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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anything But an Ordinary Expat

MT
Rows of spiral-bound reports with glossy front covers protecting colorful pie charts and bar graphs line the shelves in Tate Ulsaker's office. A constant clickity-clicking of keyboards and hum of professional activity envelops the room. Add in the complexities of gaining entry into the building, and it sounds like any other corporate executive in Moscow.

But all this belies the unconventional nature of Ulsaker, an outspoken entrepreneur, who has been prolific in his writings on all things political. His commentaries have appeared on web sites devoted to peak oil theory, Amazon.com, and in the Orlando Sentinel. When he is not directing a team of 25 workers he hired to form market research company Direct INFO, he writes passionately about the peak oil theory (he is a big fan of it), the Western press (he is not a big fan of it), and a variety of other topics.

Ulsaker, 41, started the business out of his Moscow apartment in 1997, investing $10,000 that he earned doing similar work for business information giant Dun & Bradstreet. That start-up money paid for new computers and the salaries of programmers to develop the kind of software that would make them a viable option for companies in need of what industry experts call "business information services," and "market research and consulting."

The path that led Ulsaker to lead a group of market researchers is not exactly conventional, either. Born in India, where his parents worked in agriculture, he traveled the world with them before landing a job as an agricultural researcher at the University of Missouri in the mid-1980s, where his father was studying to earn a doctorate.


Vladimir Filonov/ MT
Tate Ulsaker started his business, Direct INFO, out of his Moscow apartment in 1997. It has since grown to employ 25 people.
He spent a short time in sales while working for an automotive retailing group in Columbia, Missouri, and spent a year in the U.S. National Guard before turning to academia to earn his bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Central Florida. While studying abroad in Sweden one semester, he took a trip to Russia, and ended up staying much longer than the rest of the group he had traveled with.

After graduating in 1996, he tried his hand at freelance writing in Russia, but found it difficult to get things into print. One of the subjects of an interview he conducted was leaving his job at Dun & Bradstreet. He was eager to find a replacement, and called him up to gauge his interest.

Ulsaker spent a year in their St. Petersburg office, working his way up to sales manager. Having learned the basics of the business, he was eager to put some of his own ideas on how to run such a business into action.

"What I wanted was to deliver that on a more personalized level," he said, referring to the work taken on by his former employer.

And he was very clear from beginning that all of his company's bookkeeping and general dealings would be very "clean," and that there would as little cash involved as possible.

In recent years, he said, "This is popular for official companies staying in Russia -- if you are dealing in Russia, you've got to be official."

"He is very professional, indeed," said Pavel Belyakov, vice president at International Security League, a company that provides security services to multinationals in Russia. "He knows what he is doing, he is working hard for his company. I can't imagine myself doing the same kind of work in America."

Ulsaker is the only non-Russian to work for the firm. His wife, Margarita, whom he married in 2000, also works for the company, and handles mostly human resources matters. They have a son Daniil, 15, and daughter Alexandra, 16.

When it comes to hiring decisions, he said it was pretty clear what he was looking for: "ability and desire." It is important that a candidate not only matches the technical requirements of the job, but also has an eagerness to become an information expert of sorts.

And since everything has become much more expensive, he said newcomers to the field would have a very hard time starting up with a mere $10,000.

In recent years, Ulsaker turned to Deloitte, who has since been contracted to find a multinational buyer of Direct INFO, as he plans to move back to the United States later this year. He will still stay involved with the company from afar, but he also hopes to take care of "some family business," he said, adding, "The kids' quality of life in Moscow is a factor as well."

And the timing may be just right.

"The list of his clients really shows that he is doing outstanding work, but now there's really a lot of competitors," Belyakov said. "It's not an easy time for him to survive."