Work Experience Reconsidered — Part 7
My seventh job was balancing between being an employee and employer, and was the last one working for someone else. I acquired the job through personal initiative by approaching one of the business contacts of the Director of my previous work place. The business contact was the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of a cigar lifestyle magazine ‘Hecho A Mano’ published and produced in Moscow, Russia.
The meeting with the Editor-in-Chief of ‘Hecho A Mano’ took place in the Ritz hotel, in London. We revealed our goals: he wanted to move to New York from Moscow and I was moving from London to Moscow due to my husband’s contract. The agreement reached was as follows: I was to buy 10% of the Editor-in-Chief’s shares and become the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief with the salary of 2,000 USD. This, however, was to be approved by the main shareholder, a man who owned a big business in Moscow. For him, ‘Hecho A Mano’ was just a mere toy and a channel for money laundering.
As agreed, I met with the main shareholder who was enchanted with me and signed off the deal.
I arrived to Moscow in the midst of winter and plunged straight into my work. The office of ‘Hecho A Mano’ was located in a grey sky-scraper, a Soviet legacy of 1980s, which was two metro stops away from where I lived. I could easily take metro but the main shareholder stipulated that I have to have a car and a driver for which he would pay. So, I hired a driver with a car. Every day the driver came to pick me up, bring to work, then, if needed, bring me to different parts of the city and, finally, in the evening bring me home. Preferably, safe and sound.
My team consisted of 20 subordinates, some of whom left soon after I had started. The reason being, as they proclaimed, their solidarity with the previous Editor-in-Chief. I did not mind, for I had my own vision for the magazine development.
Before introducing changes, I talked to all members of the team and wrote down their wishes and complaints. In order to know them even better, I had my lunches at the same canteen as they did, each time choosing a different group of subordinates to join. This, however, was not to the main shareholder’s liking and he ordered me to have my lunches either with him or on my own. In my support, the subordinates suggested us sneaking out together into local cafes and continue to share a good conversation over lunch. I followed their advice.
Soon enough, I had learnt about the system of bribes that existed in the field of magazine advertising. In Russian, they were called ‘otkat’. This certainly benefitted the Advertising Director who received gifts, for example a bottle of Remi Martin cognac, and money from befriended advertisers for reserving space in ‘Hecho A Mano’. Such deals were private and unofficial, and the magazine did not get any money. I thought it was wrong, and raised the issue with the main shareholder. But he would not concur. He liked the system.
I loved my work and all would be more or less all-right, if not for the dubious moral of the main shareholder.
Four months after having started my job as the Editor-in-Chief, I and the main shareholder attended the Russian Economic Forum Gala Dinner in London. He purchased a tuxedo worth 3,000 GBP for the occasion, I — an evening dress for much less, but beautiful nonetheless. As we sat shoulder to shoulder in the candlelit auditorium of the Victoria and Albert Hall, being served our dinner, the main shareholder made a ‘proposition’ to me. He suggested to fly to Finland to spend time in his house, in the midst of wilderness, so to speak. I refused the offer. He quickly changed the gear and proposed a club in London, instead. But this was declined as well.
Obviously, on return to Moscow I fell out of favour. The main shareholder told me that I was blocking the way to the bright future of the magazine. What was really blocking it was his wounded ego and macho attitude. But he did not think so.
Behind my back, he sold my shares to another person, but could not really stoop to forge my signature on the documents. The Financial Director who was on my side informed me that the papers were with his lawyer in Saint Petersburg. I took the chance and obtained the papers. The lawyer easily parted with them as I was also a shareholder and to him I was as much of the boss as the main shareholder. Needing the papers and not being able to forge the signature the main shareholder agreed to pay my 10% back. As soon as the money hit my account in London, the papers were returned to him. Not by me though. By the driver who worked in the office of Nokia in Moscow, where my husband worked at the time.
The conclusion: Some businessmen are really good at launching companies, making money, and navigating in the world of deals and contracts, but can turn completely inadequate when they follow their ego-based desires. These longings can even stand on the way to their own success and can lead to ruin in the end. The main shareholder could not find a replacement for the post of the Editor-in-Chief and outsourced the production of the magazine to some external company. This worked for couple of years and then the magazine ceased to exist.
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