For the last 30 years, I’ve had an ongoing love affair with Russia and the Russian people. I’ve spent more than five years living there, clocking up over 400 hotel nights and more than a hundred flights to Russia from Atlanta and London.
I’ll always have fond memories of Russia and its people. And I don’t think I’ll ever stop going back there for business or for pleasure.
THE COCA-COLA YEARS
In 1990 I moved to Moscow to become the first Coca-Cola employee in the Soviet Union. I learned the language and embraced the culture and I lived happily among the Russian people until I moved away in 1994… But I couldn’t stay away for long.
THE CIRQUE DU SOLEIL YEARS
In 2008 I returned to bring Cirque du Soleil to the Motherland and lived there for half of the time over the next eight years. My work took me to 14 cities across Russia and Ukraine where I met some of the most fantastic people and experienced a whole new world of business and adventure.
I was robbed in my apartment in 1992, with a list of stolen items that totalled $26,000.
I was the first non-Soviet citizen to buy an apartment in Moscow – and I made Coca-Cola the first western company to trade roubles for dollars.
But there’s one night in particular that’s always stuck in my mind.
On December 19, 1992, we’d just signed a deal with the mayor of Moscow to build the first Coca-Cola factory in Russia – just seven days before the fall of the Soviet Union.
Swelling with achievement and captivated by the beauty of the city, I took a bottle of vodka to Red Square at three in the morning and shared it with the Kremlin guards who stood protecting Lenin’s tomb.
We laughed and joked and stood shoulder to shoulder as we drank from the bottle in the frosty Moscow air. I drank till I was merry and played my saxophone on the square until the sun came up.