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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26. Russian Followup

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Wednesday 3/22/95 – Steve returned to the states. I spent the day visiting the ZIL plant in Mtensk. Received what sounded like an emergency call from Carol, Steve had called from Ilya’s with a note to call home. I got hold of Arkady who reported someone had stolen my cash card and was charging a lot of stuff, that I should call Carol. I decided to call her Thursday morning from Ilya’s since it was about 3am where she is. We boarded the train at 10:00 pm for the return.
Thursday 3/23/95 – Arrived at Moscow train station at 6:30 am. Went to Ilya’s for a report. Got Ilya out of bed about 7am. I stressed that I had to call Carol due to the emergency, he asked if I had to do it now? I said yes, he grumbled. The reason he grumbled is that there was a blond head of hair peaking out from under the sheets of his bed (the phone is in his bedroom). I went ahead and called Carol, got that worked out, without a stir from the sweet young thing in the bed.
Friday 3/24/95 – Arkady came at 9am and worked with me translating Geller’s report on the ZIL casting plant. I polished up the Synchron Q business plan and tried to fax it to Steve all day, finally faxed it to Maurice at days end since Steve’s fax wasn’t picking up. Arkady left at 7pm, I lockup up at 10pm and took a cab to the Leningradsky train station (Vokzal) where I boarded with Mathius. We talked shop until about 12:30pm.
Saturday 3/25/95 – Arrived in St. Petersburg at 8:20 am where the Naviins driver met us and whisked Neil Mathius and I to the Naviins office. Leonid was there, the lecture was scheduled to begin at 9:30 and they had snacks for us. The management wanted Mathius to go to their hotel and meet back for the start of meeting after the lecture but Neil wanted to take part in the lecture. So while they enjoyed the snacks I went to the lecture room to try to set up the overhead projector. Two lamps burned out while trying to set it up so I had to do without it. I started at 9:30, lectured until 10:40 and finished what I wanted to cover then took a break. After the break Mathius spoke for about 20 minutes about the importance of quality to Lucas. It turned out to be a pretty good day, Mathius seeing first hand what we are doing with the quality classes which he can now give an accurate report on.
I think Ilya was a little drunk at this time, not offensively so but feeling no pain. He told me later how the pressure has been so great on him with Benz canceling his visit and Mathius here to see the new status that he came within an inch of canceling the whole thing. The Naviins guys made a presentation for about an hour with charts and visual aids while Leonid translated. Ilya was upset that Leonid hadn’t practiced the translation and that it didn’t come across smoother.
Monday 3/27/95 – The landscape hasn’t changed much, a lot of what look like quakies and pines on the way. We got to Bugulma at 11:30, meaning we were on the train for 26 hours. Mr. Naumov met us at the train with a bus that took us to Almetevsk about 30 minutes away. We had lunch then a three hour plant tour. After the tour of what is a good possibility for a long term relationship we went to the GD’s office and talked for over an hour. He speaks a little English, a very poised professional probably in his late 40’s or early 50’s. He understood the Synchron concept immediately and in a joking manner said, “Let’s go!”
Realizing there is much to talk about before we “go” we made tentative plans to further the discussion at a later date. He said he wasn’t sure a Joint Venture would be the best vehicle for a cooperative relationship. We agreed and said much discussion lies ahead before we agree on those details. I told him that whatever arrangement we finally come up with it still boiled down to a matter of mutual trust between two individuals and I hoped we could develop that kind of mutual trust. He said he totally agreed with that and was happy to hear our priorities are in the right place. It was an open and easy meeting, having dinner at the end with many vodka toasts.
This region is partly muslim, the chief metallurgist who met us at the train told us about 40% of the 3000 workers at the plant are tatars (the region is Tatarskstan) with the balance various Russians. The GD had his son with him at the dinner meeting, a young strapping guy of about 18, looked a lot like my Dan. I made my usual toast to the families of us all who make this all worthwhile, how grateful I was the son (Ivan) was there.
I’m never sure how this toast goes over, as I looked around the table, over half the men may not have been married. At one point I told the GD what a great favor the Russians did sending up the first Sputnik with Yuri Gagarin. I was a young engineer in the aerospace industry and that event scared us all in America. The U.S. Government coffers opened up and we were able to spend money without common sense or reason and that helped to put us on the moon. He said the same thing happened when he was also in the aerospace industry in Russia when a Soviet pilot flew a MIG-25 to Japan giving the U.S. all their secret technology and they were also scared, with a further turn of the economic funds available to the Russians.
