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MTLawton says that employees of her first client in Samara thought she might be a spy.
During her initial visit to Russia as an auditor, Rachel Lawton had to face a tourist hotel with cockroaches and no hot water -- and a client whose employees thought she might be a spy.

That was Samara in 1994, when Lawton first began working for the London-based audit and consulting firm Moore Stephens International.

Seven years and more than 50 trips later, Lawton is living in Russia permanently, serving as general manager of the firm's Moscow office, a position she assumed last February.

Although she's still struggling with cultural differences in and outside the office, Lawton is happy with her move and pleased that her job has allowed her to explore so many regions of the former Soviet Union.

"I joke with my Russian friends that I've actually been to more parts of Russia than some of them," says Lawton, before rattling off the list of places she's visited, including Vladivostok and Sakhalin in the Far East and Kiev.

Lawton had actually made her first trip to the former Soviet Union before she started working for Moore Stephens. As a Russian-language and Soviet studies major at the University of Surrey in England, Lawton joined a group of students studying abroad in Kiev in 1986.

But soon after they settled into a hostel, the Chernobyl explosion forced the students to evacuate Kiev for the Black Sea coast, where they spent three weeks before heading to Leningrad.

Unlike their fellow classmates, who were able to spend an entire year visiting their foreign country of choice, Lawton's group was only allowed to stay in the Soviet Union for three months.

"The government was very strict," recalls Lawton. "They monitored us. Our movement was quite restricted."

Lawton graduated from Surrey in 1989. Unable to work in the Soviet Union, she veered from her love of Russian and entered the accounting world. After serving five years at an accounting firm in central London, Lawton decided it was time to use her degree.

She turned to a recruitment agency in hopes of finding a job that would require her to speak Russian. Within a day, she had interviewed for and accepted a job as an auditor at Moore Stephens, which was in the process of expanding into Russia.

Consulting clients in the shipping industry has long been a niche for the firm, and in the late 1980s, Moore Stephens broke into Russia by doing an audit for a shipping company in Moscow.

From there, the firm spread its consulting services east, eventually establishing an office in Vladivostok in 1996. Moore Stephens didn't set up its Moscow office until 1999.

Lawton has been doing business throughout the former Soviet Union. Her first job in Samara was difficult, Lawton says, and indicative of the types of hurdles she would continually face.

She had been sent to do an audit for a company that needed one from a Western firm in order to get a loan from a Western bank. But, Lawton says, the company was very wary of foreigners and therefore reluctant to hand over information.

"It was quite trying," she says. "They thought we might be spies, that we'd hand over information to the tax police or give information to competitors." Lawton says it took her team five weeks to get any useful information.

Although her work has become easier since then, she's still had to face plenty of hostile Russian employees.

"The reluctance comes from middle-level people, who obviously haven't been briefed on why we're there," Lawton says. "Part of their reluctance is because we're foreign, part is because they don't understand consulting, and part is because they think we threaten their jobs."

Since February, when she became general director of Moore Stephen's Moscow office, Lawton has been facing challenges of another kind. Without an administrative support system, she is trying to juggle recruiting staff, marketing and accounting and reviewing work. The office changed locations three weeks ago, and the transition has not been easy.

"We're still waiting for the telephone to be properly installed so we can use the Internet and e-mail properly," she says. "It seems like we're fighting a losing battle with Russian bureaucracy."

Lawton has also been fighting the temptations that go along with being a hard-working foreigner in a cold city -- namely alcohol.

"I've made myself join the gym," Lawton says. "The expat community here is very alcoholic. I realized that I've got to do something to try to keep fit or else I'll just end up in the bar virtually every night, which is bad for the old thighs."