Continuing the talk on infrastructure megaproject – land transport corridor “Europa-Western China” – we had a talk with Mr. Foat Komarov – a businessman, implementing construction of the “Alexeevskoe – Almetyevsk” route, which runs in the Tatarstan territory and presents a part of this corridor.
Foat Komarov is the co-owner of the “SMP-Neftegaz” company, dealing in oil-recovery, road construction, textile manufacture and some other businesses.
Mr. Komarov was the mayor of Almetyevsk in 2000-2001, in 2000-2007 had a position of a deputy of the Republic of Tatarstan State Council, was a deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Federal Assembly, 2007-2011.
Money being received from oil business now invested in construction of the route “Alekseyevskoe – Almetyevsk”. By the moment more than 9 billion rubles of private equity are already invested in this project.
– Mr. Komarov, at first, please, tell us some words about yourself – what did you want to become when you were a child?
When I graduated from school, I wanted to enter flight school to become a military pilot and open up the great spaces of sky. But I could not enter the school because of a health condition. Then I decided to do military service, and after it to think of my future. By chance, I got in a training regiment of the flight forces, and I understood that it was not a problem that I couldn’t be a pilot – one can simply be a civilian. Eventually, after military service, I entered Kazan University in the mechanic and mathematic faculty for the profession of mechanics.
– It was a harsh change of the interests… There is a list of definite focuses for a pilot – a strong emphasis on physical culture and mathematics with physics are not at the first place…
It is absolutely wrong. If I had wanted to become a javelin thrower, I would understand that I have to throw a javelin more often and farther. But a military pilot deals with complex technologies, and he must have a knack for it, to have a wide outlook and strong mentality to assess situations fast, to make decisions instantly. Speed of decision making is generally a main criterion for aviation; everything is going very fast there. And speed of decision making is mathematics; human mentality.
As for me, natural sciences always were, and are, the basic ones. I can become a lawyer, but no lawyer ever became a mathematician. History knows philosophers are natural scientists, but they are rare exceptions.
– Why did you choose mechanical science?
I probably did not want to become just a mathematician-cum-theorist. I did a diploma on a theme which was connected with oil field. And now, when I’m told I don’t understand anything about oil recovery, I can answer that I may be not get along with its chemical constitution very well, but I know the processes quite well – what is happening with oil under the ground, how to extract it, how to affect it. One can’t be omniscient, but there is a definite focused specialization, which lets one feel comfortable. And I feel very self-confident in this field.
– This subject refers to rather complicated mathematical models…
Yes, it does. Now my friends are working on the development of hydrodynamic mathematical models. I suppose we are quite successful. If we are constructing a road, then the oil scene brings in money.
– What did you do after graduation?
When I was studying I decided to work with the youths – in Komsomol. And I did it.
– Why Komsomol? It is, first of all, about managing people….It’s quite a different area, so far from mathematical models.
I had started to manage people while taking military service and back then I began to understand whether my actions and decisions were conducive to people to reaching success or not. When I worked in Komsomol and communicated with the young people, I realized clearly that when I made decisions with them or even instead of them, I promoted the further development of this society, this group or some special category.
I started as an instructor, then I was a captain of executive Komsomol group of auxiliary police, which is in fact a policeman. I worked with hooligans – future criminals or just those who fell off the straight and narrow. The task was to ensure as few hooligans as possible became criminals, step over a fine line of kiddy pranks and you become criminally liable. For a human Being it is knowing that if you live your life on a knife edge, there is always the chance you will slip.
– That is, in fact, you carried out preventive measures and shared experiences of your own worldview and values?
Preventive measures, sure. But when two gangs are in conflict, what can I share with them in such a situation, what information? I just stood up between them and said: “Here I am, here is an arm band. When you will pass by me, the 191th rule becomes enacted – the offense is hindering a police officer in the enactment of their duty”. That’s all!
– Did it work?
As a rule, it did. Mostly, people are right-minded and do not want to cross over the line. But when it concerned a drunk, I happened to face aggressive actions. I was hit over in the head and took part in fist-fighting bouts. They are just young people; they cannot give a salute. But there is a fact, that we, a few men, stopped the whole group; 50 members each from every side. We stood up between them – they were shouting for some time, calmed them down and went away. There were no struggles.
