One’s character is formed and toughened up by the bends and curves of their life’s road. Many “drive” slowly fearing to find themselves off the road shoulder. Meanwhile, some are always sure their destiny is heading for the top along the upbound route. Believing in oneself, satisfying one’s heart’s desires, and facing all fate’s challenges boldly is becoming a friend to oneself. Thus says Oleg Firer, our columnist and Ambassador of Grenada to Russia.
I had no childhood as such. As long as I remember myself, I’ve always been working having no time to play. I clearly remember the day Mom and I were walking along a street full of nice-looking houses. It was soon after our moving to the US. We were very poor and had no house of our own. I told Mom, “One day I will own a house and a car.” Yes, children often “dream out loud,” but whether or not their dreams ever come true is always a good question. In my case it was as follows: “the boy said, the man did.” Probably, that’s why I still remember that day — the power of my desire was not that of a child.
Back then I always made decisions myself without consulting my parents. They often disagreed with my choices. We were refugees so all of us had to work hard. I started working for a living at the age of 10. In Austria I was a market vendor. In Italy I washed the windows of the cars stopping at the red traffic lights. In America I distributed promo leaflets and worked in shops. We lived in Brooklyn, a district far from being the best residential area. The local social environment with drugs sold round the corner and weapons carried by many left much to be desired. Knowing too well what relying only on oneself to survive is like, now I really enjoy helping people facing hardships, especially children.
When I grew up I decided to pursue a professional career in business. I was particularly interested in business administration. From the start I wanted to find a company in which I could have my own way to improve its performance and thus leave my personal mark on it. In other words, my goal has always been to find a diamond that wanted special cutting to shine brighter than before.
Merger and acquisition of bad assets is the area in which I managed to realize my potential. I was good at individual crisis management and selling rapidly growing companies. In case of slow growth, ineffective management, and debt I changed everything making the company a bad asset. That’s where I was able to apply myself to make a difference.
My first big professional success came in the mid 1990s when I was 19. At that time I owned a mobile phone retail network and was doing rather well. Once I had a business meeting with the manager of a company I was planning to make a deal with. The man really liked my marketing expertise, and I agreed to consult him. His company had a patent for wireless transmission so I suggested offering other companies a franchise instead of selling the product, the costs being bigger than the profits. The man took heed, and we made many deals, the first big one — with Western Communications worth $15 mln, the second — $40 mln. The company underwent a fundamental change in terms of the vision, the product, and the business process. Its stocks went up from 30 cents to $25 per share so we cashed in pretty well. If the company had marketed its services in the usual way that diamond would have remained uncut and unpolished. So having a Harvard degree for knowing the theory is not nearly enough without knowing how things work out in reality. Only practice makes perfect.
The first and foremost commandments in business are to never fear failures and never surrender. I’ve failed and been on the losing end more than once, but every time I took it as a lesson, a useful life experience and never threw in the towel.
Second but, by no means, secondary, is being motivated enough to go through with your idea and prove your vision to be right. Self-confidence is the best word to describe this attitude.
The last but not least is the Achilles’ heel of the human psyche, i.e. fearing to look half-hearted and incompetent. Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong about asking for help. Sometimes a fresh look from the outside helps to find and solve the problem to improve the business radically. That’s exactly what happened in my first big business case and that’s what empowered me to keep on going for the Gold in everything I do.
Most of my conscious life experience is connected with the USA, but I’ve worked in many other countries too. Recently I really fell in love with the Caribbean countries, especially Grenada. It’s a country very safe to live in, and its people are kind, open-hearted and tolerant. Now I’m an active citizen of Grenada and have taken part in many top level government projects. As a result, I was offered the position of Ambassador to Russia. Grenada and the USSR had been big friends for about 40 years, but the Embassy in Moscow was closed in 1983. Now we’re working to revive the former friendship between our countries. I’m sure it’s no mere coincidence that the capital of Grenada is called St. George’s while the same saint is depicted on Moscow’s Coat of Arms.
Anyhow, I wouldn’t like to live in one country the whole year round. America is open to all cultures and welcomes everybody. Many successful people, including myself, launched their first businesses and pursued professional careers on its favourable soil. It’s called Land of Opportunity for a good reason. Opportunity it does provide, no doubt.
As to Russia, I really like its culture, but, with its absolutely ineffective government system and its cadres being such a big problem, it’s just baffling to my mind. I haven’t seen much of Russia yet so I can share only my impressions of the capital. Moscow is really wonderful and attractive in terms of cultural events, cuisines and services available here on the most lavish scale.
The Grenada expatriate community in Moscow is growing, but it so happens that I can call nobody my best friend. The reason is my life experience, the lessons I learnt in merges and acquisitions, a business area where the quality of people and friendships is tried and proved or disproved. Going not only through the ups but also the downs inevitable in this business sphere, more than once did I notice those I considered to be my close friends rejoice at my failures. So, being used to relying on myself only, now I consider myself to be the best friend of mine. Ever since I was a boy, I’ve never had anybody going side by side with me. Nor have I had any mentor to follow. Now I’ve got my family I love with all my heart, and that’s enough for me. So I am a happy man, indeed.