In 1995, the company I headed, Eastern Holdings International, had two partnerships in the Former Soviet Union. One was headquartered in St. Petersburg, Russia, with agreements covering all Former Soviet Union territories except for the Baltic nations. The other was in Latvia with agreements covering the three Baltic nations, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, and was headquartered in Riga, the capital city of Latvia.
The Russian partner was Optica, dominant optical manufacturer and retailer in northeastern Russia with 3000 employees and led by three principals, Elena Drobiaska (former mistress of the assassinated Valeriy Solovyev), Arnold Kogan and Gregoriy Barinberg. Although partners, my relationship with Optica was one of extreme caution. The undercurrent of plotting and trickery always boiled close to the surface.
The partner in Latvia was MedTechExpress. It was smaller, befitting the smaller nation, gentler and friendly. Its three principals were Vladimir Brouck, Nina Holiavitskaya and Tatjana Barushka. They all appeared to be sincere and dedicated partners and with their effort and area guidance, we, by 1995, had grown the business to encompass some 12 stores in Latvia and 4 more in Lithuania. The business ran smoothly. On the surface. The operations of our stores, reporting to the owners, were managed by a small but highly energetic lady named Nina Monyenkova. Nina appeared dedicated to the joint-venture cause and often, in meetings, praised “jackum” for my leadership and brilliant solution to store marketing problems.
One Spring day, I toured our Riga stores with Nina. The store with the greatest location, faced the central commuter railroad terminal thus being in the center of the morning and evening rush hours. My one regret was that the premises available were not large enough to support one of our optical laboratories so we could not promise “ochki za chas” or glasses in an hour. On our tour, I expressed this regret to Nina and her reaction was intense. She shook her head many times and then said, “It’s not my place to make the decision but I agree with you.”
I was confused. “I’m sorry, what decision, there was no decision to make. We had to settle for small space or none.”
She looked at me with what appeared to be amazement. “Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Byrne, I was sure they talked to you about it.”
“About what, Nina?”
“The fish store.”
In the past month, a large fish store had taken over the premises of the store adjoining ours and another small store on the other side. I said, “Yeh, the fish store looks great and I wish we had that space. But, we don’t.”
“I know. Tatjana put together a small group and leased the space to open the best fish store in Latvia.”