Interview with Stuart Lawson

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Stuart, what bought you to Moscow?

I went where I was told for 25 years. I was with Citibank, and over that time I worked with them in 11 countries. After I arrived here and worked here for some time, and I realized what Russia is, I left Citibank after a spell in London, I returned in 2000 and I’ve been here since then.

Have you ever wanted to leave?

Have I ever wanted to leave, or have I ever had to leave? Once I had come back in 2000, I really didn’t have a horizon on how long I would stay, the fact that I am still here in 2013 is really due to a set of circumstances that I would never have foreseen. It’s also, by the way, one of my excuses as why I don’t speak fluent Russian. My horizon in Russia has never been more than two or three years.

Yes, after one job or another came to an end, I have wanted to leave, but something always happened. After Citibank came to an end I worked for Delta Bank. That ended, and I didn’t know what to do, then I got a call from Platon Lebedev who said come and work for Menatep, which at the time was Russia’s 5th largest bank. Six weeks after I joined them he went to jail, and I decided that this was not a good sign. So I decided to carry on working there for a while, but basically to leave. Then I got a phone call from Oleg Deripaska asking me if I’d like to run his bank. Each time, I left a company I packed to leave. Then HSBC called and asked if I’d like to be the CEO of HSBC in Russia. HSBC decided to close it’s retail division and I left again. Six months after that I started working for Ernst and Young. I have left the country 5 times and come back 6 times. I went to my mover’s wedding.

I think what’s interesting about this series of assignments is that none of them had any connection to the others. I think it’s very important to stay in the game, of course Moscow is not an easy place to stay in the game if you’re not actually working, a lot of people pack up and leave. But once you’re gone you’re gone, you become yesterday’s news. The reason that I was able to come back with Ernst and Young, was that when I left in June 2010, I had committed myself to writing and then teaching the risk module for the Skolkova MBA programme. It was when I was back in Moscow that the next opportunity came up. If you are sitting in your garden far away, don’t expect your phone to ring, because it probably won’t.

I have now expanded my teaching work to teach at MGIMO, the Finance Academy, basically trying to pass on to Russians some of the experiences I have had. One of my courses is on Strategic Risk Management, and the other, which I really enjoy is a course of leadership, where I talk about, first of all, the difference between leadership and management. I found that the Russians have soaked it up, they are truly interested in the practical side of things. The fact that I have had so long as a practitioner is something that they find interesting.

Selection_044What is your general impression of Russians?

I have spent longer in this country than I have in any other. I wouldn’t have spent so much time here if I hadn’t liked the people who were around me.

The criticism would be that you spent so much time here because you were able to make a lot of money.

As I have said in a class; you have to be careful what you ask for. If you set your goal to be to earn lots of money, you might get that, but what you won’t get is the satisfaction of having an interesting life. Of course things are good here in terms of remuneration, but I don’t think that’s ever been a driver for me. I am concerned about the interests of the job, the dynamics of the market, the ability as a foreigner to take part in some pretty important local issues which you wouldn’t do in other countries. A fundamental issue is that this is a country that has a deep history that is facing significant issues, but which isn’t starting from scratch. It all started back in the 90s, from the wrong place; after three generations of communism. But the fact is that it had a culture, it had a fundamental academic background, it had well trained people, it had 99% literacy, it had all of these things. It just needed to put them into a certain sort of order. So no, it isn’t about money.

One of the things that I’ve felt about business life is that you need to have an external world. If your life is hermetically sealed in the business that you do, you run a risk because if something happens to that world, that’s it. So I’ve been involved in weird and wonderful things with some amazing Russians, like the Tango world, not that I can dance the Tango, but I did try. Then I got involve in sponsoring them and so forth. I also got involved in the art and music worlds in Moscow. And then even rock’n’roll, I have friend who is a famous rock’n’roller. All of this has really helped enjoy Russia.

Could Moscow really become an International Financial Centre?

I think that an International Financial Centre concept is directional. Nobody thinks this is going to come about overnight. I think that this is a dialogue between Russia and various countries, in particularly with Britain and the City of London. This has allowed a series of work streams to happen on certain issues. There is more progress in some areas than others, the important thing is that there is dialogue. I think that if you look at where we are today versus where we were four years ago, you will see that significant progress has been made.

