Profile of Luba Tvetskova, published in European Business magazine
Published in European Business magazine
"Most women," says Luba Tvetskova through her translator, "are unpredictable and furious. I much prefer to work with men."
"Oh yes," she stresses. "Their method of thinking is much better for business. A lady is an emotional creature and in most cases her work depends on her mood. At the end of the day a woman rushes home to her husband and forgets about work. It's impossible to make women go to the office at weekends. It's much easier to deal with men!"
I was at the flash modern headquarters of Centre 2000, the property development and lettings agency founded by Tvetskova when she was 21, expecting to find a punchy, hard-headed feminist who had taken on Moscow's male establishment at its own game and come away triumphant. She is certainly a winner, but more complex and quirky than I'd imagined.
She prefers to work with men, but takes care not to rub them up the wrong way. "Sometimes a women leader allows herself to shout at staff and not every man is glad to feel this impoliteness." This antique phrasing is almost certainly the translator's fault, since I'm sure Tvetskova expresses herself in a more groovy way in Russian. "So if a woman decides to work with men as a leader she must remember not to suppress men; she should be polite and not stress that she's cleverer. If you always tell a man that he's cleverer then he'll work well for you."
Tvetskova is a sharp cookie. Dressed in a smartly cut red suit and Hermes scarf, she has a punky sense of irony and style. During our conversation she orders coffee, mineral water, biscuits and some gourmet chocolates, making me feel spoilt and nicely flirted-with. As we talk, her quick eyes dart around the room and a mischievous smile plays at the corners of her mouth.
I ask whether she has a problem with men getting the hots for her. "I prefer to support in men the feeling of being slightly in love," her translator says. "But it's not a problem for me. It's more of a concern when executives from different companies fall in love with me: if I refuse them it can have a negative influence on business, but I'm rather experienced at this - and don't forget I'm married."
Oh yes, so you are. In fact Tvetskova has been married for 12 years to a psycho-analyst. Maybe this accounts for her wised-up view of workplace relations. The other man in her life is a business partner and here too she casually dissects the gender dynamics. "First of all, I am a lady and I'm very emotional, whereas he trained as an electronic engineer and has a systematic way of thinking. He will see a problem and think about it whereas I will jump in without thinking, based on my emotions and think about it on the way. There is a danger that, while he's thinking about it, you may lose something, whereas for me there is a danger of running in without thinking of the end target."
Centre 2000 evolved out of a desperate shortage of Moscow apartments in the mid-1980s. Waiting lists stood at 25 years or more. So to overcome the obstacles, Tvetskova joined a youth movement aiming to build apartments for themselves. Initially, the idea was just to find somewhere for her and her husband to live, but as the project grew, she became the head of the whole movement in Moscow, overseeing the construction of hundreds of buildings.
At the end of the 80s, money from Russian companies (which had underwritten the projects) evaporated and they were forced to look elsewhere. The movement turned to any number of different enterprises to finance more construction. "We traded in computers, started publications, sewed fur coats, imported Japanese cars into Moscow, just about anything you can imagine," says Tvetskova, lighting a long, thin Sobranie cigarette and leaning back in her plush black leather chair.
Importing Japanese cars? This sounds like a lot of trouble just to build an apartment. "It was a necessity," she says. "We were not like some developers who have studied at Harvard University and realised it would bring a profit. We just had to do it." Today Centre 2000 is among the elite Moscow residential developers, with a dozen major projects finished and many more on the way. Up to 500 workers are employed at one time and the completed buildings have won awards for their high standards both in Russia and overseas. One building was praised at MIPIM, the huge property fair in Cannes every March.
These days, it is not the desperate homeless youth who buy the company's product, but the rising class of New Russians with their sudden wealth and ostentatious ways. Following up is the new class of manager, many of whom transferred their authority from the communist 80s into the capitalist 90s and 00s without pausing for breath. These are the Muscovites able to shell out dollars 150,000 for a Centre 2000 one-bed apartment to compliment the Mercedes S Class they drive around town.
Tvetskova does not yet drive (though she is taking lessons) and has had the same chauffeur for the past nine years. "He's my hero," she says. She also takes lessons in English and in 'hip hop' dancing. "My tutor is a young professional dancer, it's a good form of relaxation," she says, adding that she can often be found at the Jazz Cafe in the Argelik district of Moscow dancing the night away. For longer breaks, she loves France (as many Russians do) and shops for clothes in Paris like there's no tomorrow.
It's easy to imagine Russian executives getting a little tingle when Tvetskova enters a room, with her long black-stockinged legs, micro skirt, sparkling eyes and flashing smile. I'd love to see her on a construction site, stirring up those feelings in the brickies and - at the same time - letting them think they are cleverer than her. In the jungle that is modern Moscow, Tvetskova is one cool cat.