Reviving the Bear: Examining Russia's Financial Crisis

Article excerpt

Boris Brevnov is the former CEO of United Energy Systems of Russia.

As Chief Executive Officer of United Energy of Russia (UES) from May 1997 until his retirement earlier this year, Boris Brevnov was responsible for the management, restructuring, and reform of the world's largest energy power utility. Mr. Brevnov's policies increased UES' share price by 350 percent despite the Asian stock market crash and earned the company a designation by the Financial Times 500 as the most dynamic company of 1997. In February 1998, Mr. Brevnov was elected Global Leader of Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Prior to joining UES, Mr. Brevnov founded the first international commercial bank in the region of Nizhny Novgorod in 1992. In 1996, this bank was selected as one of 17 from among 2,500 Russian banks to participate in the World Bank Financial Institution Development Program. Mr. Brevnov has also served in regional government and has completed service in the Russian military. Senior Editor Pedro Pimentel spoke with Mr. Brevnov in October about the unfolding crisis in Russia.

HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:

Mr. Brevnov, I am aware that you not only are the ex-CEO of the largest energy corporation in the world, but that you have also served in the army and directed a major banking institution. To what do you credit your ability to make the transition from life under a communist system to the current free market system? What in your life can serve as an example for other Russians of your generation or younger that are trying to make the same transition?

I would pinpoint two major factors to my ability to feel comfortable in a more international setting. First, I think that I was lucky to be born in a particular time in Russian history; second, I was fortunate grow up in the province of Nizhny Novgorod, in a formerly closed military-industrial city called Nizhegorodsky, a city which came to symbolize two important changes in Russia. In 1985, I had just completed highschool during a time of great change in the country: we were in the middle of glasnost and of democratization (perestroika). Outside the country, it was the beginning of the end of the Cold War, and Gorbachev was opening a real dialogue with the rest of the world. These changes created an atmosphere in which a young person could learn and develop.

These changes also challenged the younger generation to take a more active role in formulating its future. During this opening of Russia, I was able to go to the United States as part of one of the first student exchange programs in 1990. In 1990 I was also elected as a member of the state legislature in a free and transparent election. Later, when Boris Nemtsov, who is now Deputy Prime Minister, was appointed as the Governor for the region, my position in the legislature gave us an opportunity to collaborate.

The second critical factor was the presence in my hometown of the great academician and bold humanitarian leader, Andrei Sakharov, who was later to symbolize the changes occurring in the Russian mindset. Nizhny Novgorod later became famous as the cradle of the reform movement in Russia, led by Boris Nemtsov. The reform movement born here symbolized the changes that were taking place in the Russian economy.

To address the question of what in my life might be useful for the next generation, I will remark that none of the factors mentioned above are unique to me. Everyone is born in an important historical moment, most people have good families that encourage their children to excel, and everyone has a native city. It is only necessary to be open to changes and open to life--a person cannot be afraid of the future, but must try to forge ahead. I think that these are the lessons from my life and I hope that I will follow these ideas in the future.

Today, many analysts speculate that the vision of Westernization that has guided Russian politics and economic policy the last seven years has now failed, creating a cultural crisis with far more debilitating effects than the current socio-political situation. …

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