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‘Geeks’ in any language

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — The speaker spoke English, the audience spoke Russian, but their commonality was found in the language of “geek.”

“I’m a geek, and the answer is so technical the audience might not be interested,” Charlie Kelley, an area businessman, said in response to a question during a seminar with a group of Russian professionals visiting Boulder County.

Through an interpreter, the enthusiastic audience let Kelley know they did want to hear his very technical answer to their question.

This month’s Russian visit, arranged by the Boulder and Foothills Kiwanis Clubs, came about as part of the Productivity Enhancement Program, a national project that receives its funding from the U.S. State Department.

The Russian delegation consists of about a dozen telecommunications and telephony professionals and their interpreters here to learn about American telecom and technology.

The group has spent the month touring area companies, socializing and participating in workshops like the one last week at the Boulder Jaycees Depot.

“I expected two things related to my own business,” Ivan Kalenichenko, the owner and general director of Futures Telecom in St. Petersburg, Russia, said through an interpreter. “I expected to see something similar to my business, and the second, I expected to see life in America.

“Some information was just the opposite of what I had learned and heard before. I was very glad to hear that different information, and I think the information that I’ve found here will help me develop my business.”

The trip is Kalenichenko’s first abroad, and he said that while he thought life here seemed “great,” he had no plans to change citizenship.

“American life is different, and I’m not going to emigrate here,” the bearded Kalenichenko said with a smile. “But I would like very much to integrate and work with Americans, because it was this country that taught the world how to conduct real business.”

Kalenichenko’s company is one of many that provides telecommunications to St. Petersburg, a city of about 6 million. His company employs 14 people, and Kalenichenko said that as in America, Russian business is often a case of the little guy trying to compete with the monoliths.

“The very small percentage of the population in Russia, they captured the formerly accumulated resources, natural resources, and they are very rich,” Kalenichenko said, adding that this group tends to do business with one another in a cliquish way — a practice he calls “clan business.”

“It belongs to a very specific type of group — these are people who had access to these resources. The rest of the businesses are people like me,” he said. “They started with nothing, from scratch level. We started with our brains, our abilities. The investments do not come to us, and it is not real to expect them.

“We do not have access to the financial resources, but we are the ‘salt’ of Russia — what Russia will benefit from. We are the smartest part of Russia.”

Speaking of smarts, another member of the delegation is Marat Sayfiev who, at 30, is the general director of Warlock, a software development and Web site design company based in Kazan, Russia, about 500 miles east of Moscow.

“The Internet grows very quickly and dynamically with more and more customers,” said Sayfiev, also speaking through an interpreter. “The economic crisis (across Russia) in 1998 kind of blocked this growth.”

He estimated that in the republic of Tatarstan, where Kazan is located, about 8 percent of the population has Internet access. In Russia as a whole, he estimated that the Internet reaches about 5 percent of the population — though the percentage can vary widely from region to region.

“You can divide the population two ways,” Sayfiev said. “The ones who adapt to technology very quickly and the ones who cannot afford a computer, so they do not have Internet access.”

Sayfiev, who was making his first trip to America, said he hoped to obtain more than just information on his trip — he was also working on drumming up some business.

“In general, my expectations were to look at America from the inside, because in my plans there was always a paragraph to work in American markets,” he said. “So I’m looking at, what is the American market, who is out there and who are my potential clients?”

Sayfiev added that he “learned our technical level was not lower than America’s is and is, in some cases, better.”

Kalenichenko said he also noticed the technological differences — and similarities — between the two countries.

“We do many things in our businesses a similar way,” said Kalenichenko. “What we are introduced to in our business in Russia are the same things you’re doing here.”

One difference notable to him was in the use of cell phones.

“Oh yes,” Kalenichenko said. “I would say that cell phones are more popular in Russia than in America, and I was surprised at this fact.

“Some businessmen have several cell phones per person. I personally don’t see the necessity of this, but it is a fact.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.