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MOSCOW MADNESS by Timothy Harper


Crime, Corruption, and One Man's Pursuit of Profit in the New Russia

by Timothy Harper

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-07-026700-6
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Former AP reporter Harper presents a profile in some sort of innocent courage with this engaging story of an entrepreneurial road warrior trying to do business, Western style, in post—Cold War Russia. His protagonist, Rick Grajirena, abandoned the world of professional yachting early in the current decade to pursue the notion of distributing American beer in the heart of the former Evil Empire. It was Miller Time in Moscow, he believed. He convinced the brewer to sell its bubbly commodity—for cash up front—to his new enterprise, which was headquartered in Tampa, Fla. Difficulties began at once. Some were not particularly attributable to the foreign ways; investors became anxious, competition grew, cash flow was tight and relations with the brewery went flat. The real problems, though, lurked in a society that was innocent of free enterprise, that knew nothing of marketing, distribution, management, finances, quality control, customer satisfaction, investors” needs, or profits. Inventory was trapped in a collapsed warehouse or left to freeze on the docks—not a good thing when the inventory is beer. Left in the economic rubble there was the plummeting ruble, infuriating bureaucracy, rampant bribery, confusion, and corruption. And there was Moscow Madness, a syndrome contracted by Westerners who abandoned accustomed sobriety and morals in the White Nights. There was no real business, just New Russian biznesmen, bodyguards and mafiya. Playing by the rules simply didn’t work; no one did that. But Grajirena tried—until he went out of business. Still, as the climate improved, he tried some more. From the lobby of the Radisson Slavjanskaya, he hawked the distribution rights to “Dr. Seltzer’s Hangover Helper,” a natural for the bibulous Slavs. Then the Russian economy imploded. Yet the intrepid salesman, more Candide than a le CarrÇ character, is still optimistic about his chosen territory. A truly cautionary story of the Wild East, well told and engaging.