Moscow Musings, Part II
The next morning Dmitry picks me up with the driver — today’s sessions are downtown Nizhny Novgorod just blocks away from that beautiful pedestrian mall I toured the night before. This neighborhood is located opposite a glitzy new mall with all the same merchants you can find here at home — some civic leader’s idea of ways to lure more conferences to town, I suppose. Without prompting I start telling everyone within earshot of how this cannibalizes the local merchants and compromises the vitality of old downtown.
“The profits from that Armani store go back to Milan and don’t benefit Nizhny Novgorod,” in my best Locavesting tone of voice. Everyone knows I’m the oracle from California and just to make sure I’m wearing my white linen Master of Ceremonies jacket today.
My translator Yuri is back for another day of it and I’m getting used to all this special treatment — more confident, too. With Yuri by my side I can engage almost everyone. Soon I’m being interviewed by the local press and I try to explain that I’m a journalist, too, but somehow I sense she’s heard that line before — she stays on purpose and I must focus on responding with thoughtful replies. I make my point though, because I’m getting the sense she has few subjects that look so fixedly into her aging eyes. We’re interrupted but then I make sure we finish all her questions.
Soon Kendrick White returns. I wasn’t sure how much time he’d dedicate to this event. We me yesterday at the incubator. “I’m raising a $50M fund for early-stage,” he says with all the swagger that you’d expect from someone here in the US. And that’s because Kendrick’s born and raised in Massachusetts, like I was; his parents had a place on a lake in New Hampshire, like mine did before they retired to Florida, yes, like mine did, too. The fact he’s only 75% Irish to my 90% is the biggest difference I can detect. He speaks fluent Russian and has a Russian wife. Before we part company I’ll learn how he originally came here through the Peace Corps and brought his own agenda with an economic bent. He’s a serial investor with an impressive background and I can see how everyone respects him.
He’s out to accomplish so many projects that I frequently wonder how many lives he’ll need to live to get them all started. He’s committed, focused and maybe he talks so fast because he hadn’t had anyone to speak English to in awhile, but it’s more like he has so many stories to tell.
I make the faux pas off telling him of my doubts about his goals of commercializing university intellectual property. It’s a good lesson for me to listen more and offer skeptical comments in smaller doses, but I see so little success with this approach in Los Angeles and I feel I must share. He’ll be modeling his plans after programs at the Universities of Utah and Colorado which I don’t know, so he’s got conviction and role models. Later I’ll feel that my skepticism cost us time because a day later, after we’ve smoothed over this discussion, I find he has many more projects and would like to hear my opinions and advice. Before the day is over the two of us are inseparable — we’re encouraging the young entrepreneurs or we’re kicking around his plans of building out the ecosystem for a new innovation economy for the whole country. If I had 2 lives to lead I’m thinking I’d spend one carrying his bags, so to speak, helping him execute these dreams. After a week in Russia I’ve seen many statues of poets and war heroes, now I get the premonition that I’m in the presence of an economic hero who could do a great deal to paint the future on this open canvas of Russia.
We say good-bye then talk for another half hour — Dmitry is out running errands so there’s time to kill. Soon I’ll be back at the hotel for a few hours rest before I repeat the train travel — this time with a good night’s sleep as we head back to Moscow. The 12 hour flight is smooth and comfortable, the time goes by quickly. I’m not nearly as tired as I thought when I get home, so those jazz tickets I thought would go to waste tempt me out of the house. I don’t know how to describe how long I’ve been in transit as I make small talk before the performance, but it’s been many. So it’s partly the fatigue and partly the power of this duet as they sing, tell stories and play the guitar — the experience overwhelms me and I start sobbing as I reflect on the gift I was given to go to Russia, to contribute to the EBAN Congress, the honor they bestowed on me to be their Master of ceremonies, then this totally over-the-top experience in Nizhny Novgorod. My mind singles out so many of the faces I encountered and how eager they all were to listen, to hear my advice. The opportunity to meet Kendrick and brainstorm the economic future of Russia — it’s a good thing I’m sitting in the front row, off to the side of the stage where no one will notice as I struggle to regain my composure. It’s been the experience of a lifetime and I’m hugely grateful.
Then I remember EBAN in Istanbul and John May approaching after the Awards Dinner, my first gig as MC. John’s comment has echoed in my ears ever since, “It’s gonna be awhile before you top this!” And it was.