- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

Alex Freedland, a Russian emigre who landed in Silicon Valley, had very good timing. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Cold

War had ended, and both the Russian army and government no longer needed squadrons of software engineers and technicians, some of the best-trained in the world.

Mr. Freedland, experienced in the ways of both Russia and the United States, began bringing the two nations together, via technology.

For the Russians, the issue was what to do with that excess talent. Exporting them to the United States was one answer, but that created all sorts of personal difficulties for the workers.

And, it wasn't really necessary. Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft Corp., said as much in a speech at the Kremlin in 1997; he reiterated the point the following year at Stanford University: Businesses can "order" engineering and programming long-distance.

Of course, the mechanics of hiring and supervising personnel overseas can be daunting for small and medium companies, and for larger firms as well. Mr. Freedland, whose firm, Mirantis Inc., is in San Mateo, Calif., combines a knowledge of the way Russian business and regulation work with an American-style entrepreneurial savvy.

"My dream was always to have my own engineering start-up," Mr. Freedland says. And after a few years in junior engineering positions and advancing to a "director of engineering" slot, he set out on his own.

Clients liked his management skills so much they twice bought out his new ventures. Now, Mirantis (www.mirantis.com) is putting non-Russian firms in contact with that nation's best and brightest.

This is done by creating a technology "campus" where engineers are contracted to work for American firms, at a wage that is very good for Russia, but is also below comparable U.S. scales.

Mirantis offers a "cafeteria"-style benefits package tailored to the needs of workers.

"We essentially decided that for American companies to be able to best utilize the talent in Russia would be to set up shop, let engineers do work for those companies that want that work right there and then," Mr. Freedland says. By concentrating on the overhead and personnel matters, Mirantis frees its customers among them Cadence Design Systems to concentrate on working with a local team.

In addition to cost savings clients send one check per month to Mirantis, which handles payroll and other tasks there's the matter of speed. For a U.S. firm such as Cadence, Mirantis can be up and running in eight weeks or less, versus six to 12 months for an overseas firm establishing a presence in Russia.

"We are leveling the playing field by creating a generic technology center that any company can leverage," Mr. Freedland says.

Along with the technology center, Mirantis' Russian unit provides "a legal entity" in which it does business, "gets a lease, sets up infrastructure, relationships with universities to get talent and manages day-to-day operations," he says.

Then, companies in the states can work with remote teams in Russia without worrying about such details, since Mirantis has been operating there for over four years, he says.

Mr. Freedland says that there are cost savings: "A company would need to invest $4 to $5 million, including their own management costs," to open an office in Russia. "They would have to learn the customs, and probably establish contacts with an expensive consultant providing services that we offer."

Reaction from governments in both countries is positive, Mr. Freedland says. The Russians don't have enough jobs for the country's scientists, and the government there wants American firms to employ its people but in Russia. In turn, he says American officials boost the idea that it's better for American firms to employ Russians in Russia, to help build that country's economy.

For employees, the plan seems to be working: Mirantis claims a 96 percent retention rate, something many firms might envy. More information on the pan-national venture can be found at www.mirantis.com.

Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenalineradio.com.

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