In the 90’s, when criminality and the underworld was developing rapidly, I was familiar with the criminal community. That is why when I was speaking – I was heard. But also I understood what they could do.
– It had probably become clear one day: you’ll have to leave Komsomol. What did you see in your future?
When democratic processes began, I was chosen to be the first secretary on a substitute basis. I was doing my work, but in full a measure – it is impossible to be young forever. I had written an application. I thought if I am the first secretary on standby in the regional party committee, then I will be offered some new position. I was not. So, I went nowhere and became unemployed for some time.
But I understand why it happened. In the 90’s we carried on a strategy of democratic development. We went into an authoritative mode, we took power in to our own hands to change the situation. There was a big youth group in our city council – 40 deputies (in other words, 40 per cent of the common amount of the council). That is, we won elections. I stood for the municipal executive committee chairman’s position, but I had a lack of votes. One guy said after all this: “I wanted to support you so much, but you were so “crazy” – we were just afraid”.
– Your political career broken down. You became unemployed. What next?
For some time I was unemployed, until one company offered me a position as a geologist. I agreed, because it was the time to start working again. But almost at the same time I received another offer. The group “Promstroymateriali” and an oil-and-gas production department “Almetyevneft” were creating a new company for solving constructive tasks on behalf of oil workers, so called “Almetyevo Multisectoral Union”. I was told: “We can hire you as a deputy manager, of course, if you are ready”. I had to work in a new, just created structure, where there was nothing but a big fat zero – the company registration had just been completed. I said I was ready, and we started working.
– So, during those times you had no experience in this area, did you? Just a technical education?
I dealt with civil construction in student times. During three years I was leader of a construction gang and for a year I was an engineer-in-chief of the “Almetyevsky” zonal construction gang in the South-East part of the Republic. We used to live in trailers. We covered construction admin. Documentation, formalization, wages were like in independent structure, which provided the full range of life-sustaining activities. So, civil construction was not something new for me.
A new company began with a little collective body – five or six employees. And one of our first works was banking of broken-stone roads for oil-field projects.
Of course, some misunderstanding and tension occurs during collective work. It just so happened that I did not like the assessment of the work people had done – they produced a result, but the true value was not paid for. I asked, even argued, for the employees to be assessed in full and paid the right amount of earned money. They did not listen to me. I said in that case the company won’t have any further development. If we do not pay people, they won’t work. To get a human pay-off, at first he should get something, to be worthy of being paid. There is no other way. Conflict occurred owing to this situation, and I had to quit.
– You argued not for yourself. But did you understand that if your request was denied, you’d have to leave the company?
I did not think about it. A conflict zone just occurred, a situation when one insists on some position and it would have led to this sooner or later. A manager knew if an employee had objected to something, immediately it would result in more conflict.
But I was not afraid to go away. In fact, after two-three months of working I realized that if you can work – you can earn money. We felt it because we had started from a very empty place. The situation allowed for it: money was lying right here – just lean over and take it. But activity should exist, and if you are a lazybones and do not want to lean over, than no one is to blame, but yourself.
We created a new corporate entity just after leaving. There were four of us: I invited the guys we worked together with earlier to be co-founders. We started to do all the same work, but from dawn until nightfall, with no days off. There were no problems about it. We earned enormous amounts of money, almost “bathed in gold”. And it was a true “gold” – salt of the native earth; we just shoveled its rocky ground.
Of course, we had to look for work; prove we could do it. I remember once I came to Mr. Nugaibekov, the chief of the oil-and-gas production department “Elhovneft”, and said: “Give me some work”. I walked up three floors with him. He did not believe we could do something: his employees were knocking about in only one area for a half year or even a year sometimes, and resulted in nothing. I said: “We will do quickly”. And for all that he agreed: “Okay, young communist, do your work”.
We arrived on Saturday. No one was waiting for us, we did not have keys and so we had to pull out the gates. We excavated an area for two days and then went away. I returned on Monday, welded the gates back in place, apologized and reported: “Accept the work”. He was shocked. Of course, after this, we were always contacted in case of urgent works, because they knew we did not have breaks when there was some work to do.
But there was always a problem of consumption: everyone wants to live a good life and consume more and more. We had a conflict with partners. I say: “Production” and they say: “Consumption”. I say: “Tractor, earthmoving machine, tip-truck”, they say: “TV-set, automobile, house”. Due to this situation we drifted apart, and I became the only and main stockholder of a new company. Now I could take decisions independently, without asking any opinions of legal partners.
– Did it appear difficult to take decisions alone?
Speed of taking decisions and reaction became instant. A pilot has nobody to seek advice from and they do not have much time to think things over, or they will crash. To stay alive you must make a decision immediately. To begin business is the same thing, the same survival capabilities. If you are passive, you will be bettered or rejected. It takes a lot of time to negotiate with all stockholders, to persuade all of them… If someone disagrees, one has to go against their will, and it is uncomfortable. But when I make decisions by myself, I am responsible for the success or failure on my own.
– But how about democracy, which you were striving to create, and the ability to make fast decisions as they are related to each other? Democracy implicates taking into account other’s opinions, and it is necessary to at least listen to them.
It is very simple; when I’m listening I have time to process information. While you are talking I am processing information and preparing an answer.
During military service, until I was 18, I was leading a 180 soldier troop. While I was a student, I was a deputy secretary of the Committee (and there were 175 students at the course), and a chair of the hostel student council, where 800 students lived, including foreigners. And I knew who they were – how they lived, what they wanted and what they breathed with. Today I may be torn away from household situations, but I do not need it. I do my work at a strategic level.
– But what about production moments?
There are specialists for production situations, who make decisions by themselves. I say: “Guys, there is a task to reach the end point. You have three days”. And how they will get there is their own business. A submariner will go under the water, a sailor will go on the water, a tunnel worker will build a tunnel, and flying pilot will fly. There are different ways to reach the goal, and specialists must understand which is better in their exact situation. I do not perform goals, impossible for achievement.
– If your employees disagree with something, do you let them say it aloud?
Certainly, I do. But if are sure you are right, please, prove it. Figures, calculations, computations. I can say: “Sign that you are sure you are right”. He says: “Okay”. I ask: “What do you have?” He says: “I have a car”. “Okay, hock your car. I’m risking losing, for example, 10 millions, but a car cost about 200 thousands. I back 10 millions against 200 thousands – take on responsibilities and do it”.
Some of them do, but most refuse on the spot. To risk other’s money is easy, but to take charge and risk your own money is much more difficult.
But, for example, when I recommend a person to somebody, I always say that if my man makes a mistake, does something wrong, I will pay for him.
– Did it ever happen to you - did you make a mistake?
Of course, everybody makes mistakes. I consider there is a balance in nature, and if there is plus, minus must be there as well.
– What mistakes do you learn from – your own or those of other’s?
No one learns from other’s mistakes. Everyone sees, understands, but cannot stop making them. If we had always learnt from our past generation’s mistakes, we would already have become perfect by now. But today every child, like a primitive man, starts to understand danger of the fire only after they have burned their hand.
– There are two types of tasks – long-term and short-term. What do you prefer?
As a rule, I prefer long-terms ones, short-term ones don’t interest me. Of course, I started with short-term ones: I arrived, did work, received money. But if live in such a logic state, there will be any prospects.
It is important to realize that any company that shows a profit in a short term won’t necessarily exist forever. Everyone wants to earn money, so new players are appearing in this market. Now you cannot make such a good profit, and you can even be pushed out of the market.
– What was that moment and why did you start to widen your own task horizon?
I suppose, it was a broken-stone road. An excavator, an earthmoving machine and a tip-truck are three elements which let me earn big money. I have already made 9 million dollars profit in 1996. It seemed like Utopia, but it was not. I knew exactly that dusting broken stone is a dead-end job and that I had to buy an asphalt spreader, an asphalt compactor, asphalt factories and start to create a real road.
