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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Long haul: No risk, no return

As embassies and trade commissions revise their briefing books to reflect postcommunist developments, one persistent piece of advice to business is this: Survive the transition. Visiting executives are still being told they should be prepared to invest for the "long haul".


Oddly, this phrasing has been picked up by Russian government briefers as well, slipping into Russian bureaucratic-speak along with biznyess and kompany.


Foreign diplomats and Russian bureaucrats deliver their little "long-haul" lectures, as if imparting some great truth discovered after much trial and misfortune.


In truth, without realizing it, they are sharing one of the greatest lies ever developed for Cold War purposes.


Consider what this means: Investing for the "long haul" is not investing at all. Or it means investing so minimally that the numbers barely appear in the financial statements. No exposure. No risk. No return. Usually one well-paid representative and a coterie of poorly-paid retainers.


This is the holding pattern most international companies have maintained above this market for decades. With a few exceptions not much has changed.


The exceptions tend to be firms that view themselves as truly global companies and consider the commission of 290 million merchandise-starved consumers to be a mistake worth correcting. Rightly or wrongly, their planners feel the risks here are at least comparable to those in most others places where they operate.


Most other big firms do not consider themselves to be global at all. For the overwhelming majority of these, the home-market recession of recent years has dictated a hold on international expansion.


And, bluntly, many of the executives of such firms have simply accepted the advice of the diplomats that they should go into Russia for the "long haul" - code words that they have correctly interpreted as "stay away".


My day job is as a principal with an information and consulting firm. The consulting side of our operation has a leading U. S. -based food company as a client, a firm almost notorious for its conservatism in international expansion. It stayed away from the U. S. S. R. and its successor states with great diligence.


Until now. The leaders of this mammoth organization, a couple of whom just completed a whirlwind tour of these parts, are rethinking the approach, wondering whether the "long haul" is not at last over.


This client and its shareholders want activities that can go to the bottom line as quickly as any other investment they might choose. We think this is now possible.


The executives were ritually briefed by diplomats and local bureaucrats. They got the "long-haul" propaganda in spades. My guess is that they will ignore it.