Book 2. Ringing cedars of Russia (1997)
A sharp about-turn
Returning to the ship after my three-day stay with Anastasia, it was some time before I was in a frame of mind to take charge of company business. At first I was unable either to decide on the ship’s next destination or answer the many radiograms coming in from Novosibirsk. And the hired workers, and even some of my crew, apparently sensed my inattention to the daily routine and began stealing. They were arrested by the police from Surgut (the town where the ship was docked) working with my bodyguards, and detention papers were drawn up, but even this was not something I felt like delving into at the time.
It’s hard to say at the moment just why my talks with Anastasia had such a strong effect on me.
Before this my firm had received many visits from rep-resentatives of all sorts of religious denominations. They claimed they wanted to do something good for society and always asked for money Sometimes I would oblige just so they would go away, without looking too deeply into the cause they were collecting for. And what was the point of asking them more questions if the conversation always ended up with a request for money?
In contrast to all these so-called ‘religious’ people, Anas-tasia never asked for money In any case, I couldn’t even im-agine what I could give her. Outwardly it seemed she had nothing, and yet I gradually got the impression that she had everything. I gave orders for the ship to proceed full speed to Novosibirsk and holed myself away in my cabin to think.
My more than ten years’ experience in business and team- management had taught me a lot. The highs and lows I had gone through had given me the skills I needed to seek and find a way out of all sorts of tricky situations. This time, however, I felt I was at rock bottom. Ml the troubles imaginable came upon me simultaneously. The failure of the firm appeared imminent. One of the so-called ‘well-wishers’ had already started a rumour, now increasing in currency, that something had happened to me and that I was no longer capable of making sound business decisions. So, people concluded, it was sauve quipeut, every man for himself. And that’s exactly what happened. Upon my return I saw how people were saving themselves. Even my relatives had their hand in it, pilfering what they could from the company. “It’s all going to go broke anyway!” they figured.
There was just one small group of my long-time employees who had tried to withstand the onslaught. But after the arrival of the lead ship, upon seeing what kind of literature I had my nose into, even they became worried about my mental state.
I myself had a perfectly clear and sober perspective on what was happening. I was fully aware that I was no longer in any position to manage this team effectively Even those I had earlier trusted as my tried and true supporters were now starting to cast doubt upon any decision I took.
Even though I very much wanted to tell everyone who would listen about Anastasia, it hardly seemed possible to count on anybody’s understanding. It might even land me in the loony bin. My family were already starting to talk about what kind of treatment I needed.
Without saying so in so many words, those around me were demanding I get back down to earth and come up with a business plan, and a successful one at that. They dismissed my latest distraction as either madness or a nervous breakdown.
I had really begun thinking about all sorts of things in this life of ours.
“What’s going on here?” I thought. “You hustle through one commercial operation and even earn big money, but where’s the satisfaction? You immediately want more. And it’s been going on like that for over ten years now! Where’s the guarantee that this race won’t last my whole life long without so much as a whiff of satisfaction?! One person gets upset because he doesn’t have enough money for a bottle of vodka. A billionaire gets upset because he doesn’t have enough for some major acquisition or another. Maybe it’s not the amount of money that counts?”
One morning two old acquaintances of mine — both en-trepreneurs in charge of big commercial firms — came to see me at my office. I started talking with them about setting up a commonwealth of pure-minded entrepreneurs, about the purpose and goals of our business activities. After all, I just had to share all this with somebody. They played along, nod-ding now and then in agreement. It was a long conversation, and I ended up thinking to myself: can it be that they actually grasped it? — they did spend a lot of time discussing it, after all! Later my driver told me:
“ YDU know, Vladimir Nikolaevich, they were asked to come and see you. By people concerned about your health. They wanted to know what you’ve been preoccupied with all this time, what’s been on your mind. In short, to make sure you haven’t lost your mind. They wanted to know whether they should call in a psychiatrist or simply wait and let it pass.”
‘And what do you think of my mental state?”
He fell silent for a while, and then said quietly:
“For ten years your work’s gone along just great. Many in the city have said you’re a successful businessman. But now all your employees are afraid they may be left without a paycheque.”
It was only then I realised the extent of people’s concern about me, and I said to the driver:
“Turn the car around.”
I went back to the office. I called an emergency staff meeting. I appointed supervisors for the company’s various activities and gave them full authority to act in my absence. I then told the driver to pick me up early the next morning and take me to the airport. Just as I was about to go through the boarding gate, he handed me something wrapped in a towel. It was warm. I asked:
“What is it?”
“So, you’re giving me these out of compassion for a crazy person, eh?”
“They’re from my wife, Vladimir Nikolaevich. She couldn’t sleep, and baked all night. She’s never baked anything before, she’s still a pretty young woman, but last night she plunged right in. She insisted I give them to you. She wrapped them in a towel — they’re still warm. She says... you won’t be back for a while. If you come back at all... This is good-bye.”
‘All right, then. Thank you very much.”
He resigned from the firm a few days later.