Are people’s stereotypes about Russia in the West slowly being destroyed or getting worse?

Nothing fills a newspaper or crime novel than a cold war story or a guy with a Russian accent. Again and again this caricature of Russia and Russians appears in the press, sometimes in the serious press. In every big country, and Russia is a big country, bad things happen. If you sit down and focus on these, you can generate a list of very negative things. I think the important thing is to acknowledge where there are issues which need to be dealt with, not to dodge them. But also, for heaven’s sake, why can’t we talk about what it’s like to be in Gorky Park these days, as compared to what it was like three years ago? Let’s talk about cycling around Sparrow Hills on an autumn day. Or being in a restaurant and being surrounded by normal Russians doing normal things and being very pleasant about it. There are no bears on the street with vodka and guns.

Any regrets about things that you have liked to do but did not manage to do in Russia so far?

The language, it is clear that if I had known that I was going to stay here this long, I would have treated it more seriously. I’ve been lucky to go round the regions, when I was working for Deripaska, but I haven’t been travelling as much as I used to, and this is something I regret. Not a regret is the fact that I have a 15 years old son who comes here all the time, my regret is that he can’t spend more time here.

Chaîne des Rôtisseurs

Selection_008The Moscow Bailliage of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs increased membership at it’s Induction Ceremony held recently in the ballroom of the Radisson Royal. Guests of honour included Madam Vice-President Marie Jones and Ari-Pekka Parviainen, Bailli Delegue of Finland Ari-Pekka who officiated the traditional induction ceremony.

The Chaîne is an International gastronomic association that honours the preservation of the traditions and practices of the old French guild in a contemporary and International context. Members have to be inducted at one of these official induction ceremonies and are then awarded their colourful ribbons that are to be worn at all official events.

The Moscow Bailliage hold regular gastronomic events in Moscow and members can also participate at worldwide events.

Dusha – Charity Foundation

Selection_016One of the greatest areas of neglect in Russia is care for the mentally ill. Vast psychiatric hospital complexes exist in all large Russian cities, but low salaries compared to the private sector and disintegrating state budgets have meant a gradual run down of services. But the feed of patients to mental hospitals from state social services is not abating, the virtual world-wide virtual epidemic of depression has not bypassed Russia.

In Russia, the stigma of being a mentally ill person means that he or she can easily fall into the trap of self-denigration. There is probably nothing worse for a young person to be called, or call him or herself a ‘psycho’ in today’s contemporary Russian society. The idea of joining a voluntary group which helps out at hospitals for the mentally ill, is sadly lacking here, perhaps because we urbanites are too busy, perhaps because this a problem we would rather not think about.

Enter the charity ‘Dusha’ meaning soul in Russia. This charity which is only one year old is overworked. ‘Dusha’ primarily provides training for mentally ill patients inside of Moscow (psychiatric) region hospital #1. Training in communication, memory development and social skills are provided by clinical psychologists, which the charity provides. People who are truly interested in helping people, and regard their work as more of mission than a vocation, who don’t look down on people with mental illness, are extremely rare and difficult to find, said ‘Dusha’s’ coordinator Ekaterina Pogodina.

Selection_018Ekaterina explained ‘Dusha’s’ overall goal: “Mostly we work with people who have some kind of schizophrenia. A person may have difficulty in communication, and not be able to function within society, so helping people communicate is incredibly important both for children and for adults. For children the situation is really serious, because if this sort of thing occurs in childhood the consequences can be more serious than with an adult, who can probably be treated so that he or she can resume a normal life. With a child, such problems can spread to encompass more parts of the person’s persona, because they are younger.”

“We also try and help people with cognitive disturbances, by which we mean impediment of memory function, attention span and thought processes. If somebody’s ability to pay attention is disturbed, he will have difficulty in concentrating on a conversation, or studying for example.

Selection_022“We run leisure programmes: English lessons for children and Geography lectures. We try to make lessons fun, so that children want to participate. Patients, especially children seem to learn better when their lessons take the form of games. Other games are to do with conflicting situations, where the patient is confronted with a dilemma and has to make a decision, sometimes involving making a compromise.

