Press Herald, ME
March 12 2004
Different countries, same goal
By MATT WICKENHEISER, Portland Press Herald Writer
Staff photo by John Patriquin
Marina Kalysh, who operates a lucrative tile business in Russia, has
been observing business practices at Paul G. White Tile Co. in
Portland. Speaking of the way Dave Beattie, the manager of Paul
White, interacts with his employees, Kalysh says, “He managed to
build a real crew. They lead the business together.” Kalysh is part
of a cultural exchange run by Southern Maine Community College.
Marina Kalysh and Dave Beattie both sell tile, but the similarities
between the two entrepreneurs mostly end there.
She runs a 15-person shop in Smolensk, Russia, that caters almost
exclusively to high-end customers. Her division, Skvirel Stroy
Setvic-Smolensk, comprises designers who only sell tile. They don’t
deal with carpet, they don’t measure rooms for proper fits, and they
don’t install their goods.
Beattie is the manager of Paul G. White Tile Co. Inc. of Portland,
and has 85 people working for him. His shop is full service, helping
customers who might rent a small efficiency in Portland or own a Cape
Elizabeth mansion with everything from choosing tile or carpet to
Despite their differences, or maybe because of them, the two have
learned from each other during the last month as they worked together
through a Southern Maine Community College program. The initiative
brought 10 small-business managers from Russia to the Portland area.
One of the big things Kalysh learned during her stay was how
salespeople need to focus on politeness and patience with customers
in a shop, she said. Kalysh also sat in with Beattie as he bargained
with suppliers for lower prices, and discussed advertising strategies
with local media outlets. She observed his management style, and saw
how he joked with his staff, making the workplace a bit more
“He managed to build a real crew,” said Kalysh. “They lead the
Since 1995, SMCC’s Community Connections program has brought more
than 200 businesspeople to Portland from countries that were once
part of the Soviet Union, according to Debra Andrews, director of the
Center for Global Opportunities at the college.
“It’s an intercultural sharing,” said Andrews.
The main goal of the program is to show entrepreneurs from the former
Soviet Union how business is conducted in the United States, giving
them ideas on how to strengthen their home marketplaces. In addition
to businesspeople, legal professionals, local government officials
and nongovernmental organization leaders participate.
“In a nutshell, at the end of the Cold War, we didn’t need the budget
to fight the Cold War,” explained Andrews. “The State Department saw
an opportunity to do something proactive instead of reactive: ‘Let’s
help support these former Soviet republics as they’re growing their
economies and creating their constitutional democracies. Let’s bring
them over and show them how things work in this country.’ ”
Andrews has been running the program since 1995. It is one of 50 such
programs across the United States and the only one in Maine.
Participants must speak English and be a manager at a small business.
Andrews and her staff pick the participants, secure for each a host
family where they will live for the month, and identify businesses
that are similar to the ones they run in their home countries. Most
of the companies participating in the Portland area are small, said
Andrews, and receive an opportunity for a firsthand look at another
culture that is often only available to workers for multinational
“It gives we (Americans) who grew up in the U.S. and thought the
Soviet Union was bad, bad, bad a chance to meet these people,” said
Andrews. “Your world view is broadened.”
Beattie, for example, said his perception of business in Russia was
from television images of long lines at grocery stores that didn’t
have enough bread for their customers. Talking to Kalysh, he learned
she operates a lucrative business in a city of 550,000 people, he
“Things are similar, but dissimilar,” he said.
Beattie said he suggested to Kalysh that to deal with competition,
she find small services that set her apart from the other operations.
For instance, he said, none of the tile shops in Kalysh’s city offers
labor, only sales.
By hiring some tile installers, or even by carrying an area carpet
line, she may boost business, he said.
“If she grasps one of those and makes it work, that will be a major
change in her business,” he said.
For Kalysh, who’s only been in the tile business for a few months,
“any kind of experience is useful.”
Andrews said a group of Armenian businesspeople would be visiting for
a month in April, the first time participants from that country would
take part in the program in Maine. The federal program started in
1994 as “Business for Russia,” with opportunities only for residents
of that country. The program was so successful it was expanded and
renamed, and today also includes participants from Belarus, Armenia,
Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Ukraine and
The initiative is fully funded by the State Department’s Bureau of
Educational and Cultural Affairs, said Andrews.
“It beats paying for the Cold War, I think,” she said.
Andrews said the program tries to emphasize four main points to the
businesspeople, and asks the businesses they visit to reinforce them.
Prepare for success with a good strategic plan.
Do well by doing the right things and giving back to the community.
Develop the employee base.
Focus on both external customers and internal customers, such as
On a recent State Department trip to Ukraine, Andrews said she found
out that the lessons that had been learned in the United States by
previous program participants are paying off.
She contacted a program alumnus whose company makes microsensors that
regulate temperatures in different appliances. Five years ago, the
man spent time with a manager at a local McDonald’s restaurant, and
that experience gave him the motivation to contact the McDonald’s
restaurants opening in his country, Andrews said. Today, the chain is
one of his major clients.
Additionally, Andrews said, the man took the program’s four main
points to heart. He now gives his employees their birthdays off and
offers paid time off when a worker experiences a death in the family
or other personal problem.
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791- 6316 or at: