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

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9780070267008: Moscow Madness: Crime, Corruption, and One Man's Pursuit of Profit in the New Russia

Moscow madness is a term Americans living and working in the new Russia give to the affliction that takes control of their senses when they try and do business in Russia. This book looks at Rick Grajirena and his attempt to sell Miller beer in Russia, focusing on the obstacles he must overcome.

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Review:

Moscow Madness is an exciting tale about the insanity of doing business behind the old Iron Curtain. Timothy Harper tells the true story of Richard Grajirena, an American who sets up a Miller Beer distribution company in Moscow. Russia was thirsty for his beer, but Grajirena becomes overwhelmed by the craziness of doing business there in the early 1990s. In Russia's evolving capitalism, he discovers, "it is almost impossible for small businesses to survive the pressure of contradictory laws and regulations, bureaucracy and criminals."

Grajirena, a former world-class yachtsman, wanted to become rich in post-Communist Russia. Instead, he gets victimized by the black market, corrupt customs agents, wild swings in currency-exchange rates, skyrocketing taxes and fees, and the Russian mob. His business collapses after he refuses to pay outright bribes or deal with organized crime. Harper writes, "Grajirena was astonished and frightened by the reach of the 'mafiya' and the gang lords relying on thugs who were happy to commit casual mayhem for a few American dollars. They used violence and intimidation to turn central Moscow into a version of gangland Chicago in the Capone era." Released 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this book offers some excellent insights for investors and others interested in Russia's struggle with free enterprise. --Dan Ring

From the Author:

Rick Grajirena:

This book came about because two guys, Tim and I, "met" while surfing the Internet. How the book came to be is a pretty amazing story -- almost as amazing as some of my adventures and misadventures in Russia. Let me back up a little. I experienced some incredible highs and devastating lows in trying to do distribute American beer in Russia in the first half of the 1990s, and American pharmaceuticals and cosmetics in the last few years. I learned a lot, and I felt like what had happened to me was not only a good story, but could serve as a kind of case study. I thought hey, maybe telling my story could help some other entrepreneurs avoid some of the trouble and danger -- financial and real-life -- that I'd gotten into with partners, employees, Russian officials, customers in Moscow, and of course the mafiya. Now, I'm not a writer. I did write a column about sailing for a local newspaper years before (I'm a former world sailing champion, and I'm still pretty well known in yachting circles). But the prospect of sitting down and writing a book by myself seemed pretty daunting. So I started surfing the net looking for writers' forums and bulletin boards. I found one on AOL, and posted a note saying that I had a story to tell about international business, and I'd be interested in talking to a writer. I got lots of responses back, but one email stood out. It was from a guy who had written several previous books, including some about international business and a couple about beer. He had lived in Europe, and had been traveling to and writing about Russia since 1983. He was a partner in the Brooklyn Brewery, a microbrewery. It seemed like he had the combination of experience and expertise I was looking for. I called Tim and we talked on the phone a few times. I flew up to New York from my home in Florida, and we spent a day with each other, just talking about my experiences. At first we thought it might be my book: Moscow Madness, By Rick Grajirena, with Timothy Harper. But gradually it became clear that the story could be told more broadly, with more perspective, if it was Tim writing about me. So that's what we did. We spent untold hours together, in New York, at my office in Florida, and traveling together in Russia. In some ways it was fun, telling my stories, giving my opinions, having a guy write down everything I did or said in a meeting. But in some ways it was really difficult. The whole interviewing process made me go back and analyze my experiences in a new light. It made me realize how some things went wrong, and how I could have or should have done some things differently. It was a real learning experience for me, and I hope the book not only entertains people, but helps them learn something about Russia and Russians. Who knows, maybe it will help some people avoid some of the mistakes I made.

From Tim Harper:

When we started out, there was never any intention that this would be a funny book. But even now there are so many things in the book that get me laughing out loud just thinking about them, some things that Rick or others told me about, some that I saw for myself. Like the Russian taxi driver whose car ran out of windshield cleaner on a muddy day. He stopped at a kiosk, bought some cheap vodka, popped open the hood, poured in the booze, jumped back in the car, spritzed the windows, and took off again. Rick says he learned a lot in helping me with this book; I certainly learned a lot, too. This book, Rick's story, is not merely a business case study. It's a story of change, and how we deal with the good and the bad that come our way. It's also a story about hope, and this guy's incredible determination and optimism no matter what went wrong. In writing about hundreds of business people around the world over the years, I've never met anyone who could look at himself in such a frank and honest manner, especially when he steps up and takes the blame for mistakes. One of the most interesting, and satisfying, things about this book to me is the response it's gotten from readers who told me they had never been particularly interested in Russia or international business. When you get right down to it, any story, whether it's about business or science or any other topic, isn't really a good story unless it's about people.

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