Is every business person just too busy?

Business people – at least, successful ones – are busy people. It goes with the territory. If you’re busy doing good business, you succeed. It stands to reason.

But one thing which surprised me – pleasantly – when I moved from journalism into business was that most business people are also decent people. They’ve come to the conclusion that if you treat people decently and honestly, as you would like to be treated yourself, then it makes doing business much more enjoyable and, thus, life itself more rewarding.

(Of course there are some nasty individuals, but they are the exception.)

One of the things about treating people decently and expecting to be treated in like fashion is that when you make an appointment you expect it to be kept. Many business people plan their diaries months ahead, especially if they’re involved in international business and travel abroad. They know when they are going to be travelling , and plan around those dates.

One thing which many people who have dealt with Russia for many years find remarkable about the country is the way in which people schooled in the command economy of the USSR have adapted to free-market practices. They haven’t been slow to show initiative, something discouraged in Soviet times. They innovate; they bargain; they play by the rules.

Except, it seems, when it comes to giving your word that you’ll make a meeting or attend an event which has been put in your diary months ahead. Unfortunately, too many Russian business people still regard the diary as something flexible, a vague guide to what they might be doing at certain times unless they get a better offer.

This drives Western business people to distraction. The number of times I have heard of and witnessed foreigners turning up in Moscow for a meeting, or scheduling their diaries while at home, only to find that the Russian partner is either not there when they arrive, or cancels at the last minute, is legion. All of us from time to time find ourselves in this situation. But the frequency with which it happens with Russians goes beyond mere misfortune. It’s downright rude.

This week Russo-British Chamber of Commerce h olds its annual conference in Moscow, RussiaTALK. It’s attended by senior figures from business and politics, and is opened by the British Ambassador to Russia, Dame Anne Pringle. (The Russian Ambassador to the UK usually attends, too, but that post is currently vacant.) We have an excellent line-up of speakers and a large audience. But there have been cancellations by guests.

There have been a fair few political problems between the UK and Russia in recent years. But the business relationship has remained healthy. Even when governments are arguing, “business is business” runs true. But if British businessmen knew they could rely on Russian counterparts to turn up to meetings which have been arranged for months, business would be even better business.

There is one day in the near future when British businessmen know that planned meetings in London with their Russian counterparts should take place: November 3. How can they be so confident? Because it’s the day that Chelsea play Spartak Moscow.

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