Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: The President's Crown of Thorns. About business and something else

Many times l was on the brink of disaster. But I always knew how things might end. A risk presupposes a loss. Fake companies, treachery, cunning, non-payment, unfulfilled commitments, bribery, these are the rocks of enterprise in Russia on which many businesses and joint-stock companies have been wrecked.

I had to go through all that to gain experience and develop my intuition. The Jesuits have a saying: "honey on the tongue, milk in the words, jaundice in the heart and deceit in reality." Not once did I encounter this in life. My business was a risky one, however, you had better not set out at all than stop half way to your goal.


My working day ended at 3 am and often I was away from home for several days at a time.  However, when I did make it back to my Moscow apartment I would find a crowd of about twenty people waiting for me there. This did not surprise me since practically every Kalmyk  family  has  a   continuous flood of relations visiting:  some  are  on  business  trips,  others are sitting exams, others still  are just  visiting.  I was used to this. The presence in my apartment of my countrymen never shocked me. On the contrary, it helped me to stay constantly in touch with the people of Kalmykia. I did my best to help them. I set up contacts between Kalmyk businessmen and foreign companies, arranged consultations, offered advice on the current prices and found buyers for their produce. I never had enough beds to accommodate all of my visitors.  Many slept side by side on the floor. Actually none of them minded these inconveniences.  As a matter of fact we all were accustomed to living inconveniently in the Soviet state.

Incidentally, travelling around the country on business, and noticing the ever-increasing number of small-time entrepreneurs, I began to entertain the idea of creating a chain of inexpensive hotels. These hotels would serve inexpensive food in their canteens, would be equipped with rai l and air ticket-offices, and be l inked by bus to the airport, railway station and city centre.  That would have been a profitable business. It would have been possible to come to an arrangement with local farmers to supply their produce to the hotel restaurants, to build warehouses, some of them refrigerated, for retailers, to work out a system of privileges for customers, conclude agreements with companies and farms and to create guarded hotel parking lots. I could have founded an entire hotel empire had no other interests distracted my attention from the above project.
The world of business is vast, powerful, ever changing and fascinating. Join the business world and you will be utterly absorbed by it without a second to spare for yourself.  Your head will become a whirl pool of telephone numbers, fax­ messages, prices, deals, percentages, production volumes and delivery dates. So during the rare hours of rest, you look at the world around you with surprise as though seeing it for the first time. So there is another life where people are not always in a hurry, but can go for walks or see a movie! You are transported back to the city of your childhood, contemplating something long forgotten. Then you remember that you once lived like this too. However, somewhere inside you, a bell starts ringing in alarm. Your internal clock is ticking away the seconds, and your heart thrills with excitement at a new beginning, while your soul thirsts for battle. So you again plunge into the world of figures, bank accounts, and letters of credit and stock-exchange shares.
Some time ago I happened to read the biography of a multimillionaire. According to the author "He was one of the most successful businessmen. He only went bankrupt three times in his life." I recalled those words every time I found myself cast down. At such moments I would say to myself Cheer Lip, Kirsan! Things are not as bad as they look. What is there to worry about if even that most fortunate and talented of businessmen found himself out on a limb several times? It is no use complaining about your lot. Don't worry! Forget about it! Stop pitying yourself and nursing your wounds. The strong shouldn't behave this way. If you stop in your tracks you are as good as dead.
And again, just as in childhood, I raced ahead across bumps and hollows, collecting bruises and injuries along the way, but never contemplating the losses and damage. I was protected by fate and I came to trust in it.
I was always pressed for time. But even when I was utterly exhausted and my eyes had grown swollen from lack of sleep; my brain would continue to whir. I even balanced figures in sleep, as my mind sifted through recent events, extracting the key nub of information from a conversation or meeting, and making a game plan for the next day.
The next morning I would wake up with several decisions readymade. However, most often I would have to make decisions on the spot. Sometimes that decision might affect the future of the company with whom LIKO-Raduga was making a deal, as well as the destiny of the tens of hundreds of people who were linked to that firm. The situation changed daily, even hourly, and you were crushed if you responded slowly to events. It was a big war of nerves, intelligence, experience, foresight and, to some extent, luck.  An  intuitive feel for business - the sense of timing which tells you when to strike, the flair for accumulating information and making spontaneous risk assessments - does not come immediately, but is gradually acquired. More often than not you are unable to assess a situation objectively and your intuitive sense proves to be a finer barometer than logic. It is as inexplicable as the instinct for danger and discomfort.
In themselves money and material possessions are worthless. They are only important because we imbue them with value. This is why big companies invest nearly a third of their profits in advertising. You have to make people believe that they need your product; to overcome the customer's inner resistance and make them buy whatever you are selling.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: The President's Crown of Thorns. 1995