I’ve had a few weeks off getting married and having a honeymoon in Barbados. It was lovely thankyou. On occasion whilst sipping a Banks beer or rum punch, my thoughts edged towards matters vaguely professional, in a near philosophical manner.
As you’d imagine, I read a lot of reportage from or concerning post soviet issues. I’ve sort of noticed there are broadly two philosophical camps that cross the numerous potential clients and issues that can be found east of the Oder.
The first is the idealist. Generally either younger than 35, or if older with less than a decade of post soviet experience, they believe that with commitment, energy and support from international institutions such as the EU and NATO, the post soviet and ex WTO region can repeat the perceived political, economic, commercial and strategic successes of the Baltics and Poland. This community has had success communicating on behalf of clients that want to convince us in the west that they’re just like us; that we share the same hopes and dreams and that Westminster, Washington, Brussels, in addition to commercial and financial audiences should support their developing growth story. It’s about hope, and belief, both of which are deeply attractive traits, as long as they don’t get too close to naive.
Then there’s the cynic. They probably smoke. They certainly drink. They know where to have a good time in Almaty and Ashgabat. 10 years + behind the curtain means that their personal and professional moral judgement has on occasion been tested. So far, so nasty. However their deep knowledge of the region and its ongoing dynamic means that they tell a more grounded story. They’re not selling hope, just looking to make sure that clients are treated fairly by the key stakeholders. They contradict the conspiracy theories by a simple discussion of the history. They know where Yeltsin went to school and why this still matters today. It’s about correcting the misperceptions by demonstrating an effortless understanding of the subject matter. Know more than your critics and seed the doubt in their minds that will stop them pulling the trigger.
Client groups and senior advisors are very aware of the different personalities and look to leverage both when necessary. I’ve seen sovereign states and the big oligarchic industrial groups use both simultaneously on very different projects. Say you want to raise capital for green energy. You need to tell a both romantic and pragmatic story of growth. At the same time, you want to track down and make sure that your enemy is denied asylum in the UK. You probably can’t have the same person telling this story.
In an ideal world, a firm looking to build a viable post soviet franchise would have a selection of both sorts, but I’m not sure anyone has really managed to do this. It’s as if the post soviet lead will develop one side or the other depending on the nature of the main client(s) and that personality will work its way through the team.
So the conclusion to my question? I’m afraid it’s a little glib, but it’s horses for courses isn’t it? The consultancy that can best service clients from the region should recognise the two basic types of post soviet personality and adapt to the needs of the client. Make the cynical old hacks remember why they first fell in love with the FSU in the first place. Rediscover the love of the people, their history, culture and food. At the same time, toughen up the romantics. Remind them that anyone who makes $20bn in a decade might not be averse to breaking eggs. Get them to study the list of failed saviours of the past 20 years.
This is, of course, in an ideal world. I’m not sure anyone has managed it yet.