Today we visited the Boeing Design Center in Moscow and made the arduous flight to St. Petersburg for our three day stay there.
The morning was very interesting at the Boeing Design Center. Boeing's Moscow office is an engineering operating that works with the Russian space agency and does new and sustaining product development for Boeing. The Center designed the interface that allowed the Space Shuttle to dock with the Mir space station. It also does work for the International Space Station and has designed a satellite-launching vehicle that uses excess Cold War ICBM rocket and an offshore oil platform to deploy satellites into space. The office is also heavily involved in the design and in partnered with other Russian companies/agencies in the manufacture of the new Boeing 787. Working for a global, engineering-centric company, I found the talks by Boeing managers and engineers very interesting. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the complexities working on such geographically and culturally separated teams and all of the logistical issues (work and IP/legal) associated with such projects.
At lunch, we had two former HBS graduates talk to us about investment banking and entrepreneurship in Russia. From both talks, it was very clear that working in the grey areas of business are still commonplace, if not required, in Russia. It was also obvious that central planning and control did not disappear with the fall of communism and are still very much in play in Russian politics. It seems like there are always exceptions to the rules when talking about state controlled companies like Gazprom or Aeroflot.
Speaking of Aeroflot - wow what a painful experience! JD (http://jonathandison.blogspot.com) isn't kidding when he talks about the Russian airlines in the Middle East - "door here, bathroom there, no smoke". The fact that the flight attendants are so glum was actually quite hilarious. I'm hoping for better things when I fly Aeroflot to Amsterdam on my way home, but the puddle jumper we took from Moscow to St. Petersburg may have been in service when Stalin was in power. I'd talk about the leg room or air conditioning, but there wasn't any of either to speak of. I was also reprimanded twice by the flight attendants for have the window shade closed on takeoff and landing. Apparently when a plane is glued together with uneaten mystery biscuits, the windows shades must be opened to provide additional structural integrity for the plane. Speaking of mystery biscuits, I just hit my limit on airline food and haven't felt quite right since.
I haven't had much of a chance to see St. Petersburg, but we ventured across town to eat and a very nice restaurant on the Neva river. We drank Chilean wine while we ate Italian food and looked across the River at the Winter Palace. I'm looking forward to hitting the pavement tomorrow for a tour of the city in daylight. As it stands now, I've seen more of the subway than any other part of this town. I do enjoy subways though. You get a good feel (and smell) of a city when you take the subway. Tonight had the extra degree of difficulty in that no signs or announcements are in English. If you lose count of stops, good luck!