Oil and Gas Industrial zone,The equipment of oil refining,Close-up of industrial pipelines of an oil-refinery plant,Detail of oil pipeline with valves in large oil refinery.

The EXPAT

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21. Russia #2 – St. Petersburg

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Early Russia – St. Petersburg – 2/22/94
Dear Carol, This piece was from St. Petersberg, now dividing my time between St. Pete and Moscow.  Missed the bus again this morning.  I got to bed last night at 10:30, thought I had the jet lag licked, but woke up at 2am as though it was the middle of the day. So I flipped the TV on, watched Tom Brokaw do the evening news, then watched the last half of a Robert Taylor black & white movie. Don’t know when I finally got to sleep. Anyway the desk didn’t give me a wakeup call, second time, I’d better get an alarm clock.

Ed Frey talked to me about how I could contribute half time to a very sorry operation. His biggest problem, or the one he doesn’t have covered well, was with marketing. He explained it and felt like I could manage it half-time. So, I’m a marketing guru, helping an inept Russian try to get the department turned around. Its not really marketing but sales. It is not difficult to see where the problems are.

The difficulty is in getting people who have simply done what they were told for all their professional careers to think. Suddenly, the old Russian market they have served all these years is not doing so well do orders are down, the factor is underutilized. It’s a new thought to try to go out and try to sell their product. They are suspicious of any expat (non-Russian) customer. The key is in getting measures of their performance so they can become accountable for their jobs.

When they did the first sales forecast, the numbers were what the plant was capable of producing, not what they expected to sell. I’ve been working on that concept the last three days. And it goes with less than half-speed with the translators. But I felt like a few lights went on today. Some of the group has the attitude “we outlived the Germans 200 years, we’ll outlast Booz-Allen too.” However, it will probably never change for them.

I will work the Booz tomorrow and Thursday work then work two potential Xerox printer manufacturers with Boris on Friday. We will take a train Friday night to Moscow (a Pullman type with separate compartments) and begin the Synchron Q training on Saturday. We will return to St. Petersburg on Tuesday. I will be able to look for a branch in Moscow Sunday. When I get back I’m going to look for an apartment for us in earnest. The ones I have seen are ones the Booz guys have been looking at. I don’t like the area they are in. You will be able to go to Moscow with me when I go during this train-the-trainer startup schedule. The Booz 5 on, 1 off would let us spend a week in Europe or wherever or fly on to the states.  The Booz laptop computer went out on me. My brain is in the beastly thing. Hope I can get it fixed.

From Russia: Dear Carol,
What a great talk we had last night. I just finished breakfast, then walked around the ship on the open deck. It’s 8:30, only a little light. The days are short here. There are several people already out on the ice fishing. The fish they catch are only about 3 to 6 inches long, kind of like sardines. But one guy had a small bag filled with them. The people on the ice are real friendly even though we can’t communicate.

As Boris and I were walking from the Trade show to the hotel, a funny looking vehicle came across the ice near the bank. A guy climbed out the top and hollered in Russian. Boris talked with him for a while, then Boris invited me to take a ride on the thing, cost $5.00. The guy was a little scraggly type, about 60, and his vehicle had a big propeller in the air and it would cruise about 40 mph just off the ice surface. It was a hoot. That was when we stopped and spoke to some of the ice fishermen. The guy had pictures of trips he had made to the waters (ice) above Siberia and the big mammoth tusks they had found.

I’m waiting for Boris, he will come at 9:00 so we can organize what we learned at the trade show for Steve and Ilya. They will be here at 10:00. Looking forward to this day.
The computer quit on me, don’t know what’s wrong. Hope I can get it going when I get back to work tomorrow. There is a business center here on the ship, they have computers for rent, so I’m not totally shot down.  Well hon, need to get this package ready for the mail Much love, Bob

2/23/94 Dear Carol, sitting here en-route to Helsinki, Finland on Finnair Airlines. Its 8:40 am, just finished the meal served. It was very good, rice & chicken. The trip to the airport (Cleveland) was quick, the cabbie was a bit unkempt, scraggly long hair & a beard, smoked all the way but not a bad sort. He and his brother had lived in one of the units at Trenton when they were new, over 20 years ago or so, he said.
The TWA 3:30 flight I was scheduled for and been cancelled, that why Sue got me on an earlier flight on Delta. That was good since I had to take the bus to the Finnair terminal from Delta when I got to Kennedy. I forgot how big a real international airport can be. Anyway, I didn’t have a minute to spare.
Ed brought me the printer just at boarding time. We didn’t have much time to talk. He won’t come to St. Petersburg for 2 weeks. He just made a new hot contact with a guy who wants to buy rope from Russia. I need to get Ilya looking for samples right away. While I was with Maurice this morning he was on the phone with Richard in Paris, more (different) diamond deals going on. I will spend about half my time managing the 3 guys on the Stumhammer job (2 Russia and, one a retired foundry expert) and half time working Synchron deals. One of the hottest things right now is the Synchron University. They are working with a guy who is in the process of starting a technical/engineering school at two locations and wants to do it with us. He will give us an entire floor in a big Booz-Allen type building. I’ll keep you updated. Sounds like much good opportunities are coming from several angles.

