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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Broom at Mezh to Sweep Hotel Clean

There is a new man at the Mezh, and he is planning to make waves that would shake the foundations of the grey marble monolith which some expatriates have come to describe as "the evil empire."

For years, Moscow's Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel has stood as a monument to the disappointments of perestroika. Potentially a top-class hotel, it instead gained infamy for its high prices, surly security guards, and for the men and women of dubious purpose who lurked about the lobbies.

But Boris Gryaznov plans to change all that. He aims to refurbish the interior, retrain the 3,000-strong staff and force them all to re-interview for their jobs -- even replacing the dreaded security men.

Gryaznov sports a snazzy, well-cut suit, has a Yeltsinish shock of white hair, and if his bite is as true as his bark he could bring fresh life to the hotel complex, which was built with the help of the U.S. business tycoon and pioneer, Armand Hammer.

"For quite a number of years, the center enjoyed a privileged status. It was not easy to get access, just to have lunch or come to a bar," said Gryaznov, 42. "But as the years went by, everything was getting old ... it was just starting to fade ... the deterioration of the service industry was undermining us."

Officially called the International Trade Center, also known as the SovinCenter, the Mezh was built in 1980 as a showpiece of Soviet sophistication ahead of the Olympic Games.

The past 15 years have not been easy on the city. And as if keeping in step, the SovinCenter has gone from being the business address of choice a decade ago to a somewhat dilapidated monument -- a place that harbors old Soviet stereotypes like a musty closet.

Three months ago, Price Waterhouse and N.M. Rothschild and Sons Ltd. were hired to examine the inner sanctum of the giant hotel, restaurant and business complex. On April 29, after the consultants made their presentations to the board of directors, Gryaznov was given a mandate for change. He had been made director general just a month before.

"We were very much discouraged at the meeting of the board," he said. "The statistics were very unfavorable. The curve was always going down ... The profit was going out of our hands."

So, he has set a target. By 1998 he wants the complex to be up to international standards.Gryaznov is a board member who came to the SovinCenter from Moscow's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is the major shareholder in the complex. Prior to the Chamber of Commerce, he had handled administration for the Committee for Cinema.

His tenure begins at a time when tenants agree that the building is in need of refurbishment. While some are content with the service, rent-hikes over the years have caused rifts between other customers and the management.

"Some of their tenants that I have talked to, who are looking to move, have had short, sharp treatment from the management," said one real-estate agent. "The level of service for the costs that are being incurred is completely out of line."

To make the 1998 deadline, Gryaznov is going to have to bring about a revolution in the attitudes of the SovinCenter's 3,000 employees.

Gryaznov said that the professionals among them were supportive, realizing that "business is going down." But others may not be so happy and just in case, he keeps a security detail nearby. The fate of the former head of restaurants suggests why.Alexander Oganov, 50, died March 21 in what police described as a contract killing. At the time, he was trying to push through changes in his division, a source at the hotel said.

But even the security guards, long the first impression of visitors to the SovinCenter and known for being less than diplomatic, will now find their jobs on the line.

A new security chief with Western training has taken over the division, and Gryaznov said he will be "recruiting more professionals on an entirely new basis. "Considering the present condition, this might be a priority. We also realize that the security service should be meeting international standards," he said. "But we need about two years."

Current employees will have to reapply for their jobs; the new hiring process will involve references and resumes; foreign consultants will help revamp the hotels Mezhdunarodnaya I and II; and workers will be given semi-annual performance tests.

Gryaznov pointed to competitors, namely the Radisson Slavjanskaya, noting that their staff is young, friendly and efficient. "We have been working a long time on a privileged approach," he said. "We were not confronted with quality of service. We were confronted with revenue, profit earnings ... We were accustomed to being paid by the cash register, not the customer."

Promotions and bonuses will be awarded for cutting costs and raising the quality of service, he said, adding, "Motivation and incentives are of paramount importance ... I don't think it's fair to approach everyone on an equal basis."

Contracts will be funnelled through a newly formed tendering committee, and the business center -- currently divided among several offices -- will be upgraded with video-conferencing facilities, computers, and better services.

"The most important step is that all structural divisions -- hotels, offices, apartments, restaurants -- will be subject to work on a decentralized basis," he said. "We are extending their capabilities and their rights ... That may seem very simple to you, but for us it's a totally new approach."

To raise profits, Gryaznov said he hoped to lure businesses and restaurants to invest in the complex and upgrade facilities, rather than raise rental rates.

Sitting at a large conference table, just beyond a phalanx of guards, Gryanov pointed to two paintings on his office walls. One is an artist's representation of the SovinCenter after new construction has been completed. The other, a carnival scene of crowds, balloons, horses and riders. In the distance, one can make out the top of a building.

"That's my dream," he said. "Plenty of people strolling around. That's how I see it."