An interview with Alina Zheleznyakova on a passionate love of people, work and veterinary community

by Fiona Farmer BVSc MRCVS

Alina is energetic and passionate and has an energy you can’t help but be drawn into. Her life has been entwined by storytelling, from poems as a child into a highly successful career in marketing and she has an innate skill to find the right words to showcase her work. It’s a privilege to be the one who now gets to write the words showcasing Alina.

“My mother was horrified when I told her I wanted to be a professional poet,” laughs Alina. “She said, ‘They live in poverty.’ To my parents, education was important, it was a priority. I don’t remember having lots of toys as a child, but I did have a great education.”

Alina didn’t end up a poet, although reading, writing, dancing and all things creative were a large part of her growing up. Instead, she went to university and gained a degree in linguistics and international communications. She didn’t know it then, but she would go on to move countries, leaving her native Russia, to work in a company with employees from all across the world, so her course set her in a good position for a future she was on the brink of starting.

She moved into a marketing job for a company that was selling and installing printing presses for printing magazines and newspapers. “That was where I found my love of science. Science had always been a big part of my upbringing as both my parents are aviation engineers, but unfortunately, I was never any good at maths or science at school. But engaging with science from a marketing perspective was amazing, and I realised how much of a crossover with storytelling there was.”

Alina went on to move from printing into the veterinary industry. “I enjoyed the science, and I’ve always been on the creative side, and then everything merged into one big dream ball when I got to add animals into the mix. The veterinary industry is so special because it’s full of compassion and a love for animals.”

But how did a printing marketeer in Russia end up working for NationWide Laboratories in the UK? “I met my husband in my old job,” she beams, “And it’s quite difficult to live in two countries so we were discussing what the future held and it made sense for me to move to England because I could speak the language.”

On her arrival, Alina spotted a job at NationWide Laboratories as a customer marketing manager. “I applied, and I got the job! I progressed to a wider marketing manager, then to the head of marketing and communications in laboratories, and as from this year, I’m also overlooking VetIT, which is part of the NVS group.” She smiles, “So I ended up looking after two prominent brands in the veterinary industry which is quite exciting.”

Alina is passionate about her job and it’s obvious how proud she is of the work her company do and the people that she works with. “My job is so interesting as I do such a wide spectrum of activities. On one side I have the experts and pathologists who have studied so hard to get to where they are. I see my role as helping them share that knowledge, be it as webinars or CPD or events. You can’t let all of that amazing knowledge go without sharing it! On the other hand, we’re very strong on customer relationships. That is what sets us apart.”

Alina loves people; wherever she goes she loves talking to people, hearing their stories and helping to find solutions to their problems. “I am responsible for our Voice of the Customer programme, which helps us get feedback from our clients and the veterinary community. It’s very important – people love the ability to talk to another person, and my job is figuring out how best to communicate with them. Nobody cares if you have the best lab test in the world, but people do care about which problem your service helps to solve, and being able to identify the problem and communicate a solution is one of the things that I do.”

“Every day I learn something new. There is this constant development, constant learning, just like a rolling ball. You don’t get stagnated. Your brain doesn’t die.”

I commented once again on her fiery passion for her work. “Well, I think that if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, if you are bored, then you probably need to stop moaning and re-think what you’re doing. Because it’s not your job’s fault that you’re bored. Maybe it’s time to move on when you stop being passionate about what you’re doing. We spend so much time at work, and time is precious. So, if you’re not passionate, it’s just wasted.”

I wanted to know what Alina thought made her so good at her job. “I wouldn’t say that I’m perfect, but I think that what makes me reasonably good is that I listen and I always ask a question. ‘Why? Why should people get engaged with the content I am creating? What’s in it for them?’”

“I always try to think, ‘How can I help the customer?’ as then the communication will be successful. We know that the veterinary community have a lot of challenges. And as a marketeer, you have to provide the level of communication that helps them solve their problems.”

More than just ‘reasonably good’, Alina has won an award at the prestigious VMA (Veterinary Marketing Awards). The winning campaign was centred around the things NationWide Laboratories do well in the labs, around their love for animals and around the customer voice feedback. “Our campaign was ‘One World, One Passion, One Team’ and it’s so amazing to have won as I almost didn’t enter!”

“I thought that there were so many companies with big budgets and big teams, but I was encouraged to enter and so I did. I didn’t think we would win, I didn’t even go to the awards! But it was so amazing for the whole team to get the recognition. It definitely brings them together and also gives them an opportunity to realise how well they’re doing their job.”

Alina is a champion of her team. She instigated an internal newsletter where she updates the whole team across all NationWide Laboratories sites in the country as to what members of staff have been getting up to. She has also been instrumental in organising interviews such as these, to shine a light on her deserving team who would never put themselves forward without her. She laughs “Well, I always end up saying ‘M is for marketing, not for mummy!’ But I tend to mummy a lot of things because I take it personally.”  She explains why she likes to showcase her team members, “People in labs, or tech support – it can be easy to forget they’re there, but they’re also an integral part of the veterinary community helping vets provide the best possible care for their animal patients. We do things like Testimonial Tuesdays or social media posts on our team’s pets. Small things to bring the human, personal touch.”

