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Back in the USSR


(originally published by Booz & Company)

Dear Monte:

Someday, you’ll tell your grandchildren about this one. Or maybe you’ll write it up in that long-threatened Monte Stellar business autobiography.

There you were, flying to New York on a beautiful September morning, getting ready to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative. We’d managed to snag you a spot on a panel moderated by the ex-president himself: “Global Compassion: The Heavy Responsibility of Heavy Industry.” It was part of our long-term plan to transition you from Swashbuckling CEO to International Man of Ideas. You were looking forward to chatting about Africa with Bono, diagnosing malaria with Bill Gates, and gawking along with everybody else at Angelina Jolie.

But by the time you arrived at the conference, the economy had gone into a tailspin, and your panel had been replaced by a one-on-one interview between the former president and Jamie Dimon. The event coordinator apologized profusely, and invited you to watch from the audience.

Obviously, we were disappointed. But then a black swan appeared — in the form of a digital fusillade of e-mails, text messages, and phone calls from CNBC, Fox Business News, and the Wall Street Journal.

It seemed that Ivan Gregoriev, the notorious Russian iron baron, was using the worldwide economic turmoil to make a run at AmSmelt. On CNN, Lou Dobbs reported that Ivan had posted these messages on his Twitter account:

Ivan Man of Iron: I hear AmSmelt invested its pension fund in mortgage-backed derivatives. I’m going to buy it. 6:40 pm, GMT, September 23, 2008.

Ivan Man of Iron: I am determined to increase shareholder wealth, save the employees, and crush current management like an aluminum can. 6:44 pm, GMT, September 23, 2008.

Yes Monte, suddenly YOU were the news. The media had found a way to link the meltdown on Wall Street to Main Street. Twenty minutes later, we were sitting at the Carnegie Deli with my entire Instant Response PR Team, save for Ronbir Jamshidi, who was working the IT angle from Mumbai.

According to a puff piece in Portfolio, Ivan fancies himself a combination of Donald Trump, Carl Icahn, and Peter the Great. His company, Minsk Heavy Industries (Panama, LLC), is building a hotel in Dubai (who isn’t?) and has one of the worst environmental records on the planet.

By now, AmSmelt was up 3¼ on the NYSE. The media wanted a statement. The AmSmelt board wanted a full report. And after a quick Skype call with Ronbir in Mumbai, we had our 140-character answer posted on Twitter, with a response from Ivan less than a minute later:

Monte AmSmelt CEO: The pension fund is in T-bills. And there’s no way I’m selling to a man whose environmental record makes Chernobyl look like a Sunday picnic. 7:52 pm, GMT, September 23, 2008.

Ivan Man of Iron: Your loss. I’m going after TimeWarner instead. 7:53 pm, GMT, September 23, 2008.

Fifteen minutes later, as AmSmelt’s stock returned to its opening price on the NYSE, you received a hero’s welcome back at the conference. Clinton lauded you for standing up for principles over profits. Bono invited you to dinner. Angelina Jolie waved at you from across the room.

And no one was any the wiser about what we’d learned from Ronbir in Mumbai — that the whole thing was a pump-and-dump scheme by a Nigerian e-mail crew who had moved onto Twitter.

I’ll be in touch –

The Biffster

PS: 24 hours later, I heard from my guy in Minsk that Ivan admires your style, and is interested in a strategic alliance. I also got feelers from both U.S. political parties, inquiring as to your current party affiliation. Yr thoughts, pls.

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