Sergey Pashin: Life fullness

April 2010, the interview was taken by Vladislav Korneychuk
Published in corporate Gazprom Magazine

Family background

Mr. Pashin, from your book “The Pashins: Clan History” I learned that you are a descendant of the migrants who moved from the Kursk Province to the Ufa Province…

In 1881 my grand-grandfather Pyotr Pashin, at the age of 28, sold out a part of his property and all his land, gaining nearly one thousand rubles. He left for himself horses, carriages and favorite belongings and left his native village with his wife Praskovya and three sons. In spring of the same year he bought a plot of land from the local peasants in the Nikulino village (Belebey District, Ilyinsky Uyezd, Ufa Province) and started to settle in. The benefit of such a move was evident: the average land property of a family in the Kursk Province was 13 hectares and cost 450 to 900 rubles. That amount of money was enough to buy 53 to 109 hectares in the Ufa Province.

Evidently, your ancestor had business acumen. He was also rather quick off the mark. Though he might not have been very enthusiastic about moving and did it reluctantly. Your career went forward in such a way that you had to live in places rather distant from each other. Your move from permafrost lands of Yamburg to the tropical coast of Vietnam speaks for itself!

True, the activity region turned out to be rather vast: Far North, Vietnam, Bulgaria, and Bashkiria now. Unlike some of the countries, I don’t want to destroy, forget, rewrite the history of mine. Doesn’t matter how hard it was, all this mess with moves, changes of climate, of contacts, I have no regret that I had the opportunity to work in various countries.

Forming a strong character

The Far North period was probably the most fruitful, creative, determining period in my life, because I was a very young man when I arrived there. I was formed as a specialist, an individual and a citizen in the North. The character there is formed much faster than on the mainland, because of the severe climate and other conditions of the Far North. In the 1970s our gas industry was shaping. Medvezhye, Urengoy, Yamburg… I was lucky to participate in pre-development and development of all these fields. In terms of construction paces, of capital investments, the Far North fields development and gas pipelines construction were the biggest projects in the country. A huge concentration of human and technical resources was accumulated. A new transcontinental gas pipeline was put into operation every year: Urengoy – Petrovsk, Urengoy – Novopskov. We also had to feed them with gas. But where was it? In the gas fields. That intellectual and vital charge still drives me. I was lucky to have my executives who taught me. First of all, Vladimir Strizhov, Director General of Nadymgazprom, Ivan Nikonenko, Director General of Urengoygazprom. These people determined my future life and career to a large extent. Viktor Chernomyrdin put a lot into us. Then I also had a chance to work with Rem Vyakhirev who always tried to use all the best human qualities in his employees. Generally speaking, young specialists were treated very well and even patronized, to a certain extent, in the Far North at that time. They were not overprotected though, but had opportunities to try hand in the most difficult production processes. To raise this man into something worthy, to educate him. These executives determined my further life to a great extent.

Charisma (from Greek – a gift from the gods, grace) is a set of traits that make people voluntarily see a person as someone to lead them. Were Vladimir Strizhov and Ivan Nikonenko charismatic leaders?

Yes, surely! They influenced the situation greatly. By their model, their participation. They were not executives who spent all time in their offices, but spent most part of the working day at the production site. As I remember, Ivan Nikonenko used to tell me, “You may become a good technician someday but don’t forget that people are our most precious material, we have to work for it and do everything necessary.” Remembering this, I regard social issues of Gazprom Transgaz Ufa as one of top priorities. Once we were talking with Ivan Nikonenko, recalling the past, and I told him, “You taught us, young specialists, to have a certain production fanaticism but as for the real life – with its difficulties, administrative or political intrigues – unfortunately, we didn’t know it.” I left the production sector only in 1987 when I was forced to leave the Far North.

What made you do this?

I had serious disagreements with Gennady Bogomiakov, First Secretary of the Tyumen Regional Committee of CPSU. When we started pre-developing Yamburg at the time, he thought that we had to build a town and we wanted a rotational camp. Later it turned out that the second option was right. The Party leaders thought that Yamburg had to be connected with Nadym and we thought – with Urengoy, because the transportation scheme was tied to Urengoy. And they wanted Yamburg to be ‘on the Party list of Nadym’. Frankly speaking, I was inwardly a dissident then. I had embittered relations with the CPSU and finally I was even expelled from the Party. Why? I didn’t like showing off. For instance, there was an incident in Yamburg. I was Director General of Yamburggazdobycha. What was Yamburg back in 1984? A bunch of trailers without water, sewerage or electricity. We had to deal with pressing issues – to create conditions to receive people, to pre-develop the field. I have always thought: less words, pathetics, slogans and more action. And here some filthy instructor arrives and starts to teach me, “Where is the visual propaganda?” I had to admire the useful instructions and rush to implement them. Instead, in such cases I just… used to tell them where to get off. Certainly, such things accumulated and finally I had to leave Yamburg forcedly: I moved to Ufa where I started working as a Chief Engineer in Soyuznefteotdacha Research and Production Association.