We spoke a lot about her job and the veterinary industry as a whole. I was curious to know what Alina thought the biggest challenges to the industry were at the moment. I shouldn’t have been surprised that her answer wasn’t big and vague like “recruitment or burnout” but focused in on aspects that affect every individual. And of course she followed by describing her way of helping. “Communication with clients can be challenging. Everyone is experiencing difficult times now and there are many difficult conversations. But this is where marketing and communications can help, because you listen to people and then you say, ‘Right, I obviously can’t solve all the problems for you, nobody can, but this is what we can do as a practice, as a business or as a professional.’”

“It’s only by talking and communicating that we can work out the best way to keep us going to help us overcome those challenges. I am not a clinical professional by any means, but I’ve been working in marketing for over 20 years, I’ve spoken to a lot of people, and I would say that I understand human nature reasonably well and being able to find the right words.”

I couldn’t help but comment on how impressive it is Alina can find the right words in her second language. “I don’t think it’s very impressive because when I’m in England, I think permanently in English. When I’m back in the Russian speaking environment it takes me a couple of days to get used to it, but then it’s just like you take out one SIM card, you put in another SIM card and you’re good to go!” she laughs. “I started learning English when I was seven and I remember my first English teacher. She showed us the picture of Big Ben and a Scottie dog. And I thought, wow, I want to be able to see it in real life one day. And then I thought, I will.”

Alina moved to the UK to be with her husband and had to start rebuilding a new life. “It’s not like when you’re a child; making friends in your 30s is harder. But I love people, so I went to lots of clubs, and actually a lot of my current friendships have come from work, so this is another thing I’m very grateful to NationWide Laboratories for. They brought me together with some amazing people that I’m fortunate to call friends and we are quite an international group.”

I needn’t speak more on Alina’s dedication to her work, it is glaringly obvious. I wanted to know what life outside of work looked like. “I like walking, I like reading, I like travelling. Travelling is my one of the biggest passions because I love meeting people from different cultures. I’ve been to so many places, US, China, a lot of Europe; but my favourite place ever is Scotland. My heart is in the Highlands, with the deer and the pheasants. In Scotland, standing next to a beautiful loch, you get that feeling that you can breathe deeply! And the mushrooms, so many beautiful wild mushrooms, it’s like a fairy land.”

“I used to have a big commute so I would read a lot, I still love reading. I also run every morning, whatever the weather. I have my set loop and I see the same people and the same dogs each morning!”

“Even if it’s raining and cold I run. Since COVID I work from home a lot more and so it’s easy to find yourself sitting at your laptop lost in work for hours, especially if it’s a creative job. So, to get up and moving first thing is very important.”

She spends her weekends out and about, often on long walks with her husband. “We are fortunate enough to live in a beautiful area. We live near the coast, and a short driving distance from the Lake District.”

We talked a bit about being far away from family. “That’s the only thing that is hard for me. But I make sure to speak to my mum almost every day, just for a quick conversation. In fact, my sister lives very close to my mum but she says that she speaks to me more often! I go back every year to see them, and it makes you realise that you are getting older, but they are too. My time spent with my family is very precious”

So where does Alina, who wanted to be a poet but ended up in the veterinary industry, see herself in 10 years’ time? “I don’t know, because I just try to do my best every day and be curious, and who knows where that takes you. You can make plans, but life corrects your plans and I think an important thing is to be able to go with the flow and to be able to adapt. And to always be able to find things you enjoy, find things you’re passionate about, rather than getting yourself in a situation when you feel you’re trapped. This is where I see myself in 10 years’ time – I don’t see myself trapped. I see myself free and I see myself passionate and enthusiastic about what I’m doing because this is what I am.”

I asked her what that seven-year-old girl learning English would think of where she is now. “I think she would be pleased with me. And that Scottie dog; back then I didn’t know Scotland even existed!” I couldn’t finish our conversation without asking Alina the same question I’ve asked her other team members, ‘How would you describe yourself in one sentence?’

“Well, I think I’m curious. And although they say that curiosity killed the cat, I don’t think it’s my scenario. I think my curiosity and the desire to find out about things drives me forward, so I would say yes, I’m curious and I’m passionate and I’m doing everything I do to the best of my ability.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

NationWide Laboratories is committed to making a positive impact on animal health by offering innovative products, technology and laboratory services to your veterinary practice. They have been providing a comprehensive range of veterinary diagnostic services since 1983. Their expert teams can assist you in making decisions on relevant testing for companion, exotic and farm animals. They offer full interpretation in a range of testing areas including biochemistry, haematology, cytology, histopathology, endocrinology, microbiology, etc. Their sample collection service is powered by National Veterinary Services.



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