Some years ago I met an American in Moscow who had started a “think-tank” or technology incubator of sorts. He had six Russians dreaming up and developing new ideas in various technical fields. He was amazed at the results, but perplexed at the time as to how to get these ideas into the successful businesses as they deserved. He said to us that “Russians can invent anything, but they don’t know what to do with it. And Americans can organize, market and sell anything, but they don’t know where to get it.” Hence, the purpose of getting Russians and Americans together in one place or another. And today, the good thing about this is that with such advanced communications, the international entrepreneur can also stay close to his family and friends at home if he wants.
I think this all is wonderful progress. We all see signs of Russia and America coming closer together in many fields. The energy of this rapprochement is evidenced, almost defensively at governmental levels, and another way at the progressive levels of personal interaction, at social and business levels, especially amongst the entrepreneurial younger generation. A catalyst to this is certainly the recent and growing development of a joint business development relationship between Silicon Valley in San Francisco and Russia in the much publicized Skolkovo project outside of Moscow. That is a great start. An even broader business relationship is possible, for instance, one between greater Southern California and selected Russian locations seems also logical. Statistics rank the economic area within a 100 mile radius of Los Angeles as the eleventh largest in the world. The growing interrelations between the United States and Russia suggest a widening opportunity for increased business and social development, resulting in improved economic and political benefits for all.
We all know how Russians love Southern California. Unofficially there are about 400,000 native Russian speakers now living in the greater Los Angeles to San Diego area. But a new venture would be about the young, the dynamic, the financially promising. These entrepreneurial businesses may be Russian startups in Southern California and/or California startups in Russia. On the California side, the new businesses might be located anywhere in greater Southern California, say from Santa Barbara to San Diego. On the Russian side, the locations may be anywhere, but most likely in the larger cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other major Russian cities, the opportunities each dictating the location in each case.
Part of the venture’s support team should be a team of individuals experienced in all aspects of entrepreneurial business development and management, such as financial planning and control, taxation, marketing and distribution, legal oversight and compliance, insurance, venture capital, debt financing, technology, etc. Expert assistance from the university level should be available. With advanced communication technology, needed expert managerial assistance would be available across the operations area. Secure financing from both the Russian and the American sides would be needed.
Meeting the challenges of a physical operation in a different culture is extremely important for success. This is recognized and is being successfully addressed. My twenty years in Russian business has helped me learn this. And I continue to learn. This should be carefully planned and executed, whether an American in Russia or a Russian in America. This is a critical element and a program should be developed to achieve this. Included, as necessary for the Russian, should be instruction to a competent level of spoken and written English. Considering the ethical and legal challenges today in Russian business, it is important that all business and social conduct and its venture promotions be conducted at the highest levels, with full transparency, legal and social.
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville, speaking of the future of Russians and Americans, said: “Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems to be marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.” The Frenchman’s words still ring true. So it is in our mutual national as well as personal interests, indeed, the world’s interest, to get it right. As businessmen we have a great opportunity to make a lasting contribution.
The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.
Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City. While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.