Moscow Musings

"Leaders in Moscow" was a sparkling event. Ran into a lot of the "same old, same old" (ex-IBM boss Lou Gerstner, Swedish "guru" Kjell Nordstrom, etc.), but fell in love with the energy and unexpected youthfulness of the fully engaged Russian audience. Alas, the streets were a different story. Yes, there is a lot of evident building activity and the like. But my hotel (a superb Radisson) was near a major train station. I happened to go out for my morning walk as rush hour arrivals were peaking. To be sure, in Chicago or London or Frankfurt or Buenos Aires or Dubai, not everyone has on their "can't wait to get to the office" face upon disgorgement from a commuter train. Nonetheless, I was struck (exactly the right word!) by the totally consistent grim demeanors of everyone I passed. I was not looking for a smile or nod ... but ye gads ... the Weight of the World seemed to be on every pair of shoulders and in every pair of eyes. Within 20 minutes, tonic of a brisk power walk notwithstanding, I found myself encased with gloom & doom. I don't know what the deal is (beyond generic/genetic Russian despair), and I thought it was rude to inquire. Some of this may, of course, be old-fashioned projection. Face it, at my age, say "Moscow" or "Kremlin," and images of 10,000 nuclear-tipped missiles all aimed at Omaha and Manhattan still comes immediately and powerfully to mind; maybe I simply can't get beyond that.

NB: I am a Jack Welch fan (it's anti-American not to be), but I remain in outright awe of what Gerstner did at IBM in less than a decade. Bluntly, there is in my opinion no more impressive corporate turnaround story in American business history. Armstrong got nowhere at AT&T. Fisher made a mess of Kodak. Fiorina was a washout at HP. (And, after all, Welch inherited a machine in good operating order and a vigorous "culture" at GE.) But Lou pulled off a "180-degree culture change," and not only saved a great company, but launched it in a new direction which can enable if not insure decades of global leadership.