Tales from the East, Part 3

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Stephen O'Connor
Douglas Wheeler
Thompson Barnhardt

WARSAW--With $300 in his pocket, Stephen O'Connor gave himself a month to find a job in Budapest. He found three the first week.

"I wanted to go to Europe," said the former commercial real estate broker. So he booked a flight to Budapest because it seemed like an easy city for a job search.

Once in Hungary, he took a job as a researcher with a start-up business journal. In December 1993, he and two others bought the Budapest Business Journal. Mr. O'Connor, 32; computer salesman Douglas Wheeler, 26; and business consultant Thompson Barnhardt, 31, combined their money and business expertise and founded New World Publishing Kft.

The Budapest Business Journal already had the reputation as an important English-language source for business news. What it lacked was advertising. But sales were just what the young American trio was good at. By year's end, the trio had tripled the journal's revenue and started a sister publication in Poland, the Warsaw Business Journal.

"Hungary was our anchor of success" to launch out into new markets, said Mr. O'Connor. Poland offers New World Publishing a market four times the size of Hungary. Surprisingly, half Budapest Business Journal's 2,000 subscribers are Hungarians.

Scott Sanborn

PRAGUE--The day before he talked to Advertising Age, Boston native Scott Sanborn, 26, was promoted to senior account manager at Lintas Prague on Johnson & Johnson and Unilever.

Now the Boston native is one of the most senior account people in this Top 10 agency, but when he was hired as an account assistant in 1993, he had minimal marketing training and almost no experience in advertising. Nor could he speak the local language. "I had done a little copywriting, so I thought I would give advertising a shot," he said.

He arrived in Prague in 1992 after a U.S.-based equipment company gave him a one-year assignment setting up distribution in Europe. When the year was over, he was reassigned to Michigan. "It was move to Detroit or do something else in Prague. It took three days to get a new job here."

On the subject of what his life would be like if he had returned, Mr. Sanborn is uncharacteristically somber. "I'd be more of a lost soul in the States. More hesitant to say, `Screw this. I'll try something else.' I've done that twice here. I probably would have gone for an MBA because I wouldn't know what else to do."

Now, he's considering advertising opportunities in other emerging markets.

Lisa Frankenberg

PRAGUE--Lisa Frankenberg, 27, was one of the first Americans to arrive in Prague after Czechoslovakia opened its borders to the West. Since a break before law school sounded good, she bought a one-way ticket to Europe and a Eurail pass. "I planned on spending a couple of months in Europe, then going to Israel to work on a kibbutz," she explained.

But she became sidetracked when she ran into five other University of Santa Barbara graduates in Prague. She looks back at the time as "very vibrant and exciting. We had all worked on our college newspaper together, and we met here at the same time George Bush--and 2,000 journalists--descended on Prague in early 1991." Soon after, the group produced the first issue of Prognosis, one of the first English-language newspapers in the former Eastern bloc.

But trouble began brewing early on. Ms. Frankenberg, the bi-monthly newspaper's advertising manager, found advertisers were more interested in the burgeoning business community than the cash-strapped backpackers who were buying Prognosis. She tried to steer the group to provide a more business-oriented perspective, but the others "didn't want to change," she said. "I knew they wouldn't survive the way they were going, so after some soul-searching, I resigned."

In the spring of 1991, she wrote a business plan, found an American investor and put out the first issue of the Prague Post in October 1991.

Four years later, Prognosis has folded but the weekly Prague Post has grown to 50 full-time staff members and 400 part-time and free-lance staffers.

Ms. Frankenberg sees Prague as an opportunity. "I started my own company at 23 and I learned on the job. I doubt I would have been the publisher of my own newspaper if I had stayed in the U.S. But people rise to the occasion. That's what happened to me. And the opportunities are greater here," she said.

Another opportunity in Prague has been working with the Jewish community organization Bejt Praha. "There are only 1,000 Jews left here and they have had no Jewish education," she said. "So we are putting in our own time and money to give something back to Prague's Jewish community."

Greg Turner

PRAGUE--Since the demise of 5-year-old Prognosis earlier this year, Greg Turner, 31, likes to say that his is the oldest English-language publication in the Czech Republic.

He arrived in October 1990, and launched the fortnightly Czech & Slovak Investment News in May 1991. He is the owner, publisher, editor and main writer of the newsletter, which is directed at Prague's growing business community and foreign investors. He keeps his circulation a secret.

His background is varied, including everything from professional chef to research assistant,but it does not include publishing.

Why did he move to Prague? "I couldn't spell Czechoslovakia when I was 12. I thought it was time I learned, and the beer is good. Seriously, I came to Prague to do something different. I was living in D.C. before, working for a commercial real estate firm, and it was not that exciting."

Investment news may not be a spicy subject either, he said, but "the editorial scope is quite broad. We've even written about sexual harassment in the workplace and talked about the laws that apply in these markets, and looked at the `glass ceiling' for Czech women ... We talk about what's coming down the road, not just what's news today." Like most of Prague's English-language community, Mr. Turner, who grew up in Arizona, has mixed feelings about remaining in the Czech Republic. "I'm one of the old-timers now. I've been here nearly five years. I'm a fixture, but my friends come and go. It becomes difficult to watch your friends go.

"But I have no idea where I should go. I've got my own business here, and I think America has gotten pretty strange."

Steven Kydd

MOSCOW--Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow? Been there, done that, said Steven Kydd, 26, whose career has been what he called a "natural progression" from West to East, taking him from Maine to Moscow in a few short years.

"In 10 years I'll probably be in Asia or India, considering the growth there," Mr. Kydd said, plotting the curve of his career with U.S.-based marketing research and consulting firm Macro International.

For now, Mr. Kydd is project manager at the newly expanded Moscow office of Macro International, and six months after making the move from regional headquarters in Warsaw, he is happy in the Russian capital--sort of.

"Moscow has pretty much reached a Western level of sophistication," he said. "There is a large amount of data in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but everybody knows you need to go elsewhere if you're serious about keeping in touch."

Mr. Kydd's career as an expatriate began when he was still in college at the University of Maine and caught a flight to France for an exchange program sponsored by the then European Community. He came back to the States hooked on world business and got a job with Maine Congresswoman Olympia Snow, who was on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. From there he was accepted to a joint Congress/Bundestag program and went to Germany to work in the Treuhandanstalt, which was privatizing the former East German industries.

Mr. Kydd sees himself working back in the U.S., but only in a position linked with international business and only after at least another decade or so, when the local business is developed to a point where expat managers are no longer needed.

"That time will come, so I know I won't be in Russia for the rest of my life," he said.

Contributing to this story: Sheryl Lee, Budapest; Normandy Madden, Prague; Steve Gutterman, Moscow; and Laura Ballman, Kiev.

Copyright October 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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