Time has put everything in its place. Mr. Pashin, some people think that a construction site in the Far North is the place where the people do nothing but warm up with vodka, and as for cigarettes, they smoke one after another. I read in your book “The Pashins: Clan History” that alcohol had been forbidden in Yamburg since the field development started, and it was in that busy period, when you gave up smoking, despite all the contingencies. Unbelievable!

I smoked two or three packs of Bulgarian cigarettes a day. I tried to give it up several times, but then everything repeated again. I didn’t stop smoking during the planned meetings in my office where all the attendants were smoking too. The problem was solved when we moved to a new office building made of Czech blocks. I didn’t want to blacken the new walls with cigarette smoke and, besides, the building was fire hazardous, so I signed an order to ban smoking in the office building. Consequently, I gave up smoking myself.

Youth trend

So you were afraid to violate your own order. Mr. Pashin, do young specialists tend to work in the Far North today? Once young people were attracted by the romance of the North exploration, understanding that there they could gain priceless experience which would come in handy at work many times.

Today you may see many young people who talk a lot about Russia’s prosperity while they are in comfortable conditions of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. If you love your country so much, go to the Far North and work there! Are there many people who wish to go there? No. Formerly, Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas graduates went to the Far North with pleasure. Moreover, those often were the children of high-ranking parents. Sasha Margulov, the son of Deputy Minister of Gas Industry went to the North as a young specialist, worked in Medvezhye, Urengoy, and in Yamburg he was already Director General. He worked in all the positions of a gas worker – from a young specialist to the ‘General’. The sons of Michael Agapchev and Vasily Dinkov (Deputy Minister and Minister of Gas Industry, respectively) also went to the Far North. They considered it essential. And today parents are more protective. They often don’t let their children stand on their own legs. The modern standard is: graduate from the university, find a good job in the office, buy a flat… When choosing a specialty, people tend to find administrative and managerial positions more attractive.

We had another focus: engineering and production management. Today there is a considerable lack in this category of specialists, because the scale of values has been changed. What specialties do young people chose? Economist, lawyer, financier. They can’t see themselves in the production sector, don’t want to work at a plant, for instance. Today it is not prestigious to work in the production sector, let alone go to the Far North for that. My elder son Timofey is nine years old and the younger children, Yelizaveta and Daniil are seven. Sometimes I think how to upbuild their future (I think one of them will step after me and go to the production sector of the gas industry). To tell the truth, I feel bad about sending them to the Far North. But there was no one to feel pity for me. My father had already been gone by then. I had to make way in life by myself. So it isn’t only about youth, it’s also about the older generation.

Exotic period

What can you recall about Vietnam, where you worked between 1991 and 1993?

We, Russian people, are notable for our ability to adapt to a new place. Though, surely, the tropics are not common for us. Generally, our work with the Vietnamese went on pretty well. I recall these years as a very interesting time in an exotic country, shaking off insects and reptiles. My wife Alla and I lived in the south of the country in Vungtau, a town built specifically for our specialists. High humidity, 40 degrees centigrade in the shade, the air conditioner always on, many exotic fruits. Once I went a few meters off the road into the jungle, and felt something bite my nose. In a minute my face became swollen out. I still don’t know who bit me. It passed off rather soon, the Vietnamese told me that it usually took them longer to recover from such a bite. It was an interesting work underway at the drilling platforms offshore the South China Sea. In some spheres I had to retrain and study again. I was familiar with drilling, because I majored in gas fields development at university but offshore fields were specific. It is necessary to envisage safety issues, storms, materials supply preciseness. What else surprised me in Vietnam… The Vietnamese have preserved their instinct to labor, to work. Especially in southern regions. Whilst in our country people lost the desire and ability to work in the 1990s, the southern Vietnamese preserved it. When they started market reforms in the 1990s, it turned out that the northern Vietnamese who had been living in socialism for longer didn’t work that eagerly.

