Andrew Sherlock on Living and Working in Russia.
Andy Sherlock is an English businessman who first came to Russia ten years ago. His first project in Moscow was the installation of furniture in a commercial interior. Today he is part of the Metropolis Development Company, which works in ten major Russian cities, providing development and interior set-up, among other services.
Interview and photos Alevtina Kashitsina
How long have you been in Russia?
Oh, a long time. I came here almost ten years ago.
What was your first project in Moscow?
It was installation of office furniture and it has always been very interesting to me. The first project I did here for a Western company was installing American furniture. Everything was quite different from other countries I worked in. Especially the weather. Very cold.
What was your first impression when you came here?
When I was offered a job and came here, it was July. It was before the Internet was a big thing. You don’t check out what a place is about online and therefore have a preconception of what it would be like. I was surprised at the amount of concrete buildings. The American bars I went to with my friends looked civilized. But now Moscow is like any other big city. You can buy what you want.
Do you need to know Russian to work here?
I never intended to stay here long. So I never really learned Russian. Well, I had about twenty lessons of Russian, but that was all. Generally, if there is a conversation to do with my business, then I’ll probably understand 60 percent of it.
How did you come up to the idea of the development business?
Well, here we have two companies. My company does the commercial interior fit-up, which is effectively what I’ve been doing for ten years. We have contracts with Western companies mainly, which usually order Class- A offices. But last year I came to a decision that I want at least a share in a development company. That’s how Metropolis came about. They are a proper development company. But basically our interests are similar. It is good for them to have a construction side, which is quicker and more dynamic. In the development it takes years to complete a building. And the first thing to do was to organize fit-up for our new office. That was interesting.
Is more complicated to do when it’s your own company?
Certainly it is. In most of the companies we work with, they have their own suppliers of furniture. But we had to do it all for ourselves from scratch. And I like the result!
Is it an advantage for a company to have foreigners as directors?
I would say yes. Many companies have foreigners on the board. I think it is not a necessity, but I think it is a benefit. Besides, foreigners have been involved since the middle ages here. Remember the English Court in Varvarka Street? During the 19th century you had a fairly large English community in Moscow. You’ve got the English House for example.
Do you feel comfortable in Moscow?
I think it is the wrong time to ask such a question. I never feel comfortable in Moscow in winter. I don’t think that anybody who has lived here for some time will say: “Yes, I do love the dark mornings and dark afternoons!” There is no autumn and no spring. There is only a long winter and summer. And that is like a light switch. But generally, yes, I feel comfortable in Moscow now.
Has doing business in Russia taught you anything positive?
Yes. I have learned a lot. Not all would stand the test of time with Western practices. But in terms of expertise, this has been a positive experience. I think we are taking the expertise of what we’ve been doing here to other countries, Portugal, Bulgaria, where we are going to work. Here you’ve got very good designers. The computer and architectural design here I like a lot.