You surely will remember : “Back to the future” has been in 1985 the most successful adventure film in Hollywood starring Michael J. Fox , produced by Steven Spielberg, which then had been followed by various sequels. The actual sequel is playing in Moscow and shows as main character Vladimir Putin. In a certain way it shows the rules that might be necessary to respect when going East.
A first idea I got immediately after the fall of the wall, when our company received an invitation to the guest house of Erich Honecker in Leipzig in oder to establish first business contacts . We had been simply naiv – faszinated by the idea to conquer new markets and the erroneous idea as Germans we would easily understand the Germans from the Eastern part. But despite the same language , we did not understand each other as capitalists and communists are speaking other languages. Furthermore both parts of the country had developed quite differently over the years. Quickly we got aware, that we first had to deal with ministers, secretaries of state and the secret service as they had been during many years the only one to be allowed to have contacts with the west, and consequently were the only ones who had a general idea about western behaviour and capitalism. For that reason I am not surprised anymore today, that they offered us after 2 days of talks 40.000 appartments of the city of Leipzig for the price of 1 million Deutsche Mark. At that time it had been its perception of capitalism!
The more I got involved in businesses in the Eastern part of Europe, the more I realized that certain deals are not possible without direct or indirect support from the former leading social class. In order to advance in the negotiations for waste management, I received an invitation for lunch in a hotel by a secretary of state. Due to the fact that we arrived with too small a car, the bodyguards did not consider us serious and we nearly had to cancel the rendevouz. Fortunately enough the lunch took place without any problem, but I could not get rid of my impression that the secretary did not get my points nor did I believe him a competent partner for discussion. I told my local partner my worries and got the plain answer: you are right, but his brother is the former chief of the secret service and he has lot of power and self-assertion. I just was speechless.
In another case I had to go by taxi some 200km , as my young taxidriver received a call , passed me his mobile phone and a voice asked Marc Ambrock? Marc Ambrock?. I had not a clue , how the hell they knew I am in that very taxi, but decided to think positively and made myself believe, that the man on the other end of the line considered me quite important.
Should I now be contacted by Russian clients and tell me that the owner of the business would be basically the FSB (formerly KGB) or a billionaire ( I understand that Lithuania has the highest percentage of millionaires in his parliament in the world) , so I would keep an careful eye on them, but not be too surprised.
Just in case you are heading eastbound with not only a small project , you better have in mind that big brother (the president, a minister or the secret service) is watching you. And that does not mean necessarily anything negative.