They have located a company that can build the Xerox printer & wants to badly. That is something that will make my initial job much easier. They have a map on the TV monitor showing where the plane is on the route and words telling how much farther to go, how many hours more, our altitude and speed. We have 2957 more miles, 5 ½ hours more. Everyone on the plane is reading & speaking in Finnish!

I just caught a lot of the Olympic skating & saw Kerrigen do very well. It looked lit Tonja was in 11th place. Too bad. I’ve been spending all my time at Booz trying to get a handle on it.

2/25/94 Dear Carol, it was so good talking to you twice on the phone last night. I just had breakfast with Boris and Jim & getting ready to visit a couple of plants with Ilya and Boris. Jim is the Booz guy who is from Dallas. We ride to work together in the van each day. He was married in the same year we were. Tonight Ilya and I ride to Moscow on the train, to return Tuesday. Steve and Maurice should be here when we return.

It’s interesting, in the plant to save energy costs, the elevators are shut down at 6:30 pm. Whenever we work after that we have to walk down from the 7th floor. Good thing its down and not up. Small blessings. Got to go, Love you, Bob

Trip Report, Bob Robertson,St. Petersburg, Russia, April 22 – 30 Saturday, April 30, 199
I’ll summarize the past week & a half in St. Petersburg since my return on Friday, April 22, from the comforts of this Delta Flight 25. I can’t express the profound relief felt being on the plane in my own seat, knowing the luggage is checked through and that several hours lie ahead without a line to wait in. It began when the driver picked me up at the hotel at 6:05 am, getting to the airport at 6:50. I had three very heavy pieces of luggage to check through, weighed down by the many books and manuals I have for the classes in Moscow.

The first stop was the customs desk where all the luggage goes through the x-ray and they check our declarations. The biggest thing they check for is to see that you are not taking more dollars or rubles out of the country than you brought in. They will just summarily pluck any difference from your person. That is, they don’t want you taking wealth out of the country, only bringing it in. They are also cautious about antique paintings or drawings. Specific rules about how old such a piece is and how much it is worth determine whether you can take it out. One party at the hotel told me how they have a routine to smuggle anything into Finland that doesn’t meet the requirements. They had made a deal with the widow of a famous painter in St. Petersburg and are removing all of the works in the collection surreptitiously.

The last time I went through this routine I was behind a party with Israeli passports and customs went through every bag with enthusiasm, albeit a very long wait. They have never questioned my declarations (must be the honest face???…)

Anyway, about 20 minutes in that line with the stack of luggage (I also had three pieces of carry-on luggage, briefcase, computer, and shaving kit). The next line was the airline check-in. My ticket said the flight was to depart at 7:40, but the sign behind the counter said 7:00. It was 7:15 when I saw that. But not to worry, I was in a line behind about 20 people on the same flight so I figured they would make allowances. Upon finally getting to the counter jockeying my six pieces it was 7:40, they didn’t argue with the third piece to check through and I was finally unburdened with the biggies.

Next line was the passport booth, only another 15 minutes and I found myself at the door behind which everyone on the flight was waiting for a bus to take us out to the flight. I was the last one to squeeze on the bus as the doors slammed shut and away we went. The plane was not close to the air terminal. As I fell off when the doors opened it put me at the front of the line and I was the first onto the plane. I could put my carry-on stuff anywhere. So I did. And here I am reflecting on the events of the past 10 days with fingers at the keyboard.

The events began when I left Cleveland at 2:30 on Thursday the 21st, arrived at Kennedy at 4:00, then leaving for Stockholm at 6:45, then arriving in St. Petersburg at 1:30 Friday afternoon. I was able to spend about 4 hours at the plant that afternoon before going to the hotel. Cleaned off my desk and got an update from Ed for the following week. The board meeting was scheduled for Tuesday so we had Monday to pull the deck together for their presentation. This is something we had all been working toward so there was not a sense of panic. We left for the hotel about 7:00.

