Eastern Europe Is Looking For A Few Good ExecutivesGail Schares
Uncle Sam wants you--to help rebuild Eastern Europe. That was the pitch President Bush made last year as communist regimes were overturned from Warsaw to Bucharest. The recruitment office is being manned by the likes of former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Stock Exchange Chairman John Phelan Jr. And Corporate America is heeding the call.
Programs are popping up everywhere to send U. S. executives to Europe's Eastern frontier. The work is mostly unpaid, but it carries fringe benefits. Such pro bono stints offer a firsthand view of vast new markets. And it lets U. S. executives make business and government contacts that could smooth the way for future private ventures.
It's no worker's paradise, though. Aside from a handful of large hotels, accommodations don't exactly provide the comforts of home. Retired John Deere manager Theodoor Teijan lived in a sparsely furnished factory apartment 200 kilometers south of Warsaw for two months while helping a farm equipment company retool. The local restaurants were so unappetizing that he rarely ate out.
ON PAYROLL. Still, aiding in reform has its rewards. "You're able to see your hand in change right away," says Gary Schuster, a Union Pacific vice-president who spent a week on a fact-finding mission in Warsaw. Like many executives, Schuster went at company expense. Other corporations, such as IBM, RJR Nabisco, and American Express, continue to pay the salaries of managers away on long-term projects.
The Citizens Democracy Corps (CDC) (202 872-0933), launched last October with U. S. government seed capital and chaired by Union Pacific CEO Drew Lewis, is actively recruiting volunteers. It kicked off its efforts by sending a scouting mission to Poland in March. Management teams are now working on several projects, including one to improve the antiquated food distribution system.
The CDC has also created a data base to link U. S. companies or individual volunteers with Eastern European partners in need of aid. So far, 1,000 middle and senior managers have submitted their names. The data base includes information about the 300 foundations, Rotary clubs, and other organizations that are sending experts to Eastern Europe.
The elite Financial Services Volunteer Corps (212 455-3550) flies week-long missions into Eastern Europe to assist the banking, legal, accounting, and insurance sectors. Once they identify key projects, well-heeled board members such as Volcker tap high-powered colleagues to carry out the jobs. One SWAT team introduced a back-room clearing system to Hungary's fledgling stock exchange. Others will help set up a Polish insurance industry and mutual funds in Hungary.
Another organization is The National Service League (914 591-5168). Founded in July, 1990, its first mission was sending a squadron of computer students and IBM executives to Hungary to teach Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and desktop publishing to the faculty and students at the College for Foreign Trade.
The league aims to recruit 18- to 24-year-olds for a year of service and match them with senior managers. Another NSL program will send 25 to 30 executives to one country for up to eight months. Among their projects: helping to establish a daily English newspaper and developing corporate day care.
The International Executive Service Corps (203 967-6000) enlists active and retired managers, consultants, and academics. It pays for travel and expenses, plus a modest per diem. Lewis Auer, a retired AMF executive, so enjoyed his stint last fall evaluating the prospects of 36 industrial companies in Poland that he's going back. "Eastern Europe can become tremendously competitive again," he says. "But there's a lot of work to be done." If the volunteer armies keep coming, Eastern Europe may be in fighting trim sooner than anyone imagined.