A Will, a Way and a Dog

Peter Necarsulmer says he has never found a problem he could not solve.

"It may have taken a long time, I may have made a lot of mistakes in the process," said Necarsulmer, the founder, chairman and CEO of The PBN Company, a public relations firm. "But a tried and true phrase is that where there's a will, there's a way."

Necarsulmer, who is also president of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights, relishes the tough, complicated issues -- enough to build a whole business and a lifetime career on problem-solving. It's "what gets my juices going," he said in an interview in his spacious but cozy Moscow office.

His PR company has battled for disputed trademarks, recovered investments thought to be lost, and cleaned up beaches and reputations soiled by serious oil spills.

When he started his PR business in the living room of his San Francisco apartment in 1983, Necarsulmer had little idea that one day, the largest of the company's five offices worldwide would be located in Moscow. He had graduated from Stanford University six years earlier with a degree in political science.

It was Nancy Pelosi -- the Democratic U.S. congresswoman and newly elected speaker of the house -- who gave Necarsulmer his "first serious, paying political job," in the fundraising office of the Democratic Party in California.

From there, he moved on to become a lobbyist at a top firm in California's multimillion-dollar lobbying industry.

"If I ever thought ... I wanted to be a member of a government or of a legislature, that cured me forever," Necarsulmer said of the experience, which ultimately inspired him to start his own PR firm.

Years later, a friend from his days in politics kicked off the Russian chapter of Necarsulmer's professional life with a last-minute phone call.

"I think everyone one day gets that phone call that changes their life forever. Mine came in 1990," Necarsulmer said.

That year, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, then at the height of his popularity in the West, visited California after a Washington summit meeting with U.S. President George Bush. Necarsulmer's friend, who was a senior advisor at the White House, phoned him and asked him to handle the unexpected trip.

In roughly 10 days, Necarsulmer's company had organized what he called "the most intensive, exciting" four-day marathon of events, covered by media the world over.

The success of Gorbachev's California visit prompted the presidential administration to invite PBN to open an accredited office in Moscow. Necarsulmer jumped at the opportunity.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Necarsulmer says personal integrity comes first above all else, even a paycheck.
"Everything felt like an adventure," he said. "Everything we did was a first: the first Kremlin Cup, the first international hotel ... the introduction of Chiquita bananas to Russia, the first piece of market research not done by VTsIOM."

The path to success in Russia wasn't without its bumps. In 1998, having made the decision to move permanently to Russia, Necarsulmer sold his California office and his "fabulous home" in Sausalito.

The ruble crashed exactly one month later.

"What have I done?" Necarsulmer said he asked himself at the time.

But since then, his Russian business has grown consistently.

At 51, Necarsulmer measures his professional success by how well he feels about work. He said he was "happy to come in early, go home late."

Indeed, his office seems like an extension of home, with a big attic window, cream-yellow oversized leather sofas, and a dog bed in one corner for his Jack Russell terrier, Dasha, who roams about freely, sniffing under desks and jumping onto conference-room chairs. Seated in an armchair, Necarsulmer puffed away unceremoniously on a pack of cigarettes, and more than once referred to his employees as "the kids." An avid cook in his spare time, he invited them over for Thanksgiving dinner. Susan Thurman, his wife of 22 years and business partner, started the company with him and now serves as its president and chief operating officer.

Unfortunately, Necarsulmer said, many young people lately place less value on personal fulfilment at work than on the size of their paychecks.

While he predicted tremendous growth in the public relations field in Russia in the near future, his advice to young professionals was to go for not the biggest salary, but for the job that will offer the most challenge, that will help them build confidence and skills for the future.

To increase one's chances of success, Necarsulmer recommended taking seriously what he called "the art and science of writing" and learning to communicate clearly.

"And put your personal integrity and values above anything else," he added.

His final piece of advice? "Get a dog," he said, opening his door for Dasha to go for a walk around the office.