Now we can reach “black cats” by passenger cars. But we used to drag heavy tip-trucks, called KrAZes in Russia, using tractors, because everything got stuck. I do not want to say that everybody works in house slippers, but some definite levels of comfort appeared – people do not sink in to the mud, in bogs, do not tear ropes and slave away. The chief of the oil-and-gas production department started to visit his businesses driving a “Volga”, but not a Russian car, called “UAZik”, as it was before.
– Ability to act “for long term” is a willingness to emulate something today. Where did you get this willingness? Is it a result of your parent's upbringing or may be this view was formed under the influence of university, or Komsomol?
I don’t know. How can I explain my actions and say where my ideas came from? I understand that a potter makes pots, a blacksmith forges iron, a digger digs the ground… But they are craftsmen, people who do manual labor. But people who work using their brain rather than their hands earn money differently. So, when I’m asked a question: “Where did you make money?” I say: “From God”.
– But everybody has definite experience on the back of others – they are not only their own, but also hose of their relatives and colleagues.
That’s not the point. The great mathematician Galois, for example, died at the age of twenty, but how much he had achieved?… The other situation: I got to listen to Mr. Baybakov, who was the Peoples Commissar for the petroleum industry under Stalin’s rule – then he became the chief of the State Planning Committee of the USSR. In his nineties and even later on he kept such a clear head! Or Sergei Mikhalkov is the same example. But I sometimes cannot remember what class my child attends, so, I suppose this informational field is out of our comprehension.
– What projects are you working on now?
The main strategic direction for now is the route “Europe-Western China”. But this project was not set up by me – it is part of the governmental development program for 2018 to 2030. But there are some things, which are prospects for the moment, for example, hosiery factory I’m responsible for it: I’m controlling and running it.
– Why did you start to construct this road? And how did this subject appear?
I have quite good experience in road construction. As I mentioned before, I started with simple broken-stone roads. Then I changed for asphalt: an asphalt spreader, asphalt factories and significant local roads. And once I asked myself: “Why can’t I construct first category, quality, high-speed roads?” I have 1,300 units of equipment, profit from oil, but I cannot get government contracts. I was struggling, pleading, arguing, proving and demonstrating so much. Do you think anybody gave me that work? No one did! What would I have done? Bribe someone? But why do I need to do this? I have equipment. God gave us oil. So I started to construct roads by myself. I do not get in anybody’s way, no one gets in mine. I feel well balanced and mentally calm. I go to work for pleasure; I go home happy, because I did something.
If you drive a car along the Chistopolskaya road, than you will notice a 5 kilometer part of it is perfectly level – between Beryozovo and Boriskino. It is very different from the rest of the way, because there is no wheel tracking there. Notably I was made to start this road at a lower level and I was paid only once in two years.
When I worked in the State Duma, I always heard somebody saying it is impossible to construct roads – most of the money is being stolen. But I said: “Here it is being built. Come and see and you can also touch it. Check net cost and prices. Here the bridges are being built, here are the communication lines: the gas pipeline is being reconstructed”. Everything is real in this life – the questions are about price and time. But there is nothing to stop the human mind and actions. And all efforts of discredit are just profitable for someone.
– A road of the first category is the goal and could be achieved by different methods. You did choose the most difficult and risky one, complying to create of a part of the transnational transport corridor.
I’m going to take issue with it. The project is unclear for the surrounding informational field because this road is entirely called “Europe-Western China”. But my general interest is the part called “Alexeyevskoye – Almetyevsk”. It is a road which can be used by my children and myself to reach Kazan safely. To this extent it is absolutely inessential that it’s a part of someone’s bigger project.
It was always a problem to drive from Almetyevsk to Kazan. A lateral road is being built, but it hasn’t been completed in 40 years. It is difficult to explain. Does Almetyevsk give the budget little money? What guilt do the citizens of Almetyevsk feel because they do not have a lateral road? What is their sin?
There are funeral wreaths at every kilometer of the Chistopolskaya route. There are some parts where there is a death each kilometer annually. In 2004, 8 people died in car accidents, and 4 of them were a group of the electricians from our company. All of them left children, wives, friends, relatives behind. The other's pain is not always easy to explain, but this can happen to any of us. Who can ensure my child won’t have such a situation to deal with? According to the theory of chance and statistical theory, it is possible. That is why if there is a chance to avoid a tragedy – one should do it!
– If I got it right, the road from Almetyevsk to Kazan was always your main concern. And it was a lesser issue what project to squeeze in, wasn’t it? If it was not for this corridor, you would have squeezed in other projects, wouldn’t you?
Yes. I was looking for a strategy, and it was externally. Everybody said: “East – West, South – North”. But when I looked at the strategy of the Russian Federation transport development up to 2030, I saw all strategies were bypassing Tatarstan. I went to see President Shaymiyev and said: “If a decision is not taken today, all roads will bypass Tatarstan. You need to write to the Heads of the regions for the road from China through Russian territory stating that it will run through Tatarstan.
– A road is becoming cheaper every day, but if it provides huge traffic flow than the value of territory surrounding it is also increasing. So, there is a question: it is not investors who must make the general profit, but the surrounding territory, must not it?
It is yes for the prospective view. One of the terms for me to invest in the road was allocation of land. Thanks to Mr. Shaymiyev and Mr. Minnihanov it was received – at first it was a 200 meter wide strip, then it was 500 meters wide. But this territory was necessary not because of constructing near the road, but to construct the road itself. If this territory is owned, is under control, than I’m sure no one will push me out at any moment.
– But hereinafter do you plan to develop activity near this road?
No, I am not interested in it.
– And so, what will happen to this territory then?
I don’t know. In the long run two square meters will be enough for me. But I’d like these two meters will be mine for a long time. For people to walk and see: you were buried three centuries ago, but the grave is still standing. So, why does one need to think what would happen to the surrounding territory? Today I need it not to be troubled. For no one to come and say: “Your tractor went here”, “A track has snapped”, “My pipe was run over”… There is a 500 meter corridor I can comfortably work.
Our tractors are moving black soil; we are planting forest, construct highway junctions, bridges, and crossovers. I just do it in this zone of comfort. And further I want infrastructure here which would be developed for my grandkids to use this territory, “live off my investments”. But who can be sure it will happen? More than 90% of family companies disappear in the 3rd generation and the very few of them exist after the 4th generation. Just several years ago the most senior company in the world with a millennia history either went bankrupt or was closed down in Japan. It was a family company of church constructors. It had existed for a thousand of years; it was constructing churches for thousands of years. And the result is the same: it is not a family business anymore. So, one cannot say family business is the strongest.
– You say you are constructing the road for your children to ensure their safety. But when one carries out such projects, you emphasize their social and economical meaning. And if to say you are doing it for yourself, everyone will envisage it from the other angle…
I have my own experience. It is not so clear what you are saying. I’ll show it with an example of my other projects – a school I’ve built. It is a good private school with its own standards. There are 15 pupils in a class, everyone gets individual attention. Teachers have doubled wages. Children are almost calling the School Mistress "mother". It is comfortable there, one feels safety and enjoys caring relationships. And I used to attend a school where 1000 pupils were studying. No one knew each other, toilets were full of graffiti, and everything was broken.
When I was asked why I had built the school, I first answered t: “It is a good school, isn’t it? Children are studying, they get an education. It is an example for the rest. And the only reaction was: “You are really crazy!” No one understood me.
Just when I started to say I had built the school for my own children, but there was also an opportunity to teach more children, I noticed a great attitude change. When I told them it was for my own children, it became clear for everyone. But they do not know that also I have constructed a new building for my native school, repaired a school in my mother’s village, and reequipped other schools in the Nizhnekamsk and Zainsk districts. And now my son is constructing a new school in one of the villages in the Almetyevsk district.
And also, when I was building a house, I was felling timber. Now I am planting a forest and people cannot understand why I’m doing it.
