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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Diplomat Raises Britain's St. Petersburg Profile

MTPeter Langham is responsible for supporting British businesses in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Peter Langham has somehow managed to achieve the great balance between working hard while maintaining his family life. This is especially impressive given that he has not one but two roles at the British Consulate General, which was established in St. Petersburg in 1994. He is head of trade and investment, and deputy head of mission under Consul General Barbara Hay. It is largely thanks to Hay that he has been able to achieve this balance. "She strongly encourages the people who work here to have a private life," Langham says.

Langham describes his commitment between his two posts as being 60:40, with commerce consuming the majority of his time, although as a result of the city's 300th anniversary this year, recently the ratio has almost been reversed. The consulate in St. Petersburg is small and Peter Langham is assisted by a team of three in his role as head of trade and investment.

"Our responsibility is to assist small and medium-sized British businesses to sell their products and services here," Langham says.

The types of businesses they work with are diverse, and include larger companies such as KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. "We aim to be proactive as well as reactive in that we will approach companies if we see opportunities for them, but much of the initial work takes place in Britain."

Langham's other role as deputy head of mission entails maintaining an overview of what is happening in the consulate. A significant part is presenting a positive image of Britain and putting together British and Russian partners to -- choosing his words carefully to avoid sounding trite, Langham says -- "enrich and improve the lives of people living in Russia." He works with five other British diplomatic staff and 20 Russians, and is keen to emphasize the total integration between workers regardless of nationality -- "We are all pulling in the same direction."

Langham is a relative newcomer to St. Petersburg (he arrived in January this year), but not to Russia. His first posting with the diplomatic service was to Moscow as a 21-year-old where he met his wife Elizabeth, who was also posted to the Embassy, having previously studied Russian in college. They have two daughters, Holly, 11, and Eliza, 9, who attend the Anglo-American School.

Langham is valiantly tackling the Russian language with frequent one-on-one lessons. He has just taken his first set of Foreign Office exams in the subject, both written and oral, but rather frustratingly will not receive the results until January. Despite his efforts, he describes his children's rapid progress: "They have almost overtaken me!"

Langham's father was also in the diplomatic service, so it appears highly likely that this heavily influenced his career choice. "People always say that," Langham says somewhat resignedly. In fact, his decision to enter the diplomatic world was not lightly taken. After completing A-level exams in math, physics and chemistry, he was set to take up a place at Liverpool to study sports science.

Although keen on sports, especially athletics, rugby and football, he says, "I was not going to be a David Beckham and had to consider the fact that after completing my degree I would be left with the choice of running a leisure center or becoming a PE teacher." Instead, having spotted an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph, he applied for a very junior diplomatic service position and was accepted.

Langham admits, "Certainly, having a family member with experience in the diplomatic service was useful in that I was familiar with the kind of work I would be doing." Two years of hard work in London followed, his main responsibility being, as he puts it, "ordering car spares." But the years following were much more exciting.

Having come from a posting in Stockholm and after completing three years in St. Petersburg, by 2006 he will have been working abroad for 12 years and knows that "we've been lucky to stay abroad this long." Foreign postings are extremely competitive, and he expects to return to London in 2006. "We also want to settle the girls into secondary education without interruption," Langham explains.

He enjoys St. Petersburg as a city, but as many businessmen who come to St. Petersburg to work discover, the real chance for sightseeing comes when entertaining visiting family or friends: "Everyone loved trips down the canals, seeing the Hermitage and the Summer Gardens."

Having traveled as a child and as an adult, Langham finds it difficult to respond to the simple question, "Where exactly are you from?" Distinctly British in both accent and mannerisms, the conclusion is Nottingham. "Well, that's where I return to in England."

Langham enjoys his job greatly but describes the biggest obstacle when encouraging British investors is overcoming their "naturally suspicious attitude to Russia and the Russian economy." As the number of registered British companies in Russia has increased by 20 percent since January when Langham arrived, St. Petersburg is surely grateful that for now, this is where Peter Langham calls home.