Inspired Performance’ does not only represent Russian Pointe’s products but especially the style of leadership of Aleksandra. Her standard ‘what can be measured can be improved’ shows how she sets goals and constantly improves her company.

“For our own project, Foodentity, the organizational culture should not differ much from Russian Pointe’s, since our company is very customer-focused. We want to deliver unique products that fit to our customers’ individual needs and conditions. I learned a lot from Aleksandra. She inspired me with her courage to start a business in a foreign country and especially at such a young age. What I can implement to our own business is the necessity of a clearly defined mission and vision statement … [and] of leadership emphasis, employee empowerment and peer involvement.”