As I was going into the hotel I met Ilya, Ed, and Boris coming out. Ilya & Ed were taking the train to Moscow that evening and Boris was going the next day. I was scheduled to take the midnight train that night also for Saturday classes. Anyway, we had time to talk about the situation before they left. Since I was going on a later train that same night, Boris stayed in my room at the hotel.

Ilya met me at the train with Ed and took me to the first session at MAMI (institute in Moscow) where we just discussed things with the 20 participants who showed up. The materials weren’t fully translated for this session so we scheduled the first class next time and just answered questions about Synchron.

A woman, Ludmila Konareva (PhD, author, lecturer on TQM, etc., etc.) came under the invitation of Vchyslav (Ilya’s KGB neighbor). She wanted to find out what it was all about. Ilya said a few opening comments, then left after asking her to translate for me. It was good move as she also agreed to translate for the afternoon session in Zelenograd. The first group (Quality Auditing) mostly wanted to know what Synchron was offering down the road. She particularly wanted to know who was to fund this effort, where was the money coming from.

I told them the effort would be self-funding with the partnerships established between Russian and Western companies. It wasn’t in place yet and that this effort is offered as a community service as a pre-cursor to the big things coming. It is our model to establish qualified people in the Quality disciplines, through networking, education and certification through Synchron so people are ready when the need arises. There are no promises and everybody that takes and passes the class or who even become officially “Synchron certified” won’t get a job or make any money on it. When the needs are established, some of those in the pool will be tapped. Konareva was most concerned about this aspect but felt ok by days end.

Ed attended the session and afterwards, Ilya was discussing heavy matters with attendees. Ed had hoped to be able to spend some time with me discussing critical issues and frustrations, but Ilya had the time tightly blocked. Since time was running short and Ilya is hard to slow down when promoting his dreams, Ed, Konareva and I slipped out and lined a ride up to Zelenograd for the afternoon session without talking to Ilya. This turned out to be a good move. We were able to talk about it out of earshot of anyone else involved during breaks and after the session. Ilya hadn’t told Ed we were having a partner meeting in Cleveland the first week in May. All Russian companies are closed that week for the national May-Day holiday. Ilya had told Ed he should stay and work on his Russian. I told Ed he had to talk to Steve and to be there.

The afternoon session went as scheduled. The translation was complete except for the problems section. That wasn’t too cool, but it is more apparent how difficult the task is to do the translation. Ludmila said during the afternoon session that much of the translation was wrong. I cautioned her to not badmouth the free help we were getting and she mellowed out and volunteered to help in the future.

The three of us had dinner at a Georgian (Russian cuisine) restaurant in Moscow, then to the train at 11:00 pm and the return to St. Petersburg. Back to the perils of ZTL.

The board meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday. This was the day they would decide if Booz would continue beyond this week. It had been assumed they would extend, but it wasn’t clear what conditions would accompany the extension. When I got to the hotel about 9:00 Sunday morning, a note asked me to call Ed. They had moved the board meeting to Monday and we needed a team meeting at noon on Sunday to pull it together. We worked until early evening and with still a lot of work to complete Monday morning.

I had a good marketing meeting with Makarov on Monday, reviewed the fax he sent me last week while I was in the states, and also agreed on the format for the new marketing organization. This was necessary for the presentation that was to be given to the board. The board didn’t complete their work on Monday so it pushed out to Tuesday. Work continued tweaking the deck. We didn’t know the actual result until Wednesday morning. They didn’t extend.
The story line was they were happy with the Booz performance but they were out of money. They wanted to raise some cash and bring us back in one to three months.

Monday and Tuesday had been panic days working on the deck for the board meeting, then when word came of no extension. The new story was to put another deck together as a lever so that we could say “this is what you must do to keep it going without us…” The intent was double-edged; 1st we wanted them to fail so they would see how badly they needed us, and 2nd, to provide enough really valid help so they would succeed. Figure that out! So back to the computers, printers, copiers…

We worked until 11:00 Wednesday night and 10:30 Thursday night. Tempers were hot, the air was blue with foul abusive language, nothing seemed to work, the main printer went on the fritz, Dennis took the power adapters for the computers with him (he left Wednesday afternoon) so we couldn’t use the other printer and a computer at the same time. That meant the one computer that could print on that particular printer could only work on battery power while the printer was working. Of course, that required stopping after several printed pages to move the power back to the computer while its battery recharged.

All of both decks had to be done in Russian and English. We had six translators as well as Yuri and Viktor helping do the Russian version as the four of us (Ed, Jim, Pete, and Dennis before he left) did our English version. Of course, we made changes continually that required going back to the translators Russian version.

