It Gets Boring When You’ve Figured Out The System

Development starts where your comfort zone ends – Ivars Sudmalis is building his life on this principle

In order to progress, one has to break oneself – this is the belief of Ivars Sudmalis (28), Media Department Manager at the Marketing Communications Agency Alpha Baltic in Latvia and the co-owner and Business Development Manager at its Lithuanian and Estonian branches. “I’m very scared of heights, but I love to overcome my fears – I’ve done bungee jumping six or seven times,” Ivars says, and adds that this is exactly how he once started downhill skiing, sold his skis last winter, and resorted to learning snowboarding. The same goes for his professional life. Ivars does not like staying at the same place for too long, that’s why he has changed his jobs every so often. “When I figure out the system, I become bored. I find it exciting to have to dig through something new all the time.” That is what Ivars is enjoying now at Alpha Baltic, where he has been working for six years, and he plans to stay there for at least six more.

Ivars began supporting himself when he moved to Riga from his hometown Aizkraukle after his high school exams. As a country guy, it was difficult to find work, but his brother helped out by offering Ivars an Accounting Assistant position with his accounting firm Finansu Partneri. Ivars tried to choose a university that allowed him to have time for work. He has always liked math, so he applied at three places – international relations and economics at the RSU, law at the Baltic Russian Institute, and finance at the BA School of Business and Finance. He was admitted at all three. Ivars favoured the RSU the most, but they didn’t have an evening department. Law was his backup option, so Ivars chose to stay with the BA, from which he successfully graduated later.

By the end of his first study semester, Ivars started working at a new job – a training company Business Ideas Academy. There he gained extensive experience in sales, and selling training services to companies he learned how to make stress-free calls both to his peers and company CEOs. Ivars is proud that he was able to establish a lasting cooperation with a customer as big as Latvijas Krājbanka. “It was my job and my client, which I raised, cherished and pushed for growth.” Ivars has learned a lot about development rules and the role of company management from his supervisor Ina Gudele, the former Minister for Electronic Affairs. However, when SIA Unibind Dokumentu serviss offered Ivars a similar position, promising him a goldmine, he agreed to change jobs. The goldmine didn’t work out, so this was a short change in Ivars’ career.

Oooh, I’m a guru!

Ivars took his first steps in marketing and advertising, when he became a Project Manager at the Agricultural Market Promotion Centre, which is a body of the Latvian State Agrarian Economics Institute. “When I first implemented a project worth 11,000 lats, I thought – oooh! I’m the biggest marketing guru,” Ivars laughs and tells how he implemented a fruit and vegetable sales promotion campaign, how he took over and developed a Fisheries Information Centre in Latvia, and coordinated international relations and helped a lot with the promotion of the ‘Green Spoon’ brand. “I visited everybody to talk about the projects, sometimes even without knowing whom I was visiting and how I should behave there. Nevertheless, everything went smoothly,” Ivars remembers that he just went and did his job, without contaminating his brain with theoretical notions of how business talks should be led. His professional colleagues were always ready to offer advice, too.

When after almost two years Ivars became too comfortable and relaxed at the centre, where there were no new challenges on the horizon, he agreed to take part in a contest for a position at the marketing communications agency Alpha Baltic (then – Alfa Centrs). “And that’s how I got stuck here,” Ivars smiles. “I remember opening my first media plan. My sister called me and I told her – I just opened an Excel file with an awful lot of columns, and I don’t understand anything!”

Ivars has been working with media projects at Alpha Baltic since the beginning. He realised early that it was easier for him to work with media planners who, like him, were people of numbers, and not the creative ones, although the Media and Creative Departments did not split until later. Ivars would not name any special projects that he remembers but says that they were all good. “It is extremely gratifying, when you start by creating a small marketing campaign for the customer, and soon you start doing everything with them – that’s where you grow and progress together with the customer.”

A working day from 8.00 to 23.00

When a separate Media Department was created with the agency, Ivars was offered to take up its lead. He selected a team of project managers, which he now considers one of the most powerful teams in the industry, and now “I am one of those guys who propel the department, bring in new customers and develop them.” Some years ago, the owner of the agency entrusted Ivars with the development and management of Alpha Baltic branches in Lithuania and Estonia. The main challenge here is to make all three national teams work according to the same principles and in the same direction, because “Estonians are very Scandinavian, Latvians are more on the Slavic side, and Lithuanians are… quite clearly Polish”. Each mentality brings in its own vision to the collective work, and now Ivars has basically become the strategic consultant, as strong local managers have been recruited in both neighbour countries.

Ivars’ task at the moment is to improve the agency’s services wherever possible – be it by new project management tools or through an open dialogue with customers about the topic of “Tell me my strengths and weaknesses.” It is exciting, he admits, because one must keep up with the rapid changes and dynamics of the industry. Ivars enjoys coming to work because of his team. The constant broadening of contacts and horizons is an advantage as well. As a personal minus, Ivars mentions his inability to separate work time from leisure time. “My working day often starts with the first meeting at 8.00 in the morning and the last meeting ends at 23.00. Every now and then I have a small breakdown, when I feel that I need to stop and rest. But it’s not like I burn myself idle. For example, I now that I’ll be in an acceleration mode until November, and then I’ll be off to Hawaii relaxing with my friends. Last year I went to Australia, and the year before that – to New York,” Ivars tells. In his free time, Ivars enjoys wakeboarding and riding his bike.
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