Book 2. Ringing cedars of Russia (1997)
It was only upon arriving at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport that I realised my funds were rather low — I had only 5 million roubles (Si,о00) left, and I did not even have a specific plan of action. It was hardly likely that either my employees or my family would be able to cope with my accumulated debts; they would have to sell the company’s assets, meaning I could not look to home for any assistance. Had I remained in Novosibirsk, of course, I could have worked things out. But that would have meant concentrating all my attention on the daily affairs of my business — something that was impossible after what had happened in the taiga and the promises I had made both to Anastasia and to myself.
Indeed, by this time it was hard to determine whether my actions were being guided by my own awareness and desire or by Anastasia’s influence.
One thing was crystal clear: I was bankrupt. Having wit-nessed countless similar situations among my colleagues, I knew there was nobody I could turn to — either friends, relatives, or former employees. They would all avoid you like the plague. You can spend ten years of your life being a hero and then just one little mistake can put you in the doghouse and make you a non-person, despised by everyone you know. It’s happened to a lot of prominent entrepreneurs. In a situation like this you can only hope in yourself and your own ability to find a way out of a dead-end predicament.
After leaving my bag (containing a sweater, some shirts and a few other trifles) at a hotel, I started tramping around the
streets of Moscow. I tried figuring out what it all meant — everything Anastasia had said about Russia’s entrepreneurs.
The first thing that struck my eye in Moscow this time was the activity of the so-called ‘Herbalifers’.
Neatly dressed people stood in the tunnels leading to metro stations in the city centre, haranguing passers-by with job offers. “With a foreign firm,” as they said. They were luring them with promises of huge earnings and opportunity for promotion. The word Herbalife wasn’t even mentioned — probably because almost every classified advertisement in the papers posted by a job-seeker ended with the words: “No Herbalife offers.”
Still they stood there, wearing “Work for you” buttons and handing out flyers from some foreign firm, stubbornly urging people to at least come for an interview. Later I learnt that those responding were subjected to intense psychological conditioning, with special emphasis on two points dear to the heart of the average Russian.
First, seminar speakers would make a big thing of telling how they or their relatives, for example, received a fantastic healing with the help of this ‘Herbalife’ from overseas, with the implication that any potential distributor could also en-gage in the noble practice of treating people’s ailments. The system was so miraculous, they declared, that no medical courses were needed, just two or three training sessions, even if you were a simple painter or plasterer, and, presto, you are qualified to act as a consultant to ailing consumers.
Secondly, they made a point of telling stories with examples of how one could get rich through promoting and distributing ‘Herbalife’ products. This meant buying at least one package for starters (with your own money), then finding someone
else and convincing him in a one-on-one conversation of the fantastic benefits of using ‘Herbalife’, then selling it to him at a slightly higher price. At the same time you needed to keep recruiting more distributors, getting a percentage from each new recruit. The more recruits you attracted, the higher you would rise in the hierarchy and the more money would accrue to you. You would reach a point where you yourself wouldn’t have to do any of the actual distribution work.
As an entrepreneur, I soon realised one thing very clearly: money did come showering down in a rain of gold, but only for the person at the very top of this pyramidal system and his closest collaborators. The whole long chain of distributors, divided into so-called levels, survived only thanks to each level benefiting from its own price mark-up, and it was all paid for by the one at the very bottom — the consumer who believed in the miracle properties of the product.
In some cases the price increased by twelve times!! The actual distribution keeps rolling along non-stop, thanks to the huge number of agents using their own accounts of heal-ing to win the trust of their fellow-Russians and make them believe in the miracle properties of‘Herbalife’. A system like this is capable of selling even the ashes from one’s stove. Any complainers are simply told that they have somehow misunderstood the instructions on the label or not followed them closely enough.
This system is especially effective in our country, where people are accustomed to getting the most reliable infor-mation from trusted friends and acquaintances rather than through official channels.
There is no point whatsoever in discussing the advantages or disadvantages of the ‘Herbalife’ products themselves. That is a long story I can say only one thing with absolute certainty: all the fervour of the distributors telling about their own healings disappears as soon as they realise they’re not going
to get any money from you. In that case you’ll start hearing a whole string of counter-examples, such as “It’s nothing but a load of crap!”
This distribution system was invented in the West. Man-aged from the West, it lures in all sorts of unemployed Rus-sians. But these are not our entrepreneurs. And now I shall tell you of yet another gimmick invented by Western busi-nessmen.