Tuesday 3/28/95 This experience, with positive vibes about what might become long-term cooperation between the East & the West, makes me feel I’m where I should be. The five of us got to the train station in Bugulma about noon where we bought tickets that aren’t reserved. It just means we take what isn’t occupied when we get on. Geller & Kolesnikov had it aced however and we got a full four bunk compartment together. It always amazes me how they come up with what turns out to be a good meal from pockets and sacks and the very sophisticated way they do it. There were five of us sitting on the two cots sharing bread sliced from a big whole loaf, with canned salmon and sliced sausages along with cucumbers Geller sliced with his Swiss knife. They had coffee and tea while I had orange drink they acquired somewhere, then cakes (quite large cookies) enough for all.
About 7 in the evening we went through the town Uliansk which is the native home of Lenin. We passed a hill upon which there was a beautiful white building well lit, looked like the Arizona temple, that was a memorial for Lenin built near the home of his parents.
Wednesday 3/29/95 – Stopped for a 20 minute passenger pickup in a little town at 8am. Several old ladies (babushka’s) came through the train selling bread, sausages, drinks, etc. All sausage here is called “kielbasa” whether it is pepperoni, salami, or any other variation. All kielbasa. Stopped at Rosievska about 12:30 for 15 minutes. I found a kiosk near the train station where I bought a Snickers and savored it over the next 10 minutes. Arrived in Moscow at 5:00 pm.
Thursday 3/30/95 – Ilya went over his plan for the training, saying we had to do it all on weekends since the Institute where he scheduled the classes might throw us out of the room if the director took a whim. So we changed the schedule to all four weeks being Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. He also let me know in big technicolor terms what a great deal he got with the Institute, only $100 for three days. He really put them down, they wanted twice that, but he told them where to go, and got the original deal he offered! How could this have ever worked at all without his infinite skills????
Friday 3/31/95 – Started first day of training. Ilya didn’t arrive until after 2pm. Nobody knew what to do at 9:30 when it was supposed to start. Adler more or less took over and Arkady spent the morning going over DOS and Lexicon on the PC’s until Ilya arrived. The classes were scheduled at NATI this week, this is the institute where we had the final few classes in Quality Auditing. Ilya started rambling with no agenda, no goal, or nothing special he wanted to cover. I was boiling, Garshkov complained during the first break. Arkady thought it was a colossal waste of time. At one point Ilya ask me if I thought what he had proposed was ok, it had to do with finding who was at fault for things not getting done as planned.
I said we needed to quit trying to place blame and get down to training the people in what we expect them to do! He picked up on that saying that was exactly what he wanted me to say, then rambled in another direction for a couple of hours. At the end of the day Ilya got Adler with me to discuss what should take place the next day. I said he had to come up with an agenda that at least listed what he wanted to cover or accomplish. He said, “let me & Adler come up with a plan & we’ll tell you, ok?” Ok. After five minutes they said they would do more of Ilya’s stuff in the morning and then work on computers with Arkady in the afternoon.
Saturday 4/1/95 – We waited for Ilya. Supposed to start at 9:30am. I bet Leonid that Ilya wouldn’t arrive before 10:00. He came at 9:58, I owed Leonid a coke. I prepared a complete agenda of the four weeks of scheduled training, including the days and times of each training session. Ilya had suggested we meet only on weekends so that we could get the room at a lower rent and not be put out due to some directors meeting during the week. I told him I decided the weekends were unacceptable and that I wouldn’t ask the team to give up four weekends when it wasn’t necessary. Therefore, the training schedule I gave everyone had no Sundays and only one Saturday. I handed this to everyone before Ilya arrived.
He began rambling which continued through the day. He had no agenda on paper or in his head. I typed as fast as I could as different translators took their turns telling me what Ilya was telling them. It was my distinct impression that Ilya had been drinking, but only an impression. On several occasions, I would stop Ilya and ask him to clarify what he had just said, was what I heard really what he meant? He would side step the questions and make a joke of it. I gave up and just tried to capture his message. After the lunch break he didn’t do the computer bit. Kept rambling on about some article he had read the night before about a management style. It was quite obvious he was killing time, without any objective. Arkady, who is no longer on the payroll but had come in for the day to facilitate the computer training after lunch, was a bit distressed. Ilya asked him at about 4:00 if he had a problem and asked him to leave. On his way out, Arkady told Ilya in front of the group that Ilya was assassinating the entire staff with his lectures.
I had to pick this much up from bits and pieces from participants later. Later Ilya told me about what an ingrate Arkady is and how much grief he had brought on the group. Ilya told me about what Arkady had said and that he (Ilya) asked the group, did they feel like they were being assassinated? And nobody said “yes!” So, see what a turkey Arkady is? After the lecture I got Ilya aside and sat down with him for 20 minutes telling him how badly I thought the training was going. I reminded him that he said at one point on the first day that if anyone on the team saw us going in the wrong direction and didn’t say something we were wrong. I said, “Ilya, we’re going in the wrong direction.”
