He found a country full of opportunities. "The market was so hungry for anything,"
he says. There was very little domestic production to meet the demand; "I realized that if you bring anything
into the country, you could become rich. In my case, glass."
Out of his training
at Parsons, he had developed an interest in environmentally friendly building. Soviet-era glass technology was severely lacking;
Likhter started importing state-of-the-art glass from Finland. "Russian people wanted to live like people in the West,"
he explains. "Driving Western cars, wearing Western clothes. In construction, I presumed that people would want buildings
like in the United States: skyscrapers with lots of glass."
Thanks to connections
in the new government, he got some major contracts. His first was at the Russian White House, one of Moscow's most important
buildings, after it was damaged in an attempted coup in August 1991. "When Gorbachev was in Yalta, there was a coup.
Old Communists trying to take over. So Yeltsin took an enormous risk, he put everything at stake. He climbed on a tank and
shot at the White House. All the windows were blown out." After the coup was suppressed, Likhter was hired to install
If Russia was full of opportunity, it also had a definite Wild West flavor.
"The one problem I had from beginning to end was corruption and bribery. I learned how to work in America, where somehow
there are ethics? Morals?" A wry smile plays across his face. "This bribery thing, I couldn't do it."
It was also hard to get his workers and his clients to take the long view: "Everything was short-term. You have
to understand, the country just changed from a Communist system to democracy. Nobody believed it would stay. Everybody wanted
to earn today, steal today, survive today." Employee retention and quality control were constant challenges.
He was often cheated; in time, he learned to get payment in advance or have the payment put in escrow. If he waited
for payment until after delivery, "they found excuses not to pay."
Then, after almost a decade in business, "I got cheated big time." He supplied a new glass ceiling for the
main railway station in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. "There was a final payment I was supposed to get, and I got cheated.
Over a hundred thousand dollars."
It was the last straw. Likhter returned to
America in late 2000.