From the personal archive of a Russianist, installment twenty-three

Travel notes,  Thursday, 16 – Tuesday,  21 November 1989 – the visit of UPS team headed by VP, International Don Layden for completion of JV with Sovtransavto in Moscow and opening of service in Yugoslavia

Remarkably compressed, kaleidoscopic trip. Dog tired. Succession of near sleepless nights, insomnia coming from the tension of too many things and people to coordinate.

Arrival in Moscow Thursday evening, with no rooms reserved – need to talk our way into the Hotel Ukraina. I am with Dieter, our German Region I.E. manager whom I am installing for the next two weeks – into start-up and who will remain available for 6 months. Dieter was last here 8 years ago – speaks rusty Russian which he learned doing intelligence work in the German army. He came to UPS about 6 years ago  – started as a driver and gradually worked his way up to Industrial Engineering supervisor for his district. Slow and steady, reliable, conservative guy. Hard-working – puts in a 60 hour week when at home. We take very elegant dinner at the National – excellent beef steaks.

Friday the madness begins in earnest. Morning at Sovtransato with deputy director Yevgeny Sudakov and JV management nominees Arkady Kurshin, Yuri Kulakov, etc. going over plans for the start of service. Word is that our JV will be registered and final on Wednesday, November 22; that the TNT JV with Aeroflot has never been consummated despite all publicity. That DHL still pursuing a JV with Soyuzvneshtran

Saturday morning meet with Yuri and get back our materials for the symposium. In the afternoon I go out to the airport to meet Long, Smith, Skoda, Roth. Their plane is delayed, then they clear customs very slowly. Finally we are back at the Ukaine about 7 pm. We are joined by Larry Walsh, an Irish contractor of UPS who is in town for the first time after 20 years – having hopes to build on his past deliveries for Air Rianta /Aeroflot JV duty free. We take a very elegant dinner at the Savoy – bliny with caviar followed by snow grouse, with French Mouton Cadet Bordeaux.  A bit glitzy but well done nonetheless and presentation of the food is excellent, about as in Finland. The boys look pleased.

Larry Long, UPS Vice President for Europe, Africa and Middle East repeatedly speaks of ‘a great job.’

Sunday morning I join Mark Skoda for a trip by limousine out to the airport where VIP reception has been laid on for VP International Donald Layden. Only it doesn’t quite work out. While Sovtransavto boss Tatishvili, Sudakov and we drink our coffee in the VIP lounge, the greeter leaves for the plane, but Layden slips by and falls into the general processing. Moreover, Kurshin forgot to get a letter for Customs so Don loses an hour waiting for his bags and then goes through same line as everyone else on the Pan Am jumbo.

We take dinner at the National Banquet Room #6 at 7 pm – my favorite and the boys don’t let me down. Food and drink, all excellent and the room is as elegant as you could ever hope for. My Finns don’t show at all. Ditto Vialikov of the Trade Council and US Ambassador Matlock. Top guy is Road Minister Sukhin, and US Commercial Counsellor Jim May.  I move off to one side – let our paid interpreter Nina Arkhiptseva do the work of keeping conversation alive between the Minister and Layden/Long. My chatter is divided between May, who has a sickly grin, and Fedorets. I probe May on what it’s like to work under Matlock –whether he acts as his own advisor. I don’t learn much.

Meanwhile Layden seems to enjoy being the big boss. Later I flatter his vanity well by pointing out how he’ll be invited to dine with Gorbachev via the US Trade Council. He goes for it and asks me how many UPS people will be taking part in the Council’s annual session. I say 2 – 3, of whom 1 will go to dinner with Gorby.

For me the key thing here is to learn to direct, to orchestrate from the side – to allow others to be shown off, so that top bosses are reassured that a team is being put in place and that they are not wholly in the hands of one person. That’s why Layden chose to understand our fast pace of setting JV’s in terms of events rushing us. Quite untrue – we were driven by own considerations. As Mark says “go for it.”  A guy like Layden plays down his own power, though it could be considerable if used aggressively. 

The most important aspect of the Friday dinner was that it gave our candidate operations guy Yuri Kulakov a chance to be seen and judged by Long and others. They were greatly impressed and reassured. By letting others work while you sit back, you magnify rather than diminish your own strength.  Kulakov also is maturing – he plays the role well. I let him be tour guide for Long, Roth, Smith on Sunday morning.  Note – Layden obediently accepts the speech I composed for him.

Monday – very, very hectic – pressure rises to critical level.

We check out at 8.30,  six of us drive over to Ochakovo while Roth and Nigel and Yuri set up the symposium room. Layden decides Ochakovo is worth no investment, or a bare minimum.  He under-appreciates the telecoms and location. But that could be expected.

By 10 am we are all together at the Trade Council making final preparations. I compose and type up invitation letters for Minister Sukhin to come to the USA second half of January. Deputy Minister Sokolov accepts this in a side meeting with Layden and Long at which I am the interpreter. Here I do show off a bit (like Sunday night doing a simultaneous translation of the Layden toast, which I had written – stunning Jim May with this linguistic fireworks).  Happily the Symposium attendance is acceptable – about 25 companies, prospective future clients of our service, are here and three-quarters of the seats are filled. So we have no embarrassment. I am very pleased we have sequential translation to fill the time and that the Russian text was prepared in London, so that there is no mistranslation.

At the close of the symposium, I take Long and Skoda into a side meeting withTatishvili and Sudakov to do a little memorandum covering our relations in the brief time till the JV is registered and becomes operational. Here again I get a chance to show off but in very business-like way and to good effect. Larry is sold on what we’ve done and Layden also. Layden incidentally declines to take part in the negotiation – sits in the reception area looking tired and bored.

I’m abrupt with Kurshin today, tell him to shut up about what car he gets with the job (Saturday he drove us nuts while we’re waiting at the airport). Inadvertently I close the proposal before he can make his prepared acceptance speech. He whines about it.

We take off for the airport in our flying black tank. Yugo flights to Belgrade and Zagreb are on time and ok. The only hitch is near loss of Layden’s luggage as he checks it only to Belgrade. Walsh joins us all the way. In Zagreb Zulian and Tanya from Intereuropa are waiting for us. We take a leisurely dinner at the Esplanade. The big news is from Dave Guernsy, who is just returning from Belgrade, where Jerinic and the branch office have fully broken with TNT and are working with us. News of DHL’s bizarre split with Transjug is the other gossip of the day.

Tuesday we spend in a brief visit to the airport facility and then take a banquet in the Old Town. We are joined by Michael Einik, the US Consul General, who is pleasant as ever and by Mayor of Zagreb, Mikic who makes a never-ending speech on the history of Zagreb. The palace is really splendid and all are vastly impressed. However at $1800 it sets us back $90 / person.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

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