I reiterated my stance on the importance of an agenda and some structure in what we did. I had him read the article I have carried around “Why smart people do dumb things.” I suggested that one of the problems brilliant people have is the impression they don’t need any structure. I told him that we are trying to be professional and that one of the most unprofessional things is to go before a group so unprepared. I said that our task is to be leaders, but if we go at it this way nobody will want to follow us. Then he told me about how difficult it is when you have to do everything yourself, when you don’t have time to even get a good nights sleep and have to be up til 2am preparing for the lecture, who has time to think of an agenda. Don’t I think he doesn’t want to do it right, with an agenda and all? Whew…
Sunday 4/2/95 – More of the same, random rambling. I left at 11:00 to go to church, returned at 4:00, it was as if I hadn’t left. He had rescheduled all the training classes for Friday, Saturday, & Sunday. He said the team members had insisted on it, that they couldn’t get their work done during the week if the spent all their time in class. I asked myself is any of this worth it?
Monday 4/3/95 – I went to the Hotel Metropole business center where I called the companies on the Joint Venture list we had mailed to last June. Confirmed the companies that were still operating and had current fax numbers. I then worked on the Synchron Q fax letter to sell the product, then got to the Mezdunarodnya Hotel where I got three letters faxed.
Friday 4/7/95 – We held the training class, starting with the Desert Survival exercise. It went well and lasted until the 12:30 lunch brake. We all ate at the plant cafeteria and then Rubanik did the afternoon. It went very well, he had an assistant there to video tape the day’s proceedings. Went to Ilya’s at 8:30 pm and called & told Carol I had decided not to return, faxed the certification exam stuff to ASQC, called Steve & told him I didn’t want to return to Russia. He was very supportive, understood that wasn’t what I had wanted, to be away from my family like this. He asked if I could meet with him in Florida the week after I spend in Utah. He suggested when quality issues come up maybe I can spend a week in Russia once in a while.
Saturday 4/8/95 – I couldn’t get out of bed, my back was killing me. Leonid came to get me to go to class, I begged off and said to tell Rubanik to take over and I will be there after lunch. I got to the class at 1:30, they were just getting ready to do a lunch break. Yuri Adler was there helping Rubanik do his bit on Deming. It seemed to go pretty well. I hadn’t been able to put many ideas together, so I introduced to them the concept of variation by having them do the Beads-1 computer simulation, where they try to optimize the Beads production process.
Class ended just after 5pm. It went well, I was in a lot of pain, but the pain pills I got at Ilya’s were doing a fairly good job. Rubanik gave me a ride back to the Gastinitsa after class. I tried to rest, but it was difficult. I called Serge Bushman (Elders quorum president) at 8:30 and asked him if he could come and give me a blessing. He said sure. It was just after 10:30 when he and Pres. Atkins (Branch President) arrived and gave me a blessing. It was choice. I waited outside on the street for them, having given them only an address on the street (28 Chesovaya). I figured it would take them over a half hour to arrive. I got the number from the desk clerk but realized when I was outside waiting for them it was really 23, not 28. They had taken the metro and then walked looking for the place. I was so happy to see them. This is such a great gospel! I had my first full nights sleep in a long time.
Sunday 4/9/95 – I got to class on time and listened to Rubanik do his “cooperation game” that he got from the British Deming Association. It was an excellent setup where four teams tried to make choices to maximize their profits. It was set in a clever way where the only way to maximize profits was to cooperate. Dr. Adler spoke about process capability and the choice of sample size. Rubanik turned it over to me at 11:30, everyone asked can we take a break? I said no since we would be completely finished in about 30 minutes.
I took time to punch up the value of Rubanik’s cooperation game and related it to our trying to establish cooperative agreements between Western and Russian companies. I further spoke to the advantage of competition in getting the most out of the workforce in the spirit of teamwork, then about what Deming spoke of as the balance between these two ideas; cooperation and competition.
I finished with the counsel of Juran in getting things right with the workforce, that three things are essential from the management position so that they have fully empowered the workforce: 1) clear written statement of what is expected of the employee, 2) a clear understanding of how each employee is doing against those expectations, and 3) the ability the change any difference between 1 and 2. I told them they had to insist on these three things from any employer to make their maximum contribution. Lastly, I told them to go home and enjoy their families, to smell the roses, or coffee, or whatever is good. Rubanik gave me a ride home. It is now Sunday evening, I will turn this computer over to Geller before he goes to St. Petersburg tonight, and just pick up my other one in Cleveland being repaired. So this is my swan song for now. I’m out of here!!!!
The return flight stopped first in Warsaw, Poland, then Frankfurt, Germany, then London, and then straight to Cincinnati. A short jump from there to home. I thought of the haunting refrain of Jo Stafford from the 50’s, “Far away places, with strange sounding names…  are calling me, calling me…” Considering this last two weeks. Who woulda’ thought?

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.