Meet Anna Khoruzhaya, VP, Strategy, Planning and Global Go-to-Market, Strategic Initiatives. An avid explorer, Anna likes to set herself personal challenges on her travels. Having already reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a trek to Mt. Fuji is next on the list for Anna. We sat down with her to chat about her career journey, the mantra that inspires her and why she believes Rakuten Symphony will change the landscape of the telecom industry.
Tell us about your journey before Rakuten Symphony
I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and raised by (almost) the Black Sea in a city called Krasnodar. I left the country about twelve years ago and went to Germany where I did my Master's Degree focusing on IFRS and began my career with KPMG in auditing. So my foundation comes from accounting and finance. Due to my natural inclination towards entrepreneurship and the team bonding that comes with starting something new, I moved to an incubation VC and ultimately one of its back then start-ups, HelloFresh.
Soon after, I felt the need to invest in my personal growth, so I packed my belongings after spending eight years in Germany and moved to London for a couple years to get my MBA from London Business School, focusing on strategy, marketing and change management. While in B-school, I kick-started a program called “Elevate” to help MBAs learn how to transition their career into the tech world. I also got an opportunity to work at Rakuten Group in Tokyo in the summer in the Global Data Science Department.
I fell in love with Japan over the two months and when I was given an offer to join Rakuten Mobile to work on its global expansion and bring its state-of-the-art technology to other telcos, I couldn't say no. I was one of the first people who joined Rakuten Symphony, even before it had its name. I hit the ground running in the Sales and Marketing team, speaking to over 100 telecom operators in the first six months and helping secure our first major deal. It has been a great roller-coaster experience so far!
What would you say are your current roles and responsibilities?
Currently, my primary role is to drive our go-to-market (GTM) strategy and be the liaison for strategic customers and potential clients, understanding their issues and pain points and acting as a mediator when facing any challenges. I am also driving the sustainable business strategy for the company as we develop our identity as a sustainability leader, providing sustainable solutions. If you would ask me to describe my work in two words, I would say that I am a “problem solver”.
"I often feel like Rakuten Symphony is a sudden gust of cool air on a very hot day and I feel proud to be part of this movement."
What excites you about the industry you are working in?
Telecom is one of the few industries that still has not fully transitioned its workloads into the cloud. The fact that we are driving this change excites me. I often feel like Rakuten Symphony is a sudden gust of cool air on a very hot day and I feel proud to be part of this movement.
Part of my work is impacting the industry by showing customers how they can increase their average revenue per user (ARPU) without impacting the wallets of the end-consumers. Our case studies build trust and help them rethink traditional ways of doing business. Hopefully, in the long run it will also make connectivity more available to all. That definitely gets me going.
What does a day in your life usually look like?
Each day is different than the last and even though I may have a plan, I always end up adapting. Creating and maintaining relationships with our major suppliers who are crucial to our work is currently a big part of my daily routine next to critical customer interactions. My other big mission is to see how we can structure our team to meet business objectives and so I spend time working with teams along with our Chief Business Officer to help Rakuten Symphony grow. As mentioned already, I’ve also started looking into our sustainable business strategy.
Is there a mantra or quote you keep going back to for inspiration?
“Just do it.” I do not like pointing the finger at others. When I realize that things are not going according to plan, I like to step in and do my best to keep the wheel turning. Admittedly, it is not always easy and that’s okay.
What are some of your passions and hobbies?
I am an explorer. I love learning about new cultures and I am an avid traveller. Additionally, on my journeys, personal challenges are set. Five years ago (time flies!), I reached the summit of Mt.Kilimanjaro and I plan on conquering Mt. Fuji soon. If you are searching for an unforgettable experience in Japan, I recommend trekking the Kumano Kodo trail. Sailing was another challenge set and achieved, but I think a quick refresher course may be needed.
Learning new languages is also a big passion. I am fluent in Russian, German and English, have some Spanish basics, and currently I am tackling Japanese which feels quite relaxing.
Media which beautifully depicts the culture and history of a region is something I love. My top three recent books include “The Setting Sun” by Osamu Dazai, “Naomi” by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki and “Snow Country” by Yasunari Kawabata. If you are interested in learning about Japanese society, I would highly recommend these. As far as TV shows and movies, “The Crown” and “Fargo” on Netflix and Studio Ghibli movies (recently “Grave of the Fireflies”) are my favorites.
"By Day Two, I was already quite burnt out. Our guide kept on saying, 'One step, one day at a time.' His expertise came in handy when on Summit Day, I could see the top but my legs had given up... This experience taught me to be more patient and forgiving and also to trust myself."
Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro must have been a life changing event. Is there any particular memory from the hike that has stuck with you?
Approaching my 30th birthday, I wanted to set myself a challenge. I had to train for nine months to get used to the physical stress and the lack of oxygen at high altitudes. During the seven-day hike, we were told it would only be possible if we listen to our body, nourishing it and giving it time to recover.
By Day Two, I was already quite burnt out. Our guide kept on saying, “One step, one day at a time”. His expertise came in handy when on Summit Day, I could see the top but my legs had given up. I remembered his advice and took one step at a time, taking breaks as needed. Had I not managed to will my body to go on, I would have fallen short of finishing my challenge. This experience taught me to be more patient and forgiving and also to trust myself.
Finally, what are some of the personal and professional goals you have set yourself for the near future?
I would like to meditate and run regularly again, something I used to do earlier. Climbing Mt. Fuji is also a personal goal for me in 2022.
Professionally, having an additional role of leading our sustainability efforts at Rakuten Symphony, I would like to build the team and drive impact not only within the company but also across the whole industry.
Interested in joining us on our journey to reimagine telecom, see our current job postings here.