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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Patrick J. ‘Paddy’ O’Dolan
is a warm-hearted Irishman with a liking for hotspots
By James Blake.
Photo by Liza Azarova

The foyer bar of the Marriott Grand on Tverskaya is a good place to sit and wait for the General Director of MoscomNet, while having a cup of coffee. As waiters quietly patrol the room looking for empty cups and saucers in the subdued light and subtle setting, a number of tables are populated with well-dressed men and women chatting earnestly about business. God only knows what business, but they could only be business people. One hears proposals and considerations; occasional numbers; ideas; the grist of making money underlying it all. But the Marriott Grand is the home of something else as well. A close look at most of the tables reveals that a large proportion of the time of those people discussing their business, is spent looking at various things on computers and mobile devices. A power-point presentation here, a confirmatory e-mail from someone there, a reminder for the next meeting somewhere else. And all of this is coming through courtesy of wireless technology, known as Wi-Fi, because I am sitting in the first Moscow Wi-Fi hotspot - the precursor of many more - and the child of one man’s commitment to bringing the very latest Wi-Fi technology to Moscow. The people sitting here in a relaxed environment doing whatever business deals they are doing, are doing so because of what he had the foresight to see, to push for, and install.

Patrick J. (‘Paddy’) O’Dolan, the man for whom I have waited, is a communicative man if ever there was one. Indeed, to sit and chat with him is to entertain the suspicion that every last thought that passes his lips has had to compete for the privilege. But what does come through, certainly, are some very perceptive observations about doing business in Russia, an obvious interest in the world around him, and a good dollop of personal generosity, to people in general, and to the Russians in particular.

‘The thing to remember, is that these people are basically the same as everyone else. They want to do the same things, have a comfortable life, give their kids opportunity. They’re no different to anyone.’

That sort of thought comes from nearly fifteen years of communications work in Russia. He started with Rentaphone back in the days when mobiles were significantly larger than they are now, and with some mirth he recollects the ‘bricks’ that were once lugged around. Rentaphone gave way to instant paging of the type needed by Moscow’s burgeoning business community, and then four years ago he saw the future: Wi-Fi.

‘I had problems convincing even my own staff of the merit of the idea,’he recalls. ‘I’d seen it in the States and thought it would take off here, but plenty of people were more than sceptical. “Russians won’t carry laptops around, that’s not the way Russians do business, and that sort of thing.‘

‘But the easiest thing in the world is to say no. Sometimes you have to ask why they are saying no, sometimes you just haven’t asked the right question, or asked it in exactly the right way.’

He recalls meetings with the management of the Marriot about putting in the newfangled system. Their IT people were sceptical, and raised issue after issue which needed to be addressed; and when this had been done, he recalls that an IT manager said to him, ‘But it still won’t get used by hotel patrons, there’s no need for it.’ O’Dolan knew that it would be popular with hotel patrons, and it was; so it was soon spread throughout the three Marriott Hotels in Moscow prior to being put into other hotels, restaurants, and then into a number of coffee shops. Other companies have taken up the act as well, but MoscomNet still prides itself on having the best quality service. His next step is to start connecting petrol stations, along with major railways stations, and some of the larger shopping malls. All of this will mean that anyone ever having a need to, will be able to plug into the net for messaging, e-mail, and general information the moment they have a subscription with MoscomNet. They might do it from a laptop, but even that’s getting a little bulky, I realise, as he hands me the next generation of mobile, which hasn’t even been released here yet. It sends e-mails, accesses internet, sends and receives any sort of data anyone is likely to need, and fits in your hand.

“If you put a quality Wi-Fi service into these places, people will want to use it. If the system can support the information that people want, and it’s fast and reliable, then it makes their life easier. And if it’s doing that, then its doing the same thing for the people here that people all round the world are trying to do, and that’s make life a little easier.”

" the easiest thing in the world is to say no, sometimes you have to ask why they are saying no; sometimes you just haven’t asked the right question, or asked it in exactly the right way "

If you look around the room it’s hard to disagree. Before our very eyes there are people relaxing over their business, sipping coffees, and tucking into pieces of cake in a way they probably wouldn’t if there was no way to access the information they needed. It’s palpably easier than doing it in an office somewhere. If everyone could work from a comfortable chair and nice table in a lightlypopulated coffee bar, more people would want to do it, and the world would probably be a better place.

Part of Patrick’s belief comes from his having seen it all before. He has seen a transformation of a country’s economic fortune in his homeland, and knows how quickly it can all come about. Of his native Ireland he recalls the time when most of those with whom he went through school or university, were destined to emigrate, but in only twenty years Ireland now takes fifty thousand immigrants a year just to make sure that the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy keeps purring along. In addition, he speaks with some pride of Ireland’s burgeoning population of Russian speakers, and he has good contacts with the Russian Orthodox Church in Dublin. When he first came to Moscow the dreary grey streets and buildings didn’t seem that far removed from the Ireland of not that long ago. And the pride of being able to say that he installed the Wi-Fi technology into Moscow’s Marriott flagship first, from where he has spread it to other locations, takes on more significance when you are sitting in one of the best hotels in a city now riding a neon-lit economic boom like no other.

He has taken part in the organisation of St Patrick’s Day festivities in Moscow and points out that his countrymen have done much in spreading some of the highlights of Western culture to Russia - from the Dom Irlandski supermarket; the still Irish-owned duty-free at Sheremetyevo, and the ubiquitous Irish Pubs. O’Dolan thinks there is something of a link between Russians and Irishmen, quite apart from their both being at the extremities of Europe, and that this link contributes to further fostering of ties: “I think both are a down- to-earth people, for whom family is important, and both don’t mind a drink of sorts.” He pauses for a moment, before adding with a gleam in his eye ‘And, of course, there’s the cabbage and potatoes.’

I suspect that you don’t need to have that much in common to have something in common with Paddy O’Dolan. And for those moments when either one of you is busy, doing it via Wi-Fi, from one of the hotspots he’s installed around town, would be a comfortable way to go.

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