The Pillars of DataArt’s Corporate Culture: Interview with Dmitry Bagrov

Last month, DataArt celebrated its 24th business anniversary. Almost a quarter of a century, and we are still going strong, reliable, and crisis-proof! We’d like to spread the celebration around by looking back at DataArt’s early days. This is the third post in a series of interviews, in which DataArt ‘founding fathers’ look back at the times our corporate culture traces its roots to.
5 min read
08/05/21
By Anni Tabagua
PR & Communications
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The Pillars of DataArt’s Corporate Culture: Interview with Dmitry Bagrov

We continue the series of blog posts about company’s core values and corporate culture with an interview with Dmitry Bagrov, Managing Director at DataArt UK.

Read previous posts in The Pillars of DataArt’s Corporate Culture series:

Bagrov

Dmitry Bagrov led the establishment of DataArt UK, and now oversees all aspects of its operations, from sales to production and HR management.

In his time as Managing Director, Dmitry has built DataArt UK into a fully-staffed provider of end-to-end solutions and has brought annual revenue from $2.4 million in 2009 to $55 million in 2020. He has led teams to gain a range of clients, including Betfair, APAX Partners, Trainline, Coller Capital, Ocado Technology, British Gas, major UK banks and financial services firms.

Q: DataArt seems to be operating in an unusual way — as a meritocracy. Anybody can challenge anything at any time, regardless of their position in the company. Was it purposefully planned this way from the very beginning, or did it just happen naturally?

If you are a fan of science fiction, you probably know Robert Heinlein’s book Starship Troopers. A pretty great book. Basically, he describes a political system that took over after a major crisis on Earth. At some point, a character in the book, a teacher, asks his pupils why they think the system is still around. He gets all sorts of answers, with all kinds of explanations, and finally he says that the real reason the system works is just because it works. The same story with DataArt. We started doing things in a certain way and it worked. So, «if it ain’t broke...’’

I do remember a bunch of consultants and industry gurus telling us we were doing it all wrong — that we had to have hierarchy, departments, etc. We listened attentively, but then we asked ourselves: why should we listen to someone who has never built a company? We have actually built a company. And so, we went with our intuition and experience.

Q: Could you describe DataArt’s model?

First and foremost, it is a model based on trust.

Trust is at the core of all things. We trust our employees; our employees trust us. Everything is transparent.

When we ask our employees for certain things, they understand that whatever it is the company is asking, there is a reason for it. We trust our employees to do the best they can; we are very tolerant of mistakes. The company was not created with the sole aim of enriching its management. It is a company rooted in trust.

DA Corporate Culture Images

Q: How do leaders earn trust? How do they lose trust?

I think you earn trust by showing that you are a human, that you, too, are capable of making mistakes. You earn trust by not taking all the praise and credit for yourself, by distributing it to everyone in the team. Trust is difficult to earn, but it all comes down to being honest, I think.

I certainly hope that I have managed to earn a certain amount of trust. How did I do that? I guess it has to do with the fact that I’m consistent. Yes, I can be — and very often am — emotional, but I am trying really hard not to be rude. I mean, DataArt is like a family. How do you earn trust in a family? You are there for them. And speaking of losing trust... you lose trust when you become selfish. When you think, «I’m entitled to this. I’ve earned it.» When you feel like someone owes you something. You should not think along the lines of «I’ve landed a client.» It is always teamwork. Yes, you played a part, perhaps even a big part, but others did, too.

Q: DataArt was founded by a group of people who were all independent thinkers with strong opinions. How did you manage to agree on things?

We never did! It is always been difficult to agree on things. But that is OK! We do not follow the Scandinavian model, where you need to make sure there’s a consensus before you move forward. Ours is a meritocratic system.

It all goes back to the trust thing. For instance, I trust Mikhail Zavileysky to know how to do things related to operations and organizational development — which he does. And hopefully he trusts me to know what I am doing with sales in the UK. We do not interfere in each other’s line of work; we do support each other, but that does not necessarily mean that we need to agree on everything.

The underlying agreement between us goes like this: whatever it is any one of us is doing, it should be done with the company’s and people’s best interests in mind. Not just your own interest. That is it.

Q: Meritocracy can produce happy employees who feel that their opinions and ideas are valued. And yet, how do you know whom to believe? How do you decide which ideas are good or bad?

You can never be sure what idea is good or bad. Our approach is: if a person believes in an idea strongly enough, let’s give it a shot. If the person is just throwing ideas out without having thought through how to implement them, and their argument is «Let’s just not do it the way you’re doing it,» that will not fly.

Q: How do you think this culture helps our clients and our business?

Again, it all comes down to trust. We show that we would make the best effort to understand what the client wants. It is quite hard to convey this in the beginning — to convince potential clients that our culture is one of the reasons to choose us. And yet we must be doing something right, as clients return to us. They make referrals all the time, too.

There are two things I recall one client saying. The first was, «We hired you because you get stuff (well, he used another word, but you get the idea!) done,» and the second was, «I do not know exactly how you, guys, do what you do, but there is something classy about the way you run the company.»

Essentially, we are always trying to be better. Not better than the competition. Better today than we were yesterday.

I remember Simon Sinek talking about businesses wanting to be ‘the best in the world’ and ‘number one.’ Number one based on what, he asks. We are playing an infinite game. Better tomorrow than we are today.

DA Corporate Culture Images

Q: And now, a lighting round: would you say that DataArt is a client-centric company?

DataArt is a people-centric company. Clients are people... so, yes!

Q: Do you think DataArt attracts a certain type of person? If so, what kind of person is that?

Yes, we attract a certain kind of person — one who values an environment of transparency and trust.

Q: What is the one thing DataArt will not tolerate?

Breach of trust. I expect you to either do what you are asked to do, or just tell me right away (or the moment you understand it) that you cannot do it.

Q: What has to happen for DataArt to change its values?

Probably a change in ownership or managing directors. A massive one. But this is not going to happen anytime soon, hopefully.

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