Corruption, bribery and exasperation. There seems to be general agreement among specialists that corruption is particularly widespread in post-communist Russia. Not only is it a major distraction, but it seems to be a business. Looking from the inside out… is Russia too corrupt for American business?
Enter Glenn Williamson’s Inside Out: Building a Glass House in Russia, a fascinating memoir of an eager developer arriving in Russia in the 1990s. As an expat brigade of Americans branched out across Central Europe, Williamson and others viewed Russia as a wide-open real estate market full of unlimited potential.
“Now that Russia has invaded the Ukraine and annexed the Crimea, many readers may call into question the idea that there can be such a thing as a good partnership with Russia,” says Williamson. “Thinking there not only could be, but have been, such partnerships might be seen as naïve at a time when we need to ‘stand up’ to the Russians.”
Williamson takes readers into the reality of living and working in Russia, and narrates the anatomy of a real estate deal as he navigates local permits, international loans, and modern and medieval construction techniques. With fireworks and a grand celebration ‘washed’ in vodka, Inside Out offers unique insights into the award-winning development of St. Petersburg, Russia’s first modern Class A office building by a multinational team of Americans, Russians, Brits, Turks and Finns.
“At a time when Americans are once again perplexed with how to deal with Russians, this story shows what Americans and Russians are capable of – even under the worst of circumstances,” adds Williamson.
Now, as America and Russia speak to each other from a distance, Williamson’s personal story of looking at Russia from the inside out will reveal the reality of its people, culture, and how actual players on all sides of a complex business and personal adventure were able to form a successful partnership. It is a story of cooperation, collusion and collisions.
In the funny, serious and sarcastic real world story of Inside Out, themes touched on include:
- Is the corruption in Russia really as bad as everyone says?
- How do we engage with Russians and form successful partnerships?
- People who build glass houses shouldn’t throw stones– Americans are not perfect. We should accept our shortcomings, but we shouldn’t be afraid to stick up for our ideas either.
- The role of real estate development in providing tangible demonstrations of how any city wants to be portrayed, whether in Russia or the US.
- What do Russians think about Americans?
Glenn Williamson learned to speak Russian at Exeter, Georgetown and Leningrad State University before earning an MBA from the University of Chicago and embarking on a career in real estate development.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, coupled with the collapse of the Chicago office market in the early 1990s, led Williamson to 10 years living and working overseas in Bulgaria, Russia and Poland – as a banker, developer and advisor – followed by 10 more years running his own company, Amber Real Estate LLC, traveling back and forth between those emerging markets and his home in Washington, DC.
Glenn Williamson currently teaches international real estate as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies. He has served as a Mentor for the Urban Land Institute, has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal and was recently featured in an article in Russia Beyond the Headlines.