Actually, I am an averagely ambitious person, and that’s why I feel shy about my achievements? But I do not mean I must permanently do promotion, to invite journalists every day, take photos, be on the magazine covers and tell everyone I’m a developer. The time will come and everyone will probably speak about what I’ve done, but it may be the complete opposite – everybody will simply forget me and will never be mentioned.
– Most rich people have another point of view. It is to fence their houses in and live in this secure territory, letting no one in.
Show me rich people who are fenced in and happy?
– Are you happy?
Yes, surely I am. There are some problems, but my children and I walk all the same streets you walk and we have never had security guards. My children live in a society, but if there are poor, hungry, deprived, how can they be happy? It is absolutely unreal. For example, I will build a house, plant forests, make a pond – and it is just for me. I enter there and see paradise. But one has to leave the house to walk outside, because it is impossible to live in a closed world.
When they say people have different perceptions in world, and someone wants to save money, then a question appears why those who invested money in Cyprus didn’t save it? They believed in western values, standards, sustainability. Tomorrow money will disappear from other offshore companies. All of them will be destroyed. $50 trillion in assets, real money, are concentrated there, and it can all enter the economy at once. Instead everyone tried to liquidate their assets in Cyprus.
The Cypriots did not die because of it; they did not rebel or change the authorities. Or was it an intervention? No one did anything. Stolen, dirty money taken from peoples paid taxes just disappeared.
– What’s your drive?
My drive is what I really do. I’m working and I achieve results. You can take a helicopter, fly and see. When Mr. Levitin flew above this road, he was just dumbfounded what a great condition it is in for constructing and supporting the road.
– Are any new directions in business planned?
Nothing new. There are no resources for it. I cannot be everywhere at once. There is a hosiery factory, and it will be developed. There is agriculture land, and no one needs it, but I cannot leave it! It is 20 000 hectares of territory, which feed two hundred people. I’m ready to sell lands cattle, the factory, but no one wants to buy them. I’m selling an oil field, and no one wants it! Because everybody wants to buy for a trifling sum.
But I do not feel discomfort. If I had one billion dollars, I would complete the road and make it private. According to the law, it is permitted. But I understand clearly I will not get this billion, and, consequently, nor my private road. So, one day the government will take it and all the territory. A decree will be issued and they will say: “Give it to us”. There is nothing else to do but sign. So, why should I think about it once again, force thoughts, be nervous. The only thing I can hope is to rule this road in the future.
– What will you leave for your children?
Of course, I would like my children to pass down the lamp. But who can tell if it will be so? And why must my children be victims of my ideas and my goals? They should be free in their own activities.
For example, my elder son is a civil servant. I didn’t make him work with me. He likes to communicate with people, be in the thick of the action. He is the same as I was, but in the modern world. He was liquidating gambling venues and drug-houses, working with the police during the night. Now he works at the government. And can I really tell him: “Okay, son, give up your work and learn all the processes to run the family business?” Is it so?
– And what’s for the grandkids?
I’ll try to educate them so they become hard working, and make sure that they have some interest, a sense of their life.
– By doing what?
Only through my own example. Sometimes I will ask someone: “Where do you throw your litter when walking in the forest with your family?” and get an answer: “I throw it on the ground”, and it becomes clear that a child will do the same. You can read to him, speak with him about what he should do with litter, and he will hear it at school. But this child will throw litter on the ground.
And if you pick up litter, put it in a bin bag, take it home in the trunk, so your child will do the same. Children copy everything their parents do. Whether we like it or not, we are but copies of our parents.
– Do you continue to study now?
Sure, I do. I monitor the situation permanently, read news. I try to look very attentively at all information I receive.
– How do you see yourself in 10 years?
I will stay as I am. What can be changed in 10 years? I will always be full up and booted – it is not a problem. Needs will probably become smaller, and I will be able to get rid of my belongings. May be I will walk in worn-out felt boots, but what’s the problem? I will be 65 in 10 years. Is it appropriate for a 65 year man to jump like a wild goat on mountain walls? Never! I see clearly I will be rather old, my legs will be cold, and that’s why I bought felt boots. I will sit on a mound of earth wearing felt boots and a fur coat and enjoy the sun’s rays.