Living The Soviet Dream And Other Office Disasters

I thought I would revisit a few office based memories as we in England relive what it’s like to get back indoors with others. In this chapter, it’s the perils of operating in Russia…

Back in the early 90s the law firm I worked at decided that the way to a golden future was to expand into Europe and Asia. Over a relatively short period we acquired offices throughout Western Europe. Some of the more ambitious felt we couldn’t ignore the newly freed Russia, then enjoying the bizarre experience of an alcoholic Womble for president in the guise of Boris Yeltsin.

One golden rule, which we necessarily broke eventually was that each new office had to be run by an experienced partner – something about ensuring the firm’s culture being embedded but often this seemed to involve finding a way to promote someone who wouldn’t otherwise have made the grade. Me? Cynical? Hmm.

The Moscow posting, however, didn’t require such a one because one of our more eccentric French partners (though to be fair ‘eccentric’ tended to be implied when dealing with French lawyers generally) offered his services.

Herve was a tousled haired, lopsided genial sloth in human form whose somnambulant mannerisms belied a keen eye and a flamboyant wit. He was also something of a computer geek who loved to code.

This posting wasn’t for everyone. It had a whiff of the Dodge City about it. When after a few months the landlord of our carefully selected office asked to meet Herve, the assumption was of someone checking everything was going smoothly. After the pleasntries the conversation stalled so Herve tried to move things on:

Herve: Was there anything else, Mr Stalin?

Stalin: Call me General Secretary, please. I think we should discuss the rent review.

Herve: But Mr St.. Gen Sec. the lease says the rent is fixed for two years.

General Secretary Stalin: You lawyers are such a one with your contracts. You are happy here, yes?

Herve: Indeed, but….

General Secretary Stalin: And you would find it inconvenient to move now you’ve settled in?

Herve: Naturally, but….

Comrade General Secretary (First Class): {withdraws Ivory handled pistol from a Gucci shoulder bag} And despite what the lease says, you really want to pay me more rent, yes?

Herve: What if instead we just left?

Supreme Leader, High Priest And Comrade General Secretary (Pan Galactic Award Winner) Stalin: That might work.

We moved that afternoon, to a spare couple of rooms where JP Morgan hung out.

Naturally management were worried. While staff safety was, of course paramount, a close second was keeping Herve in post on the sure and sound principle that there wasn’t exactly a queue of people wanting to take over. ‘How can we help?’ They asked, meaning ‘In what way can we sugar this pill?’

’Can I road test the new computer system?’

’Really? I’m mean you actually want to try it out?’

It was a win-win. All the latest gizmos and software were despatched east and Herve spent hours trying things out to find the glitches. Because we were in the throes of creating a comprehsive network, all the Russian team were involved, which created its own challenges.

Imagine a team meeting, at 8.30 one cold grubby February in 1993.

Herve: Listen up people. We live in exciting times and on everyone’s desk there is a personal computer on which you can email each other, draft documents, create bills, carry out research…

Igor: You do know this is Moscow and the chances of us having power today are as unlikely as finding a clean sprinter or novel recipe for beetroot?

Herve: Pah! The world is changing… though if you do encounter problems do not reboot but find me first….

Igor: Do nothing until told otherwise?

Herve: Exactly.

Igor: Fine. That’s what made the Soviet Union great.

Herve was happy. Glitches came and he rummaged about in the guts of the software, forming long term friendships with the IT consultants who were delighted they didn’t need to go to Moscow in person.

Roll the calendar forward. It’s June and very warm. Herve is at his desk, frowning at the screen as he tries to untangle some coding corruption. There’s a knock at his office door. He waves the visitor quiet with his free hand – he just needs to finish what he’s doing or he might lose track.

Igor is well trained. He stands by the glass waiting to be permitted entry. Finally Herve looks up. He is curious why Igor seems to be disappearing into a mist and can his face really be turning blue?

Herve hurries to open the door. Smoke is filling the reception behind Igor. Through the haze Herve can see flames lapping around Igor’s Desk.

Herve: Wtf?

He uses the fire extinguisher to prevent a disaster.

Igor gulps down the fresh air that remains in Herve’s office. He waits by Herve’s desk and is both surprised and hurt when his boss excoriates him in four languages.

Igor: But Boss, I am Russian. How can you expect me to show initiative?

We weren’t put off but such setbacks. They were speed humps on the road to world domination. After all opening a successful Russian operation is as nothing compared to the spleen shredding delight of merging with the Germans. But that, as they say, is another story…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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15 Responses to Living The Soviet Dream And Other Office Disasters

  1. Simon says:

    Oh god you had so much fun! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Darlene says:

    That was hilarious. Could be the entire plot of the next James Bond movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Having worked for a German firm and having spent time in the presence of Russians, I had a good laugh. Spleen shredding indeed.

    Like

  4. JT Twissel says:

    Ha! I’ve worked with Russians and they definitely have their own style of negotiating.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When I was at Mobil, we had a German management trainee who was posted with us in London for six months – barely two decades after the war, boy would he provide you with a stereotypical script.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. George says:

    Keep having to remind myself this is real as it reads like one of your brilliant creations.

    My one experience of Russia was a work trip to St Petersburg. It was set up by the company I was visiting. My first contact was an email giving me the name of the hotel and the instruction, “when you arrive, you must only speak your name”.

    When I plucked up courage to say more than my name, I found the city beautiful and the hospitality warm and generous.

    Three weeks later, we started getting separate emails from the two groups of people that I’d been working with, each urging us not to communicate with the other, as one faction had gone rogue, set up their own business on the side, and was endeavouring to steal all the customers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Marsha says:

    Funny, Geoff!

    Liked by 1 person

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