“Of course the main function of a mental hospital is medical and psychological cure but there is a place for us in treatment procedures. All over the world there are voluntary, semi-commercial and commercial organisations which exist to help people on their way to recovery. We are trying to fill a gap.”

On the subject of what exact help Dusha needs now, Katya explained: “the number one problem is finding professional psychologists and volunteers who are willing to help out, and finding the money to remunerate them. We are only able to afford one professional for three groups, which strongly limits what we can do.

Selection_021“The number two problem is funding the means for our various programmes. For example, we now want to move into providing computerised training sessions because we can reach a lot more people that way. Programmes which provide individualised training and analysis in the cognitive sphere already exist, but we cannot afford to buy the computers.”

Results of ‘Dusha’s’ work cannot easily be quantified. Psychologist Larissa Kapitinova who currently works with some of the charity’s groups mentioned: “We have noticed that after going through our courses, patients who have been isolated from other people start to talk to each other and make friends with each other.” Ilya Kravchenko , one of the staff doctors in the children’s department at Moscow region hospital #1 mentioned: “The children like the classes, the children themselves want to be involved. Sometimes it’s hard to determine precisely what is giving the positive effect, the medicines or the psychology classes, but effect of classes is obvious.”

Selection_020One of ‘Dusha’s’ new projects involves trying to sell patients’ artwork. Katya explained: “We have quite a lot of patients who are unable to work for one reason or another, or if they can find work it is very badly paid. Some of them are pretty talented artists. It would be wonderful if their paintings could find their way onto the walls of offices, shops, anywhere where a lot of people go, so that people could look and buy. The authors of these works could enjoy a supplementary income, which would mean a huge amount for them, and at the same time, people would also be provided with the opportunity to make a donation to our foundation.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to help ‘Dusha,’ please contact: Hugh Mc Enaney, Secretary of the Irish Business Club via  www.moscowirishclub.ru/,

or ‘Dusha’ direct.

Dusha:

please write to [email protected]

Ekaterina Pogodina

Art Nouveau Grand Hotels

Selection_002Selection_004Art Nouveau Grand Hotels: Urban Transformations, Theatricality and Technological Pragmatism – People often use the word combination Grand Hotel, without really knowing that it had a very specific meaning at the Fin de Siècle. The words ‘Grand Hotel’ with capital G and capital H were used by the French for the first time in the mid-XIX century. The boom time of Grand Hotels coincided with the golden time of Art Nouveau, the era of enlightened industrialists and increasing mobility of people, technologies, art and ideas. Railroads and steamers were among those machines, which provided a flow of well-to-do hotel quests and a labour force to service them. Those hotels, almost ‘titanics,’ reflected industrial revolution and the collapse of the world in WWI. Very theatrical and sophisticated, they were packed with technology, which they paraded and hid at the same time. They mixed different classes and ethnic groups, established horizontal and vertical dialogues within cultures and civilizations. They were harbours for elegant adventurists and spies, venues for film productions. They were islands of Europeaness in Japan or China but plunged into the depths of the local life in Turkey. They changed the identities of urban environments in Paris or Moscow, and turned fishing villages into fashionable resorts in Italy or Germany. They traveled to the US and returned to Europe Americanized. Those multi-functional centers paved the road to the internationalization of the tourist industry, the evolution of the hospitality sector and the globalization of professionals in the service industry (managers, engineers and chefs). With strictly a defined public, catering, functional and private areas they had more than 2.5 servicing people per one guest. Most Grand Hotels did not survive the drama of WWI and the ensuing economic crisis, but many recovered and re-branded in the mid-1930s.

The technological revolution in Russia in the late 1890s caused rapid urbanization followed by the erection of the most typical city milestones: train and telephone stations, telegraphs and passages, apartment buildings and boulevards, museums, theaters, and Grand Hotels, all interwoven into the city fabric. Business and cultural links connecting Russia and Europe allowed many musicians, composers, ballet dancers, architects, painters, and entrepreneurs to travel in both directions, enriching and interpreting artistic styles and strengthening technological advancement worldwide.

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La Belle Époque saw several Grand Hotels erected in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Some were built from the ground; others used older constructions, considerably refurbished to obtain a well-recognized European look.