All trying to get on the computer/printer combination. We had other computers to do our work but had to copy the stuff on a disk and print from the only computer with that printer driver. Tempers were frayed. Viktor gave a handwritten version of his work and wasn’t happy with the computer version one of the translators printed. He said something in his broken English that the translator and one of the Booz managers took as an affront and we almost had a fist fight. It was cleared up the next day after the heat of the battle cooled.

Jim Furey is the Booz project manager-elect with Ed’s departure and was taking the responsibility for both decks. He has been through some tough times since coming to St. Pete in February, about the same time I did. He had his camera stolen about the first week. His room was broken into at the hotel and lost a bunch of money and important papers a couple of weeks later. He fell and broke his arm which had been in a cast for the past 6 weeks, and then had his briefcase stolen out of his office at the factory last week, losing his passport, visa, and more money along with a bunch of travelers checks (which he got replaced).

He is also a diabetic and has to take insulin shots four times a day. Then to top it all off, he got the bug and has felt totally drained the past week with fevers, chills, total exhaustion. With this wrap-up Chinese fire drill, Jim was not a happy camper. With him screaming for the work to get done, none of the rest of us were happy campers either.

I talked to Maurice Thursday morning and discussed the upcoming meetings in Cleveland. He felt like I needed to move the Moscow classes out a week so I would be able to attend on each day next week. I left word on Ilya’s machine of the push-out, asking him to notify all the participants. Then I called Rubanik’s secretary in Zelenograd and asked her to notify everyone, then called Ludmila and asked her the same. They told me it would be taken care of, so the next sessions are scheduled for May 14.

Friday arrived. We were scheduled to meet at 12:00 to present the go-forward plan to Chernychev (head guy, plant manager) and seven of his directors. The meeting was held in a big conference room on the 7th floor. It had one long table around which sat the eight Russian managers, six Booz guys including Yuri and Viktor and four interpreters. It has large double plate glass windows across one wall of the room that haven’t been washed in years. The view is a drab picture of many other factories like theirs, tall smoke stacks with no color at all this time of year. The chairs are wooden straight backed with faded upholstery above the table line where the rays of the sun have shone. All of the rooms in this office building have 12 ft. ceilings and the windows in this room are over eight feet high.

Chernychev kicked the meeting off on a good note saying how this should be an open exchange of ideas for their benefit. Ed turned the presentation over to Jim who went through the first part which lasted until 2:30. He had Yuri & Pete go through their sections with an overhead projector with each page of the deck. Ed gave only Chernychev a Russian copy at the start of the meeting. He didn’t give the others a Russian copy until the end of the meeting. Chernychev is a colorful character. It seems his hair is always disheveled (morning hair) with the top button of his shirt undone & his tie loose. He becomes very animated when discussing issues, particularly when he is not happy with one of his directors.

The meeting seemed to go without controversy, the presentation being accepted by the Russians quite well. It was a fascinating scene, however, as I listened to the din of the session. There were eight Russians, Ed, Jim, Pete & I each with our own interpreters, and Yuri & Viktor. So, as a Russian was speaking there were four other conversations going on with our interpreters telling us what the Russian was saying. Of course, when another Russian would pick up on the conversation and they would start tossing an issue back & forth, it wasn’t clear which Russian our interpreters were speaking for. Occasionally, I would get more interested in what Ed’s interpreter was saying than what mine was saying. That was the “din… “

The meeting broke at 2:15 for 20 minutes. I went downstairs for a bowl of soup. We had lunch each day on the ground floor, a nice setting in a room served by a gentle woman who would bring us each course and provide a small salad, then soup, then the main dish. She is an ex-engineer at the plant, but happy to have a job providing this service. It was a seven-floor elevator ride when the elevator was working.

They turn it off at the end of first shift to conserve energy which means we always walk down at the end of the day, and also up when activity takes us out in the late afternoon. The plant is generally quite dark, as a further measure to reduce energy costs. The halls are quite dark and most of the rooms get their light from the large windows. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the drinking problem at the plant. They tell me half the casting complex is usually tanked. Not as bad in the Stamping/Forging complex but still pretty severe.

 

Funditty #21.

“Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”
Henry Brougham

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson

Bob Robertson is a retired professional quality engineer and educator with extensive experience in manufacturing environments throughout the world, including Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, and various locations throughout the United States. Besides all that, he Leslie Householder's admired and revered father, and she is pleased to spotlight his "Expat" stories here on her Rare Faith blog.