Patience, Flexibility Make the Soviet Sale

FOREIGN business developer Debra Krek-Harnish has been negotiating joint ventures in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union for the last three years. None have yet come to fruition. ``Very few of any joint ventures have been successful,'' she explains.

Her most recent trip involved stops in Budapest to talk to potential partners in the hotel business, Moscow to meet with contacts in the apparel industry, and Sochi, on the Black Sea, to discuss a deal she was not free to disclose.

``The complexity of this itinerary is fairly typical of most people who pursue trade in the East bloc,'' she writes in the forthcoming January edition of Moscow International Business. ``It's too costly simply to travel for one deal, especially given the likelihood that every deal requires numerous trips. Moreover, it's practical to combine a visit to the USSR with a visit to a more `Western [East European] nation.' You're more likely to return home with some success if you distribute your efforts in a variety of socialist countries.''

The greatest obstacles she has found to doing business in the Soviet Union are cultural differences, she said in a phone interview last week.

``In our culture, it's admired that you make a lot of money and can make your business profitable. But in the Soviet Union, the general feeling is that cooperatives are making too much money - and it's because they're being successful and operating at a profit.''

The Japanese do better in negotiating joint ventures in the Soviet Union, she adds, ``because they're more culturally used to patience. You're dealing with a bureaucracy with a tendency to push decisions up and up: `I can't make the decision. Talk to my boss.'''

Businessmen working in the Soviet market must above all be flexible, she insists. An entrepreneur selling personal computers in Moscow may have to accept payment in titanium carbide. ``It adds an extra loop. You must then sell a product you may know nothing about. But your willingness to pursue other options may determine whether you get the sale.''

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