The Grand Hotel ‘Europe’ in St. Petersburg consists of two independent buildings, which in 1883-1885 were merged into one and dramatically redesigned by Swiss architect Ludwig Fontana to attract high level and demanding guests. They benefitted from close proximity to many theaters and museums as well as occasional visits from Peter Tchaikovsky or Ivan Turgenev, who also stayed there. As many other Grand Hotels, ‘Europe’ kept changing its look and services constantly: in 1908 a famous St. Petersburg architect Johann-Friedrich Lidval changed the interiors and added a new pool, reading hall and staircase for guests to parade their wealth and status. Lidval was also the author of another famous Grand Hotel in St. Petersburg, called ‘Astoria’ (1911-1912) in American manner.

Several Grand Hotels were built in Moscow, including the ‘National’ (1903, architect Alexander Ivanov). However it was the ‘Metropol’ which became the brightest illustration of the business initiatives, failures, and economic processes in Russia at the turn of the century. It linked Russian cultural traditions to the best European trends and technologies, thanks to Russian investors, architects, designers, and engineers, who took many trips to Europe and the US to get more education and experience.

In 1898 a railway magnate Savva Mamontov contracted Russian-born British architect William Walcott to erect a giant Grand Hotel and a cultural center, representing the quintessence of Art Nouveau philosophy and of innovative conveniences. In 1899 the glorious Mamontov went bankrupt, ‘Metropol’ was actually built thanks to the St. Petersburg Insurance Company with the help of architect Lev Kekushev. When it was virtually finished, it was so badly destroyed during a fire in 1901 that it took another four years to finish it, at an overall, staggering cost of seven million rubles.

Now dressed in mysterious reliefs by Nikolai Andreev and mythological majolica by Mikhail Vrubel and Alexander Golovin, crowned with sophisticated roofs and pointed pinnacles, the ‘Metropol’ still commands a central position Teatralny Square among other high-rise hotels and theaters.

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Homesickness

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Homesickness is normal when you move away to a new and unfamiliar place. It is so common that there are even websites dedicated to helping you cope. But what can you do if the homesickness doesn’t ease off?

Homesickness ‘stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security — feelings and qualities usually associated with home. When these qualities aren’t present in a new environment, we begin to long for them — and hence home. You’re not literally just missing your house. You’re missing what’s normal, what is routine, the larger sense of social space, because those are the things that help us survive.’ The issue is such that blogs exist with sections dedicated to combating homesickness.

Numerous academic and industrial research studies and surveys have shown that homesickness is the second most important expat concern and there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that homesickness is an illness and detrimental to the psychological and social well-being of displaced people.

CAUSES OF HOMESICKNESS

Moscow and the Russian culture is often very distant and different from what we are used to in our real homes, and this can lead foreign workers to feel ‘out of place’, have difficulties with integration, and feel ‘stupid’ when not understanding how things work. Fear that causes feelings of missing home is normally related to the demands of integration, the risk of making mistakes and breaking societal or governmental rules, personal safety, and the practical issues of life (e.g., transportation, social systems). I personally spent an hour in the company of three frustrated, tired and footsore children the first time I used the metro, changing from one line to the same one again over and over because I couldn’t read Russian, nor understand the navigation system.

One of the challenges of moving abroad is that the expatriate partner often becomes a household caretaker/stay-at-home parent, having given up a job/career, financial independence, and extended family support. Conversely the expat employee finds themselves with the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner. We often hear working expats complaining about the life of leisure they perceive their spouse to be leading. Without close family around with whom to share these frustrations, expats can find themselves feeling lonely and unsupported.

Adding to these stresses, expatriate family members also find themselves suddenly more dependent on each other for support and companionship than they were in their home country. Further dilemma is faced by dual-career couples that may be worried about opportunities for the partner abroad or the security of their jobs on return.

Without the right support any of these issues can become a ‘psychological trauma’ coupled with isolation and difficult conditions in the new environment which could culminate into an acute case of homesickness.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Recent statistical evidence from the Centre of Future Studies also reveals that the expats who adjust most successfully and quickly are those who relocate with families, but this is not always possible, and sometimes even moving away from members of your extended family, let alone your immediate family, can leave a big hole in your life.

