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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29. More Russia

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Last night (Wednesday) we had a hot dinner, same group, and quite a lot of beer and vodka. The discussion went on until 9:30 with Jim spouting theories and procedures he felt important. Jim’s background is Industrial engineering with many years working for Booz-Allen. He started as a journeyman machinist and went to school at nights at Lasalle University in Philadelphia. He lived in Texas for many years, an avid hunter and fisherman, then moved to the Cleveland area a few years ago. He has four grown children, two boys & two girls, he is only 6 months younger than myself, we do have a lot in common. On the other hand, he is very foul-mouthed and has an alcohol problem. He is diabetic and has to give himself shots at least three times a day, also has high blood pressure. He is really not in very good condition. He is separated from his wife and is now living with a young Russian gal in St. Petersburg. She was a translator for Booz on the LZTL job in St. Petersburg just over three years ago. Jim was on that job then also where he met Alicia.
During last nights discussion, Jim was saying we talk too much in Russia. That he is tired of meetings and blah-blah-blah. And the night droned on as Jim kept talking and talking. Novikov said that we had meetings on Fridays in the past where we learned a lot from each other and that it was valuable time referring specifically to the classes I taught. He felt like we needed to keep doing some of that. He referred to the Covey Important-Urgent matrix and Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. He said we were just sharpening our saws in the Friday meetings, in Q2.
Jim asked, in all the time you spent in those meetings or classes, what did you ever learn that was worth anything, that you have ever used on the job. He very pointedly asked Khabi, what three things did you learn from Bob’s classes that you have used on the job? Khabi said the first thing he felt important that he is still using was the teamwork, the ability to understand how we are a team and that we don’t argue or fight among ourselves. Then second thing was the auditing classes, how to conduct a quality audit and what to look for in the factories we are working with. The third thing was how to deal with Russians in trying to get them to a western mentality in manufacturing operations. Novikov was agreeing with Khabi the whole time. Jim wasn’t convinced, saying we need to talk less and do more. And then he talked for another hour.
Thursday May 23, 1996
This morning, we had breakfast in the hostel at 8am, Jim Furey, Leonid Bosloviak, Dr. Novikov, Dr. Khabi, Vladimer Zaitsev, Oleg Zupnik and I. Bliney, which is pancakes, small salad, juice, black bread (chorny Xleb), and much butter. The guys had very black coffee. On the pancakes we put butter, then a condensed milk – sugar mix that serves as syrup, pretty good. I will try to do a catch-up today since I will have some coast-time. I’m here on a one month trial basis. When I was laid off at Manco, Maurice and I struck a deal to try Synchron again for a one month trial. I’m now sitting in the Synchron office typing away while Jim is working on a fax and the Russians are talking a mile-a-minute making plans for the day.
Jim has taken a very positive attitude towards me, I think because we hit it off talking about hunting and fishing. I told him on the walk to the hostel yesterday at the end of the day that to clarify, I was only on a one month trial. I told him some of the reasons I left 8 months ago, particularly that I felt like I got no support from Steve or Maurice, and that from what I saw at this point nothing has changed. That was all that we talked about regarding my stay or return. He knows its a trial and that I have some reservations. My knee-jerk was to say to him at some point that I would be glad to work with him but not for him. However, I’m less inclined to push that at this time. After spending three days with him I am impressed with what he brings to the table regarding manufacturing operations. I could work with him, maybe even for him. As it now stands, he is head of Synthron Q, with Ilya being head of Synchron Rus. All of the factory operations issues fall under Q. I need to play this one close to the chest, and not burn any bridges.
We just did a walk through the tool making facility. It is very impressive, a great place to take the Lucas people. Jim salivated as he saw the examples of form tools they produce. It is typical of Russian manufacturers, they make each plant self sufficient, as in this case, they can do it all, many things required for the operation. Jim feels like he can get some real leverage with the stuff needed at Naviins, that he will bring back a drawing and example of the chuck.
Met with Shmyslaev at 11am (Jim, Khabi, Novikiv, me). Jim started saying in the states when we play sports or cards with clients, we never win. That comment relative to Bosloviak playing cards with the GD last night, winning about 7000 rubles ($1.40). Jim continued, “very pleased with the program at AA, the people are doing the things they need to do. He would feel better if they had the raw material. Last Saturday he had a meeting with Cherepovitz, on how long it would take to get the raw material. They don’t know if they can make it to spec the first time. They propose to make one batch, then adjust as required, which will take a very long time. Jim says if the material is not exactly to spec he will try to get a deviation from Lucas. Cherepovitz said they had Kulikov, Chistikov, and Maizen visit but have not signed a protocol yet. So he thinks Kogan & Adler are going to visit in two weeks to address this. One batch is equal to 60 tons from Servicall (Cherepovitz supplier), at 6.5 million ruble per ton, very high. Jim told them he could get it for 700 marks per ton from Czech republic, half the Cherpovitz price. They agreed to work the price down as they gained experience. Jim laid out a schedule, if we pay in advance to Cherepovitz by June 5th, then it takes 5 days to make and 6 days to ship, means it could ship by July 6th. He further told Shmyslaev they wouldn’t sell to AA direct until their debt is paid, but there is a way to work that out with a deal through Synchron. So, its a $78,000 risk!
