The dawn of perestroika found Vladimir Gusinsky at a dead end. He had trained as a stage director but failed to find a place in the world of Moscow theatre. He was a Jew, and he believed that anti-Semitism was the unspoken reason why doors slammed in his face. Some Jewish directors had made it in the Soviet theatre, but not Gusinsky. He had dabbled in staging public concerts, cultural events and even helped produce the entertainment for the Goodwill Games in 1986, but those days had turned sour when he got in trouble with Moscow's Communist Party Committee for a harmless prank. He told them to go to hell.
Gusinsky, a skinny young man with outsized emotions, who had endured the taunts "Yiddish snout!" in the schoolyard and responded with ferocious anger, an iron pipe in hand, was going nowhere in the mid-1980s. He drove his car as an unofficial taxi, carrying passengers to and from the new international airport, earning enough cash to support his wife and young son, and hoping to restart his life.
Late one evening, Gusinsky stepped out of his car to smoke a cigarette. By chance, he had stopped near an electric streetcar depot. He glanced at a back lot, which served as a storage area for large electric transformers.
"I turned around and suddenly I saw a vein of gold," he recalled. "What was it? A huge wooden reel, two meters tall, wound with copper cable--copper cable that was used for the transformer of the streetcar. It was long, pure copper. And I realized, here it is, the gold mine!"
The gold mine was copper bracelets. They had become a craze at the time. The bracelets had a faintly Oriental appeal, and people wore them to fend off illnesses or evil spirits. Gusinsky started a cooperative to make jewelry, and soon became king of copper bracelets in the Soviet Union. He took one look at the wooden spool of copper wire, officially state property, and finagled three reels for next to nothing. He found an idle state factory with a metal-stamping machine on the edge of Moscow. For some cash on the side, he arranged for high-quality metal-stamping molds to be fashioned at a closed military factory. Soon, his six stamping machines were working overtime.
Gusinsky stamped out copper bracelets by the tens of thousands. The bracelets carried an imprint of two tiny dragons and the word "Metal," the name of Gusinsky's fledgling cooperative. The stamping machines worked around the clock, in three shifts, each machine capable of six strikes per minute. The Metal cooperative was soon stamping out 51,840 bracelets a day. The bracelets were the source of Gusinsky's first fortune. He sold the bracelets for five rubles apiece, and they cost him only three kopeks. In a single day, his revenues were 259,200 rubles, more than 500 times the monthly salary of a doctor of science at a leading institute. "In those days," he recalled, "it was gigantic profit."
Gusinsky had re-started his life. In a few years, he was dreaming of becoming the Rupert Murdoch of Russia.
Pub date: 09/13/11
Price: $21.99/25.50 Canada
5 1/2 x 8 1/4
8 pp b/w inser
Selling Territory: WORLD
Pub history: 978-1-58648-001-1