The Moscow Winter, which we are now in the middle of, is probably the time when we miss our families the most. Short dark days and long nights, bad weather, the seasonal activities we missed, the expectations of the people you have left behind can add to the challenge of settling into an expat assignment.

Helpful hints before, during and immediately after the move:

• Involve everyone in the decision-making process of taking an assignment

• Involve those you are leaving behind, so they can add to the positive side of the challenge rather than adding to your feelings of guilt and separation

• Put firm and solid plans in place to hook back up with family on as regular a basis as possible

• Talk on the phone or email with old friends and family members

• Get yourself a smartphone – learning to use new gadgets and applications channels your mind on something other than homesickness and keeps you connected with people at home through email, facebook, and Instagram. Smartphones allow you to Skype without a computer; providing you with subway maps or bus routes, and more

• Set up regular Skype calls and video conferencing, especially where different time zones are involved

• Join clubs with other expats who are likely to be supportive when you first arrive – the extent to which the new environment is supportive determines the degree to which the newcomer experiences difficulties and the extent to which he or she feels homesick. Volunteer if you have the opportunity to get more involved

• Say ‘yes’ to every invitation for the first 6 months, whether you are tired or not

• Exercise, even if it’s just walking to a bus stop or metro further down the road

• Set yourself targets – one new discovery a day or chapters of a book

• Alternate between having family to stay and you returning to visit them – perhaps adding in a trip to a third country that is relatively equidistant from all family members where you can have a regular reunion?

MIND OVER MATTER

• Connect in some way to your former life – have a few photos, watch movies and listen to music that reminds you of what you long for

• Stay focused on the present and what you need to do to settle into the expatriate lifestyle

• Think of where you are as being one part of your life’s journey

• Ask yourself, honestly, if you are really trying to settle in and adjust. If not, what do you have to do to make that happen?

• Keep a daily diary to look back on. This will help you to remember your achievements

• Police your thoughts and viewpoints to make sure you are looking at the experience in a way that will help you settle in abroad!

RECOGNISE THE SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of ‘intense homesickness’ are tangible physical, cognitive and behavioural. Sufferers complain of:

• gastric and intestinal pains

• headaches

• feeling of tiredness – not sleeping well or sleeping too much

• some eating disorders – not eating or overeating

• hair loss

• apathy

• listlessness

• lack of initiative

• not interacting with others

• an intense preoccupation with home, not thinking about anything else

• little interest in the new environment

• obsessive thoughts about home and sometimes simultaneously negative thoughts about the new place

GET HELP

Don’t wait till you feel in crisis before you look for help! Unacknowledged and untackled, the symptoms of homesickness are likely to lead to emotional problems such as low moods, lack of security, loneliness, nervousness, lack of control and depression.

If you feel that you are becoming depressed, seek help from your partner or spouse, and from friends in your expat network or club, find out who your employer’s Employee Assistance Programme is delivered by and keep the number handy, or if you feel your symptoms are overwhelming, see a local health professional. Details of these resources can be found in the back issues of Moscow expat Life magazine.

KNOW AND CONTROL THE RISK FACTORS FOR HOMESICKNESS:

• Little control over your situation

• Low morale

• Low expectations for your new environment

• Not building social networks within expat communities and clubs when you arrive

• Don’t go abroad to run away from problems or boredom at home

• Unrealistic expectations of the lifestyle and financial benefits (or not) of moving abroad

• Failure to adapt to the realities of the new culture, language or environment

• Inability to communicate in the local language

• Physical illness

If you are not working at the moment, you should adopt a different approach, such as plan a strategy for finding work.

Several studies also show that the spouse’s support to move abroad and ability to adjust to the new environment is one of the most critical predictors of expatriates’ successful relocation.

Expatriates and their partners need to have access to a wealth of personal, work, and family resources that help them respond effectively to the demands entailed in the move to a foreign environment and to help reduce the impact of homesickness:

• Involve spouses early on in the relocation

• Relocate as an entire family unit, if that is practicable – spouse support in the early days will reap rewards in productivity and integration of the employee into the new environment

• Cultural training prior to placement – if expats are culturally adjusted, they will be able to do more in Russia

• Take language classes

• Get relocation assistance including helpful information that addresses school for children, activities/jobs for spouses, residential areas popular within the company and other international companies if you can

• A schedule should be developed to reduced travel early on in the assignment, to create reduced or flexible work hours, and capability to work at home

Embassies of the World Dinner and Ball

iwc-ball-2014-318x468The Embassies of the World Dinner and Ball is coming up on Saturday the 1st of March. Moscow expat Life talked to IWC President Izabella Zajaczkowska, spouse of the Embassador of Poland and Sonia Michon-Floc’hlay, IWC PR chair to tell us about what’s been planned for this year’s event.

