Entrepreneur Succeeds at a Man's Game

In 1989, Lili Sibeldina started her own Moscow company, Orion, which produces ozonizers for sterilizing surgical rooms. Now with 88 employees and plans to open offices in three other countries, business for her is good, but far from easy.

"I must be more clever than 20 men to have success," she explains. She also must do business according to men's rules, even though she does not have access to the clubs and facilities where men informally make deals.

At the same time, she brings a woman's nurturing to her company. She pays for her employees' lunches, medical care, and children's education. "We work practically as a family," she says.

But the Russian government has thrown numerous obstacles in the way of success, she charges. "Every two to three months the laws change," Ms. Sibeldina complains. "More and more rules are created to take money from enterprises."

Taxes have skyrocketed from 20 percent of earnings five years ago to as much as 85 percent today. Recently the laws for customs also changed, and new taxes were placed on products Sibeldina needs to import for her business. As a result, instead of receiving her usual yearly 85 deliveries of imports, she got none in 1996. She could not afford to pay the taxes.

The government also stated recently that businesses had to get permission to make their products. Collecting the needed documents, Sibeldina estimates, will take 18 months - with stiff payments for each. "You pay everywhere," she says. She compares a small business to a horse: "Our government would like to ride the horse and make sausages from it at the same time."

Her way of coping is to keep a low profile. She also looks for holes in all the ever-changing legislation. She shrugs. "It's a game."

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