Being an ethical leadership champion: Andrey Gunin’s invaluable insights

Being an ethical leadership champion: Andrey Gunin’s invaluable insights

Photo courtesy of Andrey Gunin

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In the fast-paced and interconnected world of business, the concepts of corporate governance and ethical decision-making have never been more pertinent. Andrey Gunin, a seasoned professional with an extensive and exciting background spanning corporate leadership, entrepreneurship, and academia, who offers a nuanced perspective on these critical topics. 

Gunin’s journey through the corridors of corporate power has afforded him a unique vantage point from which to observe the evolution of corporate governance. From his early days managing large companies such as Rolf or Svyaznoy Group with significant international exposure to his later role as an advisor to consumer companies and fintech startups on matters of governance and business strategy, Gunin has witnessed firsthand the changing dynamics of corporate governance. He emphasizes that governance goes beyond mere compliance with regulatory standards; it encompasses the ethical fabric of business operations. In Gunin’s view, the term “governance” often serves as a euphemism for ethics, highlighting the reluctance of many organizations to openly discuss ethical considerations in their decision-making processes.

In today’s digital era, where information flows freely and reputations can be made or broken in an instant, the ethical dimension of corporate behavior has assumed greater importance than ever before. Gunin argues that ethical considerations are no longer confined to the realm of regulatory compliance; they permeate every aspect of corporate strategy, project management, and marketing activities. He thinks that the economics textbooks may need to be soon rewritten as the ethical dimension of the business, and corporate governance as part of it, has become almost a new factor of production, along with the traditional land, labor, capital, entrepreneurship, and information.

Gunin sees how business is adjusting to this new reality mainly by creating new executive roles within organizations. But the real answer to the ethical dilemmas should be much deeper than this. In an increasingly polarized and interconnected world organizations need to adopt a proactive approach to ethics. He shares anecdotes from his corporate career, recounting instances where tough ethical choices had to be made. In one memorable case, Gunin describes how a high-ranking colleague was swiftly terminated for attempting to falsify records in an insurance case to protect the company from losing a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Despite the colleague’s good intentions to avoid financial loss, the company prioritized ethical integrity over short-term gains, setting a precedent for principled decision-making within the organization. Later on, his colleagues shared with him that it became easier for them to make decisions when they confronted an ethical dilemma because that precedent gave them an assurance that they indeed had an opportunity to do what was ethically right.

Another example cited by Andrey Gunin is a legal case that reached the Supreme Court of the United States. Management of a small company refused to include the costs of contraception in their medical insurance coverage due to their religious preferences. The court ruling established that some corporations can have “sincerely held religious beliefs” and requiring them to provide birth control as part of a health insurance package violated federal law. Clearly, the management made a decision based on their ethical assessment. But this is an example of a very divisive topic where other people would make a different choice, based on their ethical preferences. If the management can make social decisions based on their own views, what about employees or minority shareholders who disagree with such views. Gunin believes that we are going to witness more and more examples of decisions which are challenged on ethical grounds and which are brought to the courtroom and it will be really interesting to see how the legal systems in different countries are going to respond to that.

Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels

Professionalism and moral guidance have helped Gunin to achieve success in the corporate world on the national and international level. From 2004 to 2016 he served as the CFO of two largest private companies in Russia. He has been acknowledged as one of the best top managers in his country by multiple appearances in the prestigious ratings of Kommersant, the main Russian daily business paper. His network of business partners has spread throughout the world from New York to Tokyo. Having built a strong reputation, at the age of 40 he decided to leave the ivory tower of a corporate executive and embarked on a new journey as an entrepreneur by opening his private financial consulting practice and at the same time launching his own projects.  

He candidly discusses the challenges of transitioning from the structured environment of a large corporation to the dynamic world of entrepreneurship. His first own project trying to build a mobile app which combined social network and gamification features did not take off commercially despite very positive feedback received from the first few thousands of users. It did not set Gunin back and he launched with his partners a new consumer brand MyBearMood, a clothing line that gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic and since then earned a few millions of dollars in revenue.  

Gunin’s consulting practice involved projects with large consumer goods companies as well as fintech startups capitalizing on his unprecedented experience in finance and vast network of professional contacts with bankers and investors. One of such projects was a management consulting job for one of the large industrial groups in Russia combining several business divisions. At that point of time this group was at the start of implementation of a very ambitious project to build a private city in the middle of the field a few hours away from Moscow. This city was planned with a view of making life there much more comfortable, ecological and fulfilling compared to a standard city. The team had interesting advanced ideas of zone planning, architecture and city management. Gunin loved the idea but it quickly became obvious to him that funding would be number one issue for them. Banks do not fund such projects; other serious investors would also find it very risky before the project proves its viability. He came up with an idea how they could build the first few blocks of houses there as rental buildings with guaranteed rental income which could be much easier sold to certain types of investors. This was the first step in the construction which demonstrated to the banks and institutional investors that the project was moving forward and the funding conversations became much easier after that. That city is now officially put on the map and has the first few thousands of residents. 

Photo courtesy of Andrey Gunin

This project had another unexpected outcome as it paved the way to the academia world. A prestigious Moscow university, having learned about his role in the new city development, asked Gunin to read lectures on real estate finance to their students. In response Gunin decided to prepare his own course which would focus on general management issues and the ethical side of business. He wanted to talk to the students about things that shape people’s behavior but often remain unsaid or go unnoticed and to help the next generation of business leaders understand why ethics are so important. Gunin uses real-life examples and practical tools to teach his students how to make good decisions. One of these tools is a specific ethical decision-making model which should help his students tackle difficult moral dilemmas. He hopes that by sharing his experiences, he can inspire others to lead with integrity and make a positive impact in the business world. 

As Gunin keeps going on his journey, he stays focused on promoting good ethics and responsible business practices. With his unique blend of experience and expertise, Gunin serves as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring professionals seeking to make a positive impact in the world of business. In a world where technology is always changing and people expect more from businesses, Gunin’s ideas and actions remind us that being moral and doing the right thing are really important. By sticking to these values, businesses can earn people’s trust and make the world a better place.

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