What exactly is Embassies of the World Dinner and Ball?

Izabella Zajaczkowska: This is a Gala Ball with participation of several of the embassies in Moscow. Ambassadors welcome guests who dine in their embassies or residences. Guests have an excellent chance to network over dinner because these are fairly intimate gatherings of between 8 and 24 people. Then everybody goes to the Gala Ball itself.

The ball has been running for 18 years now. It started in 1997, when the wife of the Norwegian ambassador at the time had the idea of creating this event. Since then it has taken place every year, has grown each year and become more and more prestigious. The Moscow International Community is pretty familiar with the event. I think I am right in saying that this it is one of the most, or the most prestigious and glamorous international events on the social calendar in Moscow. We expect around 300 guests this year.

Is there anything special about this year’s ball?

SoniaA SAV_3638Sonia Michon-Floc’hlay: This year’s ball is a special because it marks the IWC’s 35th anniversary. Izabella, who will host this year’s ball, has been very clear about marking our anniversary, so that we are really going to make this event something amazing. During the evening, we want to emphasise the underlying international character of the IWC, which is an international community with about 700 members, representing over 70 nationalities, and hence this year’s theme is: ‘Dance and Romance Around The World.’

To celebrate this anniversary we have planned a few surprises from a special raffle on the one hand; because the ball is not only about glamour and dance, it’s also about raising money for charity, and this is one of the IWC’s main fundraising events of the year. All proceeds from the ball go to support over 20 charities in Russia. We wouldn’t be able to do this if we didn’t have the support of the diplomatic community, of the expat community, and of major companies operating in Russia, all of whom make this possible. Apart from the raffle, we have a silent auction and some special birthday highlights to mark the IWC’s anniversary. So it’s going to be an evening of elegance and a gala in the true sense of the word if I may say.

How can people participate?

izabellaIzabella Zajaczkowska: Basically, buying tickets is the way to participate! The ball is open to everybody. Guests have two options of tickets. There are ‘ball only’ tickets, that’s without the dinner at an embassy, for 5,400 roubles per person. And then there are ‘dinner and ball’ tickets which can be purchased for 8,500 roubles each. They can be bought via our website at: www.iwcmoscow.ru or at any of the IWC meetings such as the IWC’s coffee mornings and general meetings. Tickets for the ball can also be bought at the Hotel Metropol on the evening of the event itself, the ball starts at 9.30pm.

The dress code is black tie, evening gown.

The Perennial John Roche

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Has working and living in Russia changed you as a person?

It’™s all about flexibility. I’e always had an ability to multitask, to tackle something else within a related sphere. For example, somebody came to me and said: “œYou€™’re a hotelier, we need hotel standards, can you help us out by formulating them?” So I wrote some hotel standards for Russia, and that involved training programmes and creating branding. It was one of those occasions where people said: “œWell John might know.” I had a lot of connections in Moscow, so I was able to arrange things quite easily.

Does that mean that multi-tasking is a really good thing to be able to do in Moscow?

There are many many opportunities in Moscow, and the longer I stayed here, the more opportunities I saw. The one thing I didn’™t want to do was to be involved in things that were boring. It’™s never been boring, it’™s always been challenging. It’s not an easy place to live, but it’s a lot easier now than it used to be. If we parachute ourselves back 20 years, one of the biggest differences is that it wasn’™t so difficult to find people, because there were only about four places where people used to meet. It pushed us all together, and you all helped each other.

