Musings, Thoughts & Commentaries
Coexistence & Commerce, written in 1970 by Samuel Pisar, was a book I used to understand theory just before I was assigned to Eastern Europe to implement a business plan. I'd been working on my MBA in International Business and had proposed my graduate dissertation topic as: “Business Structure for a US Tire Company in Eastern Europe.” My Professor rejected my thesis because in his view it wasn't possible for US companies to do business in Eastern Europe. After appealing to the Dean of the University of Akron by saying, “But that will actually be my job at Firestone,” my thesis was approved and I finished it before the end of 1971. I wrote the last part while staying in a cabana by the pool at the Athens Hilton—I had already taken up my assignment as Field Representative for Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, based in Vienna. When I was offered the position, the countries I was responsible for were Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and “miscellaneous accounts.” I asked what “miscellaneous accounts” meant and was informed: “Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany and the USSR.” I asked that these countries be individually listed as my responsibility and that I would make a marketing plan for each one. I was told, OK, but “It is not possible for US companies to do business in Eastern Europe.”
I started in Czechoslovakia. In my tool kit I had several tools: direct export, barter, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, license, tech agreements—and whatever else I could think of. Over the next seven years I created and implemented strategies to do business in all the countries assigned to me.
What I learned—and later taught those who would take my place or work for me—was not to sell what you have but what your target market needs. To create a business plan, the first step is boots-on-the-ground. Wikipedia and Google are great tools, but I think one needs to smell the earth, listen to radio and watch TV in the local language, listen to people you meet in bars and learn to tell at least one dirty joke in the local language.
In Czechoslovakia, the import monopoly for automotive components was Motokov in Prague. I knocked on their door and was courteously received by a confused Director. He was curious. My job was to sell tires. Motokov needed to import tires that were not made in Eastern Europe—by law they had to trade within COMECON for anything made in those countries.
I asked what Czechoslovakia wanted to export and was told: furs and pelts, mink, lynx, otter, beaver, fox and various animal hides, things like that. I said let’s see what we can do and went back to Vienna.
Firestone Spain made the tire sizes for mining, material handling and specialty uses needed by Czechoslovakia. Yugoslavia had bilateral trade agreements with Czechoslovakia, Firestone Switzerland had a consignment stock of tires managed by the Firestone agent Univerzal in Belgrade.
I arranged for tires to be shipped from Spain to Prague. Yugoslavia bartered furs for tires with Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakia, shipped furs to Switzerland and Switzerland paid Spain; all legal and ethical.
Is it time to resurrect concepts like Commerce and Coexistence? Détente? Maybe the new word for the old theory is Trumponomics?
Détente came to the world with the signing of the SALT agreement in Moscow in 1972. It was the end of the Cold War.
Living in Vienna at the time, I was in the unique position of being an American Army officer and a West Point grad still in the active reserve spending most of my time behind the Iron Curtain. The intelligence communities on both sides must have thought I was up to something funny. They did not know what I was really doing—selling tires.
I knew some people at the American Embassy in Vienna and when Astronaut Tom Stafford came through promoting Détente and cooperation with the Russians on the joint US-Soviet Union space mission, Apollo-Soyuz, I was asked to have him stay over at my home as his “Safe House” so he could stay out of the limelight when he was not in the limelight at the big events honoring him.
We had some interesting discussions about what he saw from outer space and noticed we both wore Rolex watches. Mine was an Oyster Perpetual Datejust (an Army buddy had recommended I buy a Timex at the Canadian Air Force PX in Baden Baden, but I misunderstood him). Stafford’s Rolex was a one-of-a-kind made especially for him and his space journey. It not only showed the time in gold, jewels and precious metals but also the phases of the moon and the orbits of all the planets around the sun.
By the early ‘90s I had started my own tire company headquartered in Akron, Ohio. A good personal friend, Fred, was the Vice President of Goodyear Aerospace who thought I should get to know Major General Vladimir Dzhanibekov, one of the crew now preparing for the Earthwinds around the world balloon project. Fred thought General Dzhanibekov and I would have a lot to talk about as former military men, adversaries during the cold war but with common interests. And we were the same age. I think I was the only guy in Akron then he could really relax with and we shared stories. The “civilians” left us alone.
I was President of the West Point Society of Cleveland then and invited General Dzhanibekov to join us at our annual Founders Day celebration. I will never forget what he said when asked to speak to our group. “Gentlemen I do not owe my rank to leading armies in combat as you have done, but rather to my fame as an astronaut. Let us be thankful today that we meet here in peace. With my access to control centers in Russia, I could see on our computer screens maps of your country targeted by our missiles. I am sure you had the same. Now I am honored to meet together with you in the spirit of coexistence and the hope that neither of our countries will use those weapons—we would all lose.”
Having my perspective from personal connections to US and Soviet astronauts of the Apollo Soyuz mission in the 1970’s-so long ago-I fear history may be forgotten. It is time again for coexistence and commerce.
Picture below: Vladimir Dzhanibekov and my son, Christopher.
Western Mindanao Security forces slackened their efforts to find two German kidnap victims held by Abu Sayyaf a few years ago, allowing Islamic terrorists to buy more weapons in order to strengthen their hold on their territory and to facilitate more kidnappings for ransom. When they were kidnapped, the German hostages had been on a yacht sailing out of a peaceful island resort in Palawan where Hollywood stars hang out.
Terrorists are not greedy; they share their loot. Cabinet ministers get a commission for their work. With his commission, one official bought a crematorium as an investment; sounds like innovative cross-product marketing to me.
The Western Command Chief, Armed Forces of the Philippines, was playing golf at the time of the kidnapping. It was reported to him but he did not believe the military intelligence reports. Oh! The cruel kindness of the oxymoron "Military Intelligence."
How did 2.5 million US Dollars ransom get withdrawn from a local bank without being noticed?
How did the emissary who carried the cash to the Abu Sayyaf get past the soldiers who surrounded them? The soldiers could just have shot the kidnappers.
A Joseph Heller book, Picture This, is more erudite but just as antithetical as his “Catch 22”. The first words in the story refer to a painting I have had hanging on a wall wherever I have lived, Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.” It says so much to me, and obviously also to Joseph Heller, the master of the oxymoron, “Military Intelligence.”
Driving along MacArthur Highway in Davao City,(named for MacArthur but spelled “McArthur” (to save space on the sign—I presume) I saw a store branded: “Emaculate Conception Junk Shop.”
And farther up is the Mosque on Father Selga Street.
Tom Anthony is a West Point Graduate and combat veteran who spent his professional civilian career in global business all over the world. He has lived and worked in Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Iraq, Israel, and throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Anthony also lived in Mindanao for seven years.
Copyright 2017 Tom Anthony.