01 Jun 2000
Going Public: Herman I. Safin
Reformer on the Charlesby Amy E. DeanTopics:
Unlike the culture-shocked Russian who defected to America in the movie Moscow on the Hudson, Lithuanian-born Herman Safin arrived at HBS already familiar with the ways of the West. Beginning with his high-school years in the former Soviet Union -- which coincided with the wide-ranging economic and political reforms of perestroika -- Safin's educational and professional background has prepared him well for a career in the global economy.
The winner of the first public elections ever held at his high school, Safin served as student body head for two years and graduated in 1988 as class valedictorian. "Being a student body leader during such a controversial time proved to be most rewarding," says the polished and gracious Safin, who speaks English with the barest trace of an accent. "I was able to take the initiative to expel ideology and explore new ways to organize student life."
Despite those accomplishments, however, his first application to the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) was turned down. "I had one year to deal with my failure," Safin relates. He used that time to prepare to take the entrance exams again and says his success the second time around taught him an important life lesson: "to strive for the best and have faith in myself."
At MGIMO, Safin was selected to participate in the American Collegiate Consortium Exchange Program. His experience at Washington and Lee University in rural Virginia was something of a challenge. "I was one of only fifteen or so foreign students on campus," he recalls, "and as an exchange student, it was initially hard for me to feel at home at this southern, conservative institution." Remarkably, Safin again graduated as class valedictorian, the first non-American so honored at Washington and Lee.
After two years working as an analyst in the Financial Institutions Group at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York, Safin was given the option to become an assistant to the CFO or an associate in investment banking in Moscow. "I was living this glamorous life on Wall Street," Safin smiles, "but I had been away from my parents and family for such a long time. Going back was the best move I ever made."
He credits his parents with giving him the freedom to pursue his own path in life. "Every day, they are part of my life. They have helped me to feel that I've achieved something and to look at how much more I can do."
At Credit Suisse's Moscow office, Safin drew on his New York experience to help instill a more global perspective. His ambitions then brought him to HBS, where he has worked to broaden his management skills and to continue his professional "evolution."
In addition to his studies at the School, Safin has continued his tradition of student leadership, serving in the student senate. A gifted pianist and a former Lithuanian ballroom dancing champion, he played selections from Rachmaninoff and Chopin at an HBS piano recital and also choreographed and danced in the annual HBS Show.
Safin graduates with an offer from Siebel Systems, a fast-growing California software development company. His Edmund S. Muskie/Freedom Support Act Graduate Fellowship requires him to spend at least two years in the republics of the former Soviet Union. "Since Siebel is making a big push into Eastern Europe right now," he notes, "I hope to be one of the first there to help them do that."
Photography by Webb Chappell