When I first came here, the first things I was involved in was marketing a pub called the Red Lion. This was a challenge, because my Russian was limited to what I had learned in James Bond movies. I used to communicate using card tricks and by doing tricks with glasses. People said: “œcome and see this crazy Englishman down at the pub”; and they did in great numbers. I was very fortunate. Mick Lange who now runs AAA English and I worked together and he knew a company that supplied Karaoke equipment, which we installed in the pub. The pub was mobbed, as karaoke was something new in Moscow then. There was this short Japanese guy, who was a regular who stood a little way back with the radio microphone and when his music came he changed completely into Nat King Cole. It was spookily brilliant. So it’™s not just the things I’™ve done, but it’™s the friends I’ve made and the delight of being asked to be involved in things.

The crisis in 1998 was not so easy for everybody. The Scottish Society which had been going for three years, and was run then by Tom Crozier who was leaving, had a problem getting people to keep it going. I was asked to help out at the St. Andrew’™s ball. The Chieftain that year was an Irishman, Michael O’™Leary. Anyway the ball was at the Radisson Slavyansky and it was huge, and very amusing. They did a Full Mc Monty, it was hilarious. Up until that time I had spent seven days a week working, incredibly busy, doing different things, and it was really nice to be involved in something like this. Then the Irish Club asked me to get involved, in the days when they took over the New Arbat to have their parades, I became known as the kind of Master of Ceremonies of Choice. “John’™ll do it, he doesn’™t talk too much, he’™ll keep things moving.” And that takes me back to my hotelier days before I came to Russia, when being toastmaster and master of ceremonies was part of the deal.

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Presumably you must like Russians or you wouldn’™t be here. But what do you do when things go wrong? What advice would you give?

I think it’™s all about honesty. A Russian proverb explains a lot: “˜I’€™d rather be slapped in the face with the truth than kissed with a lie.”™ If things are going wrong, or have gone wrong, that’™s it, that’s a fact. If everyone knows exactly what the situation is, and acknowledges it, then you can solve the problem or move on from there. I have been involved with the Taganka charity for children for the past 10 years, and I was there just this Saturday. The mums were there, and it’™s not easy for them because some of their children will never grow up. It’™s all about honesty, which you can see in their faces too.

Do you prescribe to the current image of Russia from abroad?

I don’™t see it as being any different from anywhere else really. The alphabet maybe is different. I think it’™s easy to stereotype.

Have you had any really bad times here?

Health was a bit of a concern at one stage. Although medical treatment can be very expensive here, my trust in Russian doctors has been reinforced. In general, I have been very fortunate here. My life has been interesting.

How long do you plan to stay here? Do you have a long-term strategy?

I did five years plans, at the end of the first five years, I thought: “˜will I be here in another five years? I don’™t know.”™ I never had a plan to leave, so therefore I had a plan to stay by default. There have been a succession of really interesting things which have kept me here. I worked abroad in France, Germany and Switzerland before coming here. To be in one place for so long is remarkable. Yes, I could go to the South Coast of the UK where my family now is, and I suppose that one day I’™ll ‘˜retire’€™ in inverted commas, but when, I don’™t know. I think I need to work in England for a while before I could respectfully retire, to re-acclimatise. I remember being in New York after Moscow, and the taxi drivers there would say: “œslow down!” I think every day has a challenge for me. As long as it stays like that, I will stay. Obviously this relates to employment, and it will be a choice that ultimately will be taken from me, as opposed to one that I can make. But in the mean time I enjoy it, I love it.

Why did you grow a beard?

I used to have a goatee type thing. Then in 2005 or thereabouts, I grew it for Christmas, to be Santa. In the pub a month later the idea came of selling my beard for charity, so that’s what we did, and we raised quite a lot of cash! So it used to be grow the beard then chop it off in January. I have now become a really popular Santa and invited to appear in a large number of places from the Irish Embassy to hospitals and schools. A few years after my Santa debut I decided to stay in Santa mode all year round, although I may need to trim it down next year if we have another really hot spell in the summer.

Selection_038Final words of wisdom:

It’™s a big city, a small village, a great place if you come at it with good grace. Then it will delight you. It can be a challenge like any big city, and I’™ve lived and worked in a number. But there are some great people here, the friendships you develop in a situation of diversity like this brings out strength and unity. Also I think it is really important to get involved. If you can do something to support the less able, or do anything like go to a school and give a talk about something that you are interested in, in a language that they would love to learn, do it. If you have time, or you can make time, the rewards on your investments are going to be huge.