St. Petersburg: From Gum Warrior to Entrepreneur
The most fun part of this trip has been dropping back in on people after 10 years, having no idea how they might have changed. Some people look absolutely the same, while others have changed so much I hardly recognized them -- you just never know. Yesterday, I was reminded of that once again when we saw Larisa Fedotova.
Way back in early September, we'd spent a frustrating few days in Khabarovsk trying to track Larisa down. I'd been searching for a few months already, as I suspected she'd probably left Khabarovsk for a bigger city. Larisa was an ambitious young sales manager for Wrigley's gum back in 1995, and seemed destined for bigger things.
On our last day in Khabarovsk, we finally made contact! Larisa emailed to say she'd moved to St. Petersburg and was running her own advertising company. We made plans to see her when we arrived here, and yesterday we met outside a metro station near her apartment. I expected your basic 10-years-later version of Khabarovsk Larisa, a no-nonsense, khaki-raincoat-wearing businessperson. Okay, so I was mistaken.
Larisa, now 35, arrived clad in a neon pink jacket with lush fur collar, stylish jeans and bright red shoes. Her hair, then the epitome of the sensible short cut, now cascaded down her back. She looked fantastic. "Wow," I exclaimed, "check out the pink jacket!"
"Hey," she parried with a smile, "I'm in the advertising business!"
As we went back to her apartment and talked, it became clear that more than just her clothes and hair have changed. Over the last decade, Larisa has transformed herself into an entrepreneur and business executive, building her private company, Primedia, into a serious player in indoor advertising. It seemed clear back in '95 that Larisa would do well in business, but I have to admit, I hadn't expected her to launch her own company, grow it so quickly, and do it with such... verve.
As we talked in the apartment she shares with her husband Viktor and 8-year-old daughter Diana, Larisa radiated energy and ideas even as she bustled about, preparing dinner and pouring wine. I asked her how the business world had changed over the past 10 years.
"It has become more civilized," she said. "There's more concentrated capital. In theory, it's not that hard to start your own business." That said, she acknowledged that in the first two years after she founded her company, she spent untold hours, including evenings and weekends, working to build it up.
I was happy to hear of Larisa's success, partly because ever since we met ten years ago in Khabarovsk, I just plain liked her and wanted her to do well. But more generally, it's nice to see a young woman succeed on her own terms in the Russian business world. And on reflection, I realized it's not that Larisa has changed so much since 1995; she's just given freer rein to the more entrepreneurial, daring parts of her personality. I have to say, I envy her that -- and I can't wait to see where it will take her in the next ten years.
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