In Bulgaria you were working for even longer – from 1995 to 2003.

I was working in Ufa in 1994 and then I was appointed for a job in Bulgaria. A joint Russian-Bulgarian venture, Topenergy, was being created for gas transportation and development of a gas transmission system. They planned to lay gas pipelines to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia… Unfortunately, Bulgaria was estranging itself from Russia then. There were intergovernmental agreements, but then Bulgarians became frightened of their own promises and started to retreat. Though we had plenty of work there: we were supplying gas to Bulgaria. During that period I’ve learned to distinct between the position of the Bulgarian officials and the attitude to Russia of ordinary Bulgarians who felt affection to our country. By the way, it was then when I got acquainted with Alexander Avdeev, acting Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation. Back then, he was Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria and we had to cooperate closely. Fruitful cooperation we had established developed into a friendship. During that period he proved several times his reliability and decency both as a working partner and as a good friend.

Top manager’s popularity

What is your idea of an executive in a large company? Does he or she have to strive for popularity among their employees?

Some people might think that the executive should be as plain as possible. But I am sure that the executive is valued not for the look or behavior that would be enjoyed by the workers, but for his awareness of what is necessary for the company, the collective, his or her ability to achieve the objectives. Becoming plain, ingratiating, saying the words they’d like to hear from you – I do not accept this.

On the other hand, an executive must not become a certain kind of the nobility, distance himself from the people. It isn’t always easy though, the attributes of power always alienate executives from their employees. But you have to be active, you have to visit, watch, meet, talk, not recourse to the institute of advisers too often. At its best, every adviser judges from his or her own view of some problem. At its worst, the adviser tries to distort the facts, striving for personal ambitions. The executive has to avoid this kind of ‘refraction’. And, certainly, I’ll repeat it once again (personal experience confirms the correctness of my approach) it is necessary to care for people, to deal with pressing issues. When I came to Gazprom Transgaz Ufa, over a thousand employees, out of 5 thousand, needed accommodation. In several years, as the houses construction started, I cut this number down to 300. We have solved many other social issues. All the branches have their sports grounds and this year we are finishing the construction of the last sports complex in the Karmaskaly village. And the number of young professionals has increased. Today there are nearly 300 of them working at the enterprise. It is of primary importance to make young professionals stay, because when a person already has a family, becomes an inhabitant, in a good sense, he doesn’t want to leave.

Do you believe in intuition? Do you listen to your inner voice?

I listen to my intuition first of all. It is a self-developing substance. Based on the total of intellect, knowledge, experience and analysis.

Personal life

Mr. Pashin, how do you spend your free time?

In the Far North where I used to work, everyone had time to go fishing or hunting and I never had it. I was a low rank then, “We are leaving. And you work!” I don’t have the instinct to fish or hunt for pleasure. Though, I have good guns and fishing tackles. Traveling? I enjoy it, like most people do. And I like going in for sport. Though, for now, mostly fitness. I can skate and play football. Such occasions are less and less often but, nevertheless, I still love them. Our company has a traditional rival in football, it is Ufa State Petroleum Technological University. We play with them from time to time. The captains are me and Ayrat Shammazov, the Rector.

As I know, you have a library collection of rare books. What editions are you interested in?

I collect the books published before the revolution of 1917 and later. I have a good library of historical books, encyclopedic editions, and I buy a lot of our classics published before the revolution. I have always been attracted by history, I tried to read, to learn something. When in the 1990s we came across the unfounded interpretation of historic events – look how many historians appeared! I started to wonder how the facts were described before the revolution. I buy books in Moscow and Ufa. Recently, I have bought a collected edition of Vasily Avseenko a pre-revolutionary writer, very interesting one! I’ve found the books by Pomialkovsky who wasn’t published after 1917. Pre-revolutionary, antiquarian and many second-hand books certainly look shabby and even unsightly, so I restore them.

Mr. Pashin, you speak about your work, family, interests so passionately that it’s easy to look at you with admiring envy… So, to sum up our talk, I want to ask you a banal question: do you consider yourself a happy man?

Yes, I may say I’m happy, though everyone understands happiness in his own way. For me, happiness is absolutely not the state of quiet and internal peace. I feel the fullness of life and its meaning, when I have something to strive for. These goals galvanize me into actions.

I’m lucky, I found a footing in life and I’m glad that I’ve chosen this profession once, that I was in the right place in the right time. Then I was fortunate to meet extraordinary people who had influenced me and had led me