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Working as a project manager at Sweco: “Speaking the same language creates trust.”

Lidia Testova-Färlin is originally from Russia and works as a bioprocess specialist at Sweco. In many projects, her knowledge of the Russian language and culture has proved to be an important factor in building mutual trust.

Who are you and what do you do at Sweco?I am Lidia Testova-Färlin and I work as a process specialist at Sweco. Our Bioprocess group specialises in pulp and paper manufacturing processes and different bio-projects that involve wood- or other plant-based raw materials.

I also work as a project manager in projects where the client or the target is located in Russia, where I come from. I studied pulp and paper technology back in my hometown of Arkhangelsk and completed an international degree in chemical engineering in Sweden. I worked in industry in Russia for a couple of years before I moved to Finland in 2009 to work on my doctorate.

What kind of projects are you involved in at the moment?

We are just finalising a project in which we provided the concept development of a Russian pulp mill for a Finnish partner. We evaluated different implementation alternatives and advised on what product should be produced and with which technology. I am often involved in the early-stage studies and pre-engineering projects.

One of my long-term projects was the pre-engineering of the modernisation of two pulp and paper mill departments in Syktyvkar, Russia, for the international Mondi Group. The project is a good example of how much time travel can take up in an international project if you cannot reach the destination with direct connections. It is best to avoid one-day trips and aim to handle as many issues as possible when you are with the client.

How important is it to know the culture of the target country?

Many Russian clients speak fluent English, but it is still surprisingly important that the project manager speaks the same language or comes from Russia. It creates trust in the project. It is easy for the client to call and quickly check something without having to worry about using a foreign language.

Russian projects differ from those in Finland mostly in that schedules are rarely kept. The key reason is cumbersome decision-making, since legislation can also often be complicated. The same communication technology is used as elsewhere, but meetings on site can involve a really large number of people, each with their own opinion. However, a good end result can always be reached if you are willing to put in the effort.

How is sustainable development visible in your projects?

Pulp and other bio-products are in themselves environmentally sustainable. That said, each project must ensure that the raw material is produced responsibly and that the supply chains operate in accordance with the best principles. When we design new plants, we always aim to use modern technology in order to minimise the environmental impact.