Jim then spoke about material from Autobrizdy. He was told they only have material for 10 tons, not for the rest, although that doesn’t make sense since the pistons we will make take the place of pistons now being made at Autobrizdy.
He mentioned the tooling catalog he was given and how impressed he was with the tooling shop. He will pass this on to Lucas and see if we can get any tool orders.
He then talked about faxing copies to Shymslaev that didn’t get to him for days after the fact, pointing out what a big problem this is. He said the new schedule has had four steps added; turning, facing, packaging & shipping. It all assumes the tooling and raw material availability. Every day the raw material is late, the whole schedule will slip the same. So, cropping and the Schuler press must be ready to go before the material gets here to avoid any unnecessary delays.
Jim mentioned his discussion with Krause on the re-submittal of the ISIR documentation. Carl started picking at it when they got on the phone, but Jim said, “stop Carl, take a deep breath. Just answer one question, are you satisfied with it?” Carl Krause said, “yes!”
Next issue from Smyslaev, regarding the commercial agreement with Synchron. He said they needed a copy of the contract to get the raw materials imported from Czech. I had called and left a message on Steve’s answering machine in Florida saying the same thing earlier today. It seems a lot of the AA people are nervous about not having the Commercial contract signed with Synchron. There is some feeling of comfort among Synchron people having talked with Autobrizdy, and faxing a letter from Shmyslaev saying the material coming in will be assembled then shipped back to the origin of the material. I felt like the message to Steve was important since I’m very uneasy about it. We will all be gone when the material should get here around this weekend and I don’t want to come back to any problems.
Shmyslaev said maybe we should just smuggle the bars in somehow. He then said they could not pay the 318 million rubles for the roller bar material. All the money they have been able to raise now must go to the salaries of his people. There are three possibilities: 1) May get credit from another bank. 2) Got some possibility from Czech republic people who were here yesterday. However, they are just distributors with customers, which means any cash flow is down the road. 3) Azelka in Moscow is beginning to work again so may get some money from them for supplies. However, Khabi says that is just an election ploy (the election is next month with big questions hanging in the wind about Communism or democracy). If none of these three things come forward, we are in big trouble. Shmyslaev says he guesses we just need to wait for election results. No immediate solution.
Jim said there were two other things, 1) he could feel a positive attitude in the plant today. SM says that is the main problem in the plant today. He then said the business plan has been forwarded to the ministry in the government. He is not certain it will be easy to get it to the Finance Minister. If it does get there and gets approved, the government will invest 40%. He said that if Moskvich (Azelka) had worked for the last year, they would have no problem. He talked about making excavators (Catepillar types) but the buyers have no money. Gas industry, oil industry, all have no money. Jim said that he had made observations in St. Petersburg that there were certainly a lot of people in the stores spending money, but no one seems to have it??? SM said that is true only in Moscow or St. Pete, not in Kineshma or elsewhere.
Khabi talked about moving machining and grinding into the cell for production. Jim said yes, that is a good long range plan, but not until we get into full production. Not to spend money before we have it.
Jim talked about sending the Corrective Action plan to Lucas, that it was 85% done. He then told SM the Khabi had written a procedure for document signing and Synchron presence. Jim, or myself, or Khabi can sign the required documents. Jim does not want any delays due to signature absence. Nothing should wait just because Jim is not here.
Jim closed saying how bad we need a fax machine. He said, “I don’t know the best way to do that.” Shmslaev said “But one!” AA will see if they have one. Jim said he was very impressed with the Lucas gantt chart on the wall in the factory in the cell.
On our way back to the office, we stopped at the office of the deputy GD Dogodkin. He is an interesting guy, the consumate Russian. He is a big guy with the kind of sly smile that you would expect to see in a Sean Connery spy film. When I first met him a couple of years ago it was at a dinner after our first visit to Avtoagregat. When Ilya went through the normal routine in Russian as to why I wouldn’t be sharing in their vodka toasts, Dogodkin said, “Salt Lake City!” with the big sly smile. I haven’t heard him use another English word since, I didn’t think he spoke any English.
We walked back to the office, Jim met with Zoupnik who told him he had decided to leave ‘Synchron and was actively looking for another job. He had some leads, one at Federal Express. Jim made an agreement to keep him working at a high quality level until he found another job. Some he could do at home, e.g. translations, but must spend at least three days a week in the field.
Oleg Zoupnik is one of the subordinates of Yuri Rubanik, a young man of 27 who is a real quality oriented guy who speaks good English. He is not against Synchron or anyone in the group, he just wants to be with his wife who is expecting their first child in September. It had been rumored for a while that he was looking. It was positive for Jim to keep him on. He only asked for very productive workdays for Synchron and at least one weeks notice when he will leave. This showed me a side of Jim that is beyond the bluster. He has been saying to me privately last week that he was ready to “fire his ass!”
We walked back to the hostel at 1:30, Jim, Leonid & I, had lunch at 2, then got into the van for the one hour train trip to Ermolino, the small village where the train stops on its way to Ivanovo or St. Petersburg. This is the closest train stop to Kineshma on the route between the two cities. The train makes 16 stops on the way to St. Petersburg. I guess that is why it takes 17 hours total.
The train got us into St. Petersburg at 11:00am, about an hour late. The driver picked us up at the station, Leonid took the subway to his home, Jim & I were let off at Ilya’s where we had a two hour discussion. Jim gave Ilya the protocol letter and the response to the letter. What it said was Nyet! Ilya said Maurice just arrived at Koblenz. Said that Steve doesn’t know anything about the need for the contract for material. Regarding Rossochoff, Steve said the draft of the letter to him went to Rossochoff, but Steve didn’t fax the letters.
Naviins owes money to Cherepovitz. Adler & Geller went to material source who was the top GOST contact. He is a good network contact. He said that today no one is providing the material, but there are two candidates: 1) Cherepovitz, and 2) another in the south of Russia. This is a smaller plant and maybe easier to deal with. Jim mentioned on the QT that Severstal will buy Cherepovitz. Rolling mill steal will be best from Cherepovitz. Therefore, do both, a prime and alternative source.
Ilya said the basic problem with material is in Steve’s head. Four years ago, material in Russia was dirt cheap (1992). Now capacity is the same or less with higher overhead. Now, material is higher than the west. We have asked Autobrizdy to see their supplier, told no. But Ilya wants to strike a deal with the Autobrizdy supplier. Can’t get Maurice or Steve to see it. Jim says LTV (a long time Booz client headquartered in Cleveland) may buy Cherepovitz. Therefore, Steve surely has network contacts to cover this possibility.
Jim stops the discussion: Where are we? We have several partners who had a dream four years ago. Now at this point, we have cornered the dream and have one customer with two suppliers, with 72 purchase orders at Naviins. 1) How did we get the customer? We put a full court press and sold the idea to the leader at Lucas. But we didn’t develop the Russian suppliers. We have no commercial agreements. Steve and Ilya could spend 24 hours at Avtoagregat and walk away with an agreement. Our customer is pissed off! Ilya explained in detail the tax problems and implications associated with the agreement… whew!
I am on the train to Moscow from Kineshma. Tomorrow is the election and therefore a holiday. I’m on the train with Khabi and Zaitsev. This is a real hoot, they are reading out of an English/Russian book, trying english phrases and laughing at the top of their lungs. Khabi will laugh and ask Zaitsev to read a sentence, then help him with the pronunciation. This is a great experience, because I’m doing the same thing, trying to read a book I bought last weekend in Moscow titled Beginning Russian. But I notice I have only 32 minutes left on my battery.
Met Jim, Leonid, and Ed yesterday in Kineshma. It was to have been a time of huddles to line out the plan to make AA successful. Turned out to be a chaotic time with not so much accomplished. However, I came away with a greater respect for Jim and the way he does things. They left a couple of hours before us on their way to St. Petersburg.
Khabi want us to open a small office in Moscow, Shipelevski said we could do it at NATI for $300 per month, with phone priveleges etc. Steve fired Shipelevski last trip so I don’t know the background on that, however it makes a lot of sense since the entire Q team at AA lives in Moscow; Khabi, Zaitsev, Zoupnik, Novikov, and me. Khabi said that if he and I agree, he thinks Furey will follow suit. We will discuss it at the Operations Council in St. Pete on Monday. I chose to stay in Moscow Thursday and Friday to close on the apartment, not returning to AA. Zoupnik will be there both days and I have left him quite a list of tasks to accomplish. Then we will all be back to AA on Tuesday. I need to plan for some recommendations on how we can keep the noise level down in the office at AA and get more done.
We just had our supper in the train. Zaitsev reached into his satchel brought out several small plastic bags of goodies and the three of us went after it like farm hands. It consisted of a fried chicken leg/thigh for each of us, a tomato we ate like an apple and a cucumber we ate like a carrot, with lots of black Russian bread. He had placed a brown paper across the small table between the train seats that face each other in our compartment designed for four people. Two bunks above the seats we were on, which later serve as cots for the night sleep. They each had half a glass of vodka while I had fruit juice to go with the meal. Later the gal who runs the car stopped to see if we wanted coffee or tea. After the greasy meal, all the scraps went into the middle of the table, up folded the paper and as quickly it was done and cleaned up, going into the trash at the end of the car. Also, we had a type of cake popular in kiosks as desert, a waxy chocolate covering with the cake in a foil package so that its shelf life is months at least. Not so good but still welcome.
Khabi is a very animated speaker with much frustration over his lack of english skills. He emotes handily while eating, poking the chicken leg into the air to make a point, then scowling as he searches for an English word to convince me. This is really a tight little bunch of merry men. Zaitsev is a quiet farmer type, he reminds me of the little rascal with straw in his hair all grown up. He always brings something in his sachel from his own garden to eat. On the trip from Moscow Sunday night he brought a sack of fresh strawberries.

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.