Published: March 7, 2014 (Issue # 1800)
When Magnus Brannstrom was 12, he and his family, suppressing their fear, crossed the Iron Curtain for a vacation in the Soviet Union, their friends’ warnings still ringing in their ears.
“You will never come back, and end up in Siberia,” the Brannstrom’s neighbors said. Instead — though the fear remained — he became enraptured.
“In Russia they say, ‘if you don’t risk anything, you will never drink champagne.’ Or that you will never get to kiss beautiful women. I believe that,” Brannstrom said. “This country is clearly rewarding the risk takers.”
Brannstrom, 47, is not a man to rest on his laurels. After the pioneering preteen excursion to the Soviet Union, he went into the Swedish military. Later, deciding to learn Russian and study the country’s history, he worked as a tour guide in the last years of the communist state, going to Leningrad with Swedes who “basically, wanted to get drunk.” He also served as part of the original management team of the landmark Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg.
Trying to do business in the anarchic 1990s, Brannstrom had to navigate bundles of red tape, contradictory laws and face off against a landlord who negotiated the rent by putting a lock on his tenant’s office door. He rose to become cosmetics group Oriflame’s regional director for Russia and the CIS, Baltics and Asia. The experience served him well — he was appointed chief executive of the entire company at the age of 39.
Becoming regional director of Swedish Oriflame, the Brannstrom family friends’ predictions about his winding up in Siberia became a reality — with one small difference. Rather than being exiled there, Brannstrom opted to conquer it, along with the country’s other regions.
Russia is a country of strong women, says Brannstrom. This has helped turn it into Oriflame’s number one market, and sales are expected to increase further as the company opens a new factory in the Moscow region town of Noginsk this year.