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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Life of Close Connections

MTValery Yashin, head of the Svyazinvest telephone holding
In 1958, at the age of 17, Valery Yashin made his first career move -- just down the street. He decided to become a technician for the Leningrad City Telephone Network, he says, mainly because the company was close to home.

Several days earlier, a fortuitous failure ensured that he would embark on the career that 40 years later would bring him to the upper echelons of the telecommunications industry. He scored three out of a possible five in math, not enough to get into the Leningrad Technological Institute, the closest college to his home.

"It just always happened that I chose things close to home," says Yashin, 62, who moved to Moscow from St. Petersburg in 1999 to head Svyazinvest, Russia's largest telecommunications holding, incorporating nearly all the fixed-line capacity in the country.

Yashin has moved from the lowest position to the highest in the industry in the nearly 45 years of his professional life. He spent his first year at the Leningrad City Telephone Network, or LGTS, repairing payphones around the city.

"I bought a bicycle with the money from my first salary," Yashin recalls with a smile. "It made it easier to move around the city to repair those payphones."

The next summer he entered the Leningrad Electrotechnical Telecommunications Institute to study fixed-line engineering in the evening while continuing to work during the day.

Yashin resumed his studies after a year in the army, graduated in 1968 and returned to the company where he started working 10 years before. He entered LGTS as an engineer in a shop responsible for fixing network breakdowns.

"I joined a tough 'male' team with 120 men and only 10 women," Yashin says. "We worked all day and all night in emergency situations when we needed to repair the equipment."

Two years later, he was heading up the section.

Then, in 1975, some acquaintances from Yashin's student days invited him to join them at "the construction of the century," the Baikal-Amur Railroad, or BAM, across eastern Siberia.

Yashin joined construction company LenBAMstroi as the chief energy supply specialist, in charge of heating and electricity for one of the new service towns, Severobaikalsk.

"It was a wild region and we had to do everything from scratch," including putting up electricity poles and aluminum wires to create the town's infrastructure, he recalls.

By the time Yashin left Severo-Baikalsk in 1978, he was deputy director of the company.

Yashin celebrated his homecoming by returning to LGTS as head of the linear facilities department.

"By that time I had become an idea guy," Yashin says. "I knew what needed to be done on the networks because I'd gone from being a technician to the head of the department."

Only a year later, his next promotion came through, making him deputy head of LGTS in charge of the network's capital development.

"There was a huge waiting list in Leningrad then, some half a million people, and my job was to cut that list," Yashin recalls.

He was told to install 100,000 telephone lines a year, from the 40,000 lines that had been installed annually in previous years. "They said, 'If you don't do it, we'll fire you,'" Yashin recalls with a smile. They didn't have to.

Yashin still remembers how many telephone lines the company installed in Leningrad during each of the 12 years he was in charge: 1988 was a record year, with 122,000 lines installed.

But his hardest challenge was holding things together as the newly elected general director while the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

"Everything started to fall apart," Yashin says. "I had to adjust the business."

"Inflation began. I managed to convince the city authorities to allow several tariff rises," he recalls. "I had a huge responsibility: 7,500 people under me who I needed to make sure got paid," he says.

"We survived."

Yashin guided LGTS through its 1993 privatization as the Petersburg Telephone Network and as it became the core of super-regional operator Northwest Telecom.

In fall 1999 he was chosen to head Svyazinvest and moved to Moscow with several members of then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's St. Petersburg team, including Communications Minister Leonid Reiman.

A year prior to his appointment, Yashin outlined in an interview with Connect magazine what was to become one of Russia's first and biggest corporate reforms: the consolidation of Svyazinvest.

"The industry can't operate through 89 regional companies that are fragmented, have little money and cannot develop," he recalls saying. "I said we needed eight to 12 bigger companies."

Thanks to the holding's team, Yashin says, the first stage of Svyazinvest's reorganization -- more than 70 regional fixed-line operators were consolidated into seven super-regional companies -- was successfully finished in November 2002.

"I like to create teams and I like to work in teams because one person cannot know everything," he says.

Yashin remembers the names of his colleagues from more than 40 years ago and all the important numbers from his life-long career, even drawing them on a sheet of paper as he talks.

He also remembers -- because he is good with numbers -- how much a low score on a math exam in 1958 upset him. But if it hadn't been for that troika, he may not have taken that first step on the path to the top.