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Grigory Likhter

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Grigory Likhter is a man of well-developed and diverse talents: woodworker, furniture maker, builder, and interior designer. He and his mother emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. A few years later, he worked for Father Andrew Tregubov on a thorough redesign of the interior of the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Claremont, NH. He lived in New York City in the 1980s, where he became a much sought-after craftsman. But after the fall of the Iron Curtain, he decided to seek his fortune in his homeland. Here's what happened. 

 

 

 

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 new glass. 

 

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. 

Likhter now lives in Sunapee, NH. Read the rest of his story in my book, including his childhood in the Soviet Union and how he and his mother emigrated to America. 
 
Read more about his craftsmanship, and his second sojourn in Russia, in these excerpts from our interviews. 

Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com.