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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Not Just Another Chip Off the Old Soviet Bloc

MTUnder Steve Chase, Intel has gone from not having an office here to employing 450 people at centers in three cities.
The year was 1972, U.S.-Soviet detente was in full swing and a 22-year-old chemistry graduate named Steve Chase was deciding where to start his career, one that would eventually carry him to the highest echelons of Russia's IT industry.

Courses in Russian and Soviet history in his junior and senior years at Ohio Wesleyan University had sparked Chase's interest in Russia and led him to pursue Russian language studies at the U.S. military's Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, California.

"All I had to do was give up a couple of years in my life to join the army," Chase recalled. "I thought it would be a really good combination to have a technical degree as well as Russian language and that there was probably a future there."

Chase was right, there was indeed a future.

Twenty years later, he was put in charge of opening Intel's office in Moscow, and 10 years after that he was appointed president of Intel Russia, the local branch of the world's leading maker of microprocessors that now employs more than 90 people in Moscow, 200 engineers at its Nizhny Novgorod development center and 150 contractors in Sarov in central Russia.

But such success did not come easily. Back in the early 1970s, after passing countless hours trying to master the language, he discovered a better way to learn. "I ended up marrying one of my instructors," Chase said. She was a Russian-born U.S. citizen, and during the eight years the two spent together they "literally spoke Russian every day at home," he said.

In 1978, Chase graduated from Monterrey with a master's degree in international business. Earlier that spring, the son of an accounting professor had spoken to his class about working at Intel and Chase was inspired to apply for a job.

Chase waited a month without good news before receiving a telegram in May from Intel asking him to come for an interview as soon as possible. "On Friday I went to the interview and the following Monday I started work," Chase said.

His first job was in marketing and it's one he fondly remembers.

"It was an ideal place to start at Intel at that time," he said. "I was actually inside the factory so I got to understand how products were produced. I also had time to go out into the field to work with customers and salespeople from all over the world."

Two years later he moved to Oregon to work for the company's international marketing department. After two years there, he told his superiors he was interested in working abroad.

The German branch at that time just happened to be looking for somebody with his qualifications, Chase said. "I was just lucky to have been at the right place at the right time." He moved to Munich in 1982 and has lived there using it as a home base ever since.

During his first nine years living abroad, Chase held several positions ranging from sales and business development to distribution and telecommunications. It was then that he married for the second time and his three daughters were born.

In May 1991, Chase learned that Intel was looking to open a representative office in Moscow and needed somebody to head it.

Chase recalled showing the job description to his wife, who said "'It's interesting that they didn't put your weight in there,'" he remembered. "It really sounded just like me so I jumped on it."

The new job didn't require that he move to Russia, so Chase traveled frequently back and forth between Moscow and Munich.

"We started with nothing," Chase said, reflecting on Intel's early days in Russia. "We didn't have any employees, we didn't have any customers. We didn't even have an office."

When Intel finally got an office, it was a room -- "a broom closet" -- about 20 meters long and two meters wide where three foreigners worked with five or six Russian staff. It had been a kindergarten classroom, Chase said, and "because of the heating, it was a sauna all the time."

Business talks with local businessmen were a new experience, he said.

When Chase would arrive at meetings, ostensibly to arrive at formal agreements, "We always knew it was a bad sign when we came into the room and the table was beautifully set up with zakuski and cognac and vodka. These guys knew how to talk, but they had no clue how to run a business."

"It was just a fascinating period," Chase reminisced. "It was really the time when the new Russian IT industry was starting to form."

Their first contract came from a joint venture, and Intel later started working with distributors.

Although the first years were challenging, Intel was determined to remain in Russia.

"We never paused. At no time did we say, we're gonna run home," Chase said. "It was a lot of fun to see how the market was starting to grow, as Intel was growing physically and in revenues."

In 1997, Chase's portfolio grew to include markets in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1999, he became regional manager for six equipment manufacturers across Europe, Middle East and Africa.

From July 2000 through March 2002, he was director of Intel's business and communications solutions group for this three-region grouping before being appointed to his current post this spring.

Nikolai Fedulov, publisher at IT Group, which prints Russian editions of PC Magazine, PC Week and other magazines, considers Chase, whom he has known for more than 10 years, the person behind Intel's success here.

Fedulov called the role Chase has played in the development of Russia's IT industry "outstanding."

"I attribute all the successes that Intel in Russia has achieved to the team he built," he said. When Intel's staff was only a handful of people, "Steve was bringing them up like a hen sitting on her eggs. Steve is a tough person, but it was incredible to see how he was growing them under his wing."

With plans to triple the number of engineers employed in Russia, engineering is a key focus for the company, Chase said.

He has faith in the country's economy, though he is looking for the business environment to improve.

"There are positive changes and we like the trends," Chase said. "When you look at what Russia could be, the government really needs to wake up. Russia has to decide if it's open for business. If yes, then it's got to do a whole lot to be competitive."

To help the local IT industry, Chase recommends improvements in customs regulations, the dismantling of legal and financial services barriers and better protection of intellectual property rights.

Moscow has changed dramatically over the 10 years that Chase has spent traveling frequently to the country, he noted.

"I remember taking a long walk from the Aerostar hotel to Red Square back in 1992. I remember how it was all one color -- it wasn't a pretty one," Chase said with a smile, adding quickly that the landscape today is much improved.

The competition has changed, too. "Back in the early 1990s, Intel was sort of alone, we were one of the first." Now, he said, Intel is "one of dozens, even hundreds of companies."

Though working for Intel involves a lot of commuter traveling, Chase said he tries to spend as much time as he can with his wife, Dagmar, and their three daughters, "doing very simple things like getting up and making a breakfast for my kids and getting them off to the school. They're mundane things, but still they make life easier for my wife and kids."

And the family shows some understanding, even if that understanding needs two languages -- German and English -- to express it.

Two of his daughters -- Nina, 19, and Daniela, 16 -- have traveled to Russia with him. As for trips with his youngest, Esther, 11, who was born the day before her father started working for Intel's Russian chapter, Chase said he has twice had to cancel her long-promised visit to Moscow.

"She's very angry with me now," Chase said.