Russ: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Russ Capper and we’re here at Coffee with the Consuls focusing on Russia. I have with me now Andrew Pidgirsky, a partner with Adams & Reese and the Chairman of the U.S. Russian Chamber. Andrew, welcome to the Playbook.
Andrew: Thank you very much, Russ.
Russ: Well let’s start with you giving us a background of your life.
Andrew: Well, I was born in the former Soviet Union. I got my first law degree there more than 20 years ago and practiced law there. Then I came to the United States to start to receive my master of law and juris doctorate. I practiced law in the U.S. since then in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Houston now for over 12 years.
Russ: Okay. So how long ago was that that you came to the U.S.?
Andrew: Almost 20 years ago.
Russ: Did you speak, obviously, English I think before you got here?
Andrew: Yes, sir.
Russ: What was your plan? Has your plan turned out exactly like you thought it would or have you evolved into some business areas that you never had a vision for?
Andrew: Well, I always was interested in practicing in international law and I got a chance. I got a scholarship to get master of law and international law. Since then, decided to get some practical experience in New York and that’s what I got. Then went from there. Got another law degree. Practiced more international, domestic, corporate, finance, mergers, acquisition and trade law and just enjoy my practice since then.
Russ: Well I know from doing a little background that your international reach expands beyond Russia, but it’s still predominantly Russian U.S. business. Is that right?
Andrew: Well, some part of it is, but frankly, a lot of it is outside Russia. It’s a lot in Europe. A lot in Asia from Singapore, Vietnam Thailand, China, South and Central America. So quite a bit of it is outside Russia. There’s some former Soviet Union countries as well; Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus.
Russ: So you’re also known for starting the Russia/Texas Chamber of Commerce, right?
Andrew: Yes. That’s correct. It start over four years ago now as the Russian Chamber of Commerce of Texas. Now it was renamed over a year ago as just Russia Chamber of Commerce due to the fact that we have membership extending beyond the state of Texas. We have membership from Illinois and from California and other states.
Russ: That’s very impressive. What motivated you to do this?
Andrew: I thought there was a necessary void. Just the city of Houston has over 400 companies doing business with Russia. There is also a number of Russian companies doing business in Texas through Houston. Houston’s responsible for 25 percent of U.S./Russia trade and I think the state of Texas about 30 percent U.S./Russia trade. There is a lot of operation in energy, in aerospace, in healthcare, logistic and transportation, technology, et cetera. So it was natural to think that a chamber of commerce was needed to help U.S. companies doing business in Russia and Russian companies to do business in the United States.
Russ: I understand the chamber’s doing quite well.
Andrew: So far. We’re blessed. Thank you to our growing membership and to our support.
Russ: I would assume that it’s predominantly energy business. Is it totally energy business?
Andrew: No, it’s not only energy business. By the way, I would like to know that this is non-profit 501(c)(6) organization. It was fully supported by the U.S. Department of Commerce. We have the Deputy Mayor as honorary board member, as well as Director of Houston Airport System, Chairman of the Houston Port Authority, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Houston, representative from the Gookian Institute, former director of NASA. So it’s a collaborate effort. I would say the five areas that we’re developing again is energy because 50 percent of Russian economy is based on energy and Houston is known as the world capital of oil and gas and energy, but aerospace cooperation between Russia and United States significant. We’re blessed to have NASA here and a strong aerospace system. There’s also the largest medical center and Russia is very keen on develop and known for its medical facilities, education, doctors, et cetera and due to the latest development in Russia for the past several years decreased by the President of Russia and also the Prime Minister, there’s a lot of emphasis on innovation and technology and Houston is known for innovation and technology. For example, Rice Alliance, Smalley Institute of nanotechnology at Rice. Also Houston Technology Center and other institutions that penetrate the energy market, healthcare market, biotechnology, et cetera, et cetera. Plus I would say the largest port in the United States in terms of foreign tonnage is Houston Port and probably gonna become the largest in the United States period after the expansion of the Panama Canal. There is a lot of logistic and transportation coming in to Russia and I think this is one of the areas there where we can improve and continue. There is some cargo, for example, with the various parts from metals going through Houston Port, et cetera. This trend is gonna continue to increase.
Russ: Now most of these chambers are proponents of business both ways. Is that the case with the Russian/U.S. Chamber? Are you also helping U.S. companies that wanna go into Russia and vice versa?
Andrew: Yes. We do and we do in different ways. First of all, we are cooperating with the various chambers of commerce in Russia and the government institutions. We’re working with various regions in Russia. We’re also handling the Houston Sisters Cities relationship. We’re assisting with the Houston/Moscow bilateral protocol between Mayor of Houston, Bill White and former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and now the current mayor, the _________ ________ and the _________ with the current Mayor Parker and the current Mayor Sedani as well. With working with Janine, with Toms, with Tula, some other oil-related regions as well. We’re working on bringing some delegation. Some of them already been here. We’re also helping the companies find sales agents, partners, distributors in Russia, joint venture partners helping them to promote some of their products there as well. So I think this is one of the strong emphasis to bring delegations here, organize seminars here in Houston to educate U.S. companies that have not been doing business in Russia, how to do proper business in Russia on their size from finance to logistics to customs to accounting, where to find the right partner, how to do due diligence on the right partner, et cetera. We started the new speaker leader series where we bring the highest level executives from Russia, whether from U.S. company or Russian-based company. The ones that have done business there 15-20 years that they can share the pragmatic approach on how to do business in Russia.
Russ: Alright, Andrew. Well congratulations. Sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job.
Andrew: Thank you very much, Russ. It’s a team effort and I’m very thankful to our executive director, business development manager and all our staff. We have a great team. Also our stakeholders from the city of Houston, the Texas Governor’s office, the Houston Port, Houston Airport System also our partner the Greater Houston Partnership. So thanks to all of them for their support.
Russ: Great. Fantastic. Alright. That’s Andrew Pidgirsky, the head of the international law practice at Adams and Reese. This has been a Thought Leader Production brought to you by the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. Tune in next week for another chapter.