As an entrepreneur, I know that owning and running a business creates a tremendous amount of pressure for many people. There is always an ever growing list of things to worry about. You are constantly engaged in a battle between your head and the world around you. Always wondering how to keep everyone happy and still make money. Every day, you try your very best…but, every night, there’s always one thing that keeps you up. It’s different for everyone but there’s always one thing that keeps you from sleeping.
Let me share with you a story of one thing that kept me up for many nights in my early years as an entrepreneur.
You read that correctly, communism.
In the summer of 1991, still a college student, I decided to enroll in a business program in the Soviet Union. It was the very first time that the Moscow Institute of Foreign Relations (MGIMO) had opened up its doors to Westerners. I had a sociology degree and had just finished my first year of law school but I knew absolutely nothing about business. I only knew that I was poor and I wanted to be rich. So, I met a couple of equally aspiring young Soviets and we decided to go into business together. It was a very clumsy and awkward beginning principally because; I didn’t speak the language, they barely spoke English, they knew nothing of business, I knew nothing of business, their currency couldn’t be used anywhere outside of their country, they were based in Moscow, I was based in Canada, I still had to finish school, Russia was essentially lawless and the mafia was growing in power rapidly…but, despite this list of concerns my number one worry still was communism.
The Soviet Union dissolved by the end of 1991 however, many of the citizens, politicians and high ranking military were not happy to see it go. They liked their old world and didn’t want it to change. By 1992, we had worked through many of our initial business issues, hired security staff and developed an extensive distribution network to sell food and alcohol. We grew this business quickly and then expanded into finance and commercial real estate development. Our company became very successful but still the worry that it might all disappear in one night was constantly on my mind. There were daily protests and fights between hard-line communists and new world capitalists. No one knew which side would win…however, we were businessmen, we were entrepreneurs — we took risks and had to keep working, every day.
Then it happened. October, 1993.
Just as I feared.
A coup attempt.
The hard-line communists took over the parliament building in Moscow and took to the streets with tanks and weapons. Who were they hunting? Us. Specifically, my Russian partners — new world capitalists.
In those days, my passport was always taped to the upper part of my left arm and cash was taped to my right arm. I was always ready to leave the country with a moment’s notice.
As gun shots rang through the streets, my partners gathered their families and everyone went into hiding in separate locations, I spent the entire night watching militia machine gun people and buildings, including my hotel. All night I worried about the safety of my employees, my partners, and their families. Over and over in my mind I worked through the scenarios of losing all of these friends, colleagues and the business. And, I worried that I too may not make it out alive.
Morning came and all trouble had passed. Yeltsin had strong armed the hard-liners and they eventually gave up. All of my friends were safe. We resumed business as if nothing had happened. But, that worry still kept me up for years to come.
More than 20 years later, I wrote Corporate Undertaker in an effort to help business owners and managers get some sleep at night. The book is filled with 50 different lessons that are principally aimed at helping you deal with adversity and crisis in business. All of these lessons were developed to help take the guess work and uncertainty out of managing a business.
I hope you enjoy the stories and embrace the lessons. I would love to hear your story. Tell me what keeps you up at night.
If you can’t find a solution, I’m here to help. Call me.