When you grow up in a small town in Northwestern Russia, it’s not often you get the opportunity to meet professors and dignitaries from America. Unless you happen to be in the right place, at the right time.
Such was the case for Tatiana Eliseeva, MBA ’01, who was working as a student translator at a university (NovSU) in Velikiy Novgorod, Russia when a cohort of URI faculty came to teach a joint program for local business leaders. That’s where she met Professor Maling Ebrahimpour (now serving as Dean of the URI College of Business).
Ebrahimpour encouraged Tatiana to apply to the University of Rhode Island’s M.B.A. program and even helped her secure an assistantship to make it economically feasible. “I could see the passion in Tatiana’s eyes and her enthusiasm for learning. I knew she had potential and was going to be very successful” says Ebrahimpour.
Tatiana did not need much convincing to attend an American university for her graduate degree. When she was 17 years old, she was an exchange student and lived for a year with a host family in Fort Worth, Texas. “That year had a huge impact on my life, and I knew I wanted to eventually come back to the U.S. to continue my education.”
Upon graduation in 2001, Tatiana was offered a job at Fidelity Investments, but life had other plans. She flew home to Russia to visit her parents on September 11, 2001. Little did she know, she would be denied re-entry to the U.S. and forced to forfeit her new role. “My very exciting and promising ‘American chapter’ ended abruptly and I had to rebuild my life back in my hometown. I learned a great lesson – not all our plans in life work out the way we want, but at the same time it is these situations that teach us resilience and how to overcome barriers.”
Eliseeva secured her first professional job as a management trainee at Dirol (which was later acquired by Cadbury, a British chocolate and snacks business). A dedicated professional, Tatiana proved herself to be invaluable and rose through the ranks, serving in leadership roles at some of the world’s most prominent global companies.
“When I started my career, it was my URI M.B.A. degree that differentiated me from other applicants in Russia. Having experience of studying and partially working abroad, gave me a significant advantage as I started working at an international company, where the cultural gap between expatriates coming to work in Russia and locals was wide. I could leverage my international experience which was so rare at the time. As I progressed through my career, just having this advanced degree from the University of Rhode Island gave me the confidence to pursue my goals.”
Ambition, tenacity, and the ability to step out of her comfort zone led Tatiana Eliseeva to her latest appointment–CFO of Sandoz, a $10B turnover generics division of Novartis, serving the purpose of pioneering access to medicines for patients. She credits much of her success to that professor she met at NovSU back in 2000. “Everyone needs a person who believes in you early in your career, and Dean Ebrahimpour was that person for me. When I was doubting myself back in 2000, Dean Maling told me that with the rapidly changing world, learning agility is what matters the most – and I always think of that every time I am faced with the challenge of stepping out of my comfort zone and stretching for the next role.”
Tatiana has worked with many truly authentic and inspiring leaders and feels very lucky to have met many people both personally and professionally who invested their time and effort in her growth. “I dream to have a similar impact on people around me.”
Tatiana will soon be relocating to Basel, Switzerland to assume her new role as CFO. She will be joined by her husband, Andrey, and their three children, Stepan (12), Arsenii (11), and Veronika (6).
Over the course of her robust and successful career, Tatiana Eliseeva has learned a great deal. “One piece of advice I would give to anyone starting their career – be open-minded. If you desire to work in marketing, consider entry to any function in the company which is of interest to you. You will not only acquire diverse experience but will also be able to see how the company operates, putting you in the best position to pick the role which most suits you. The more curious and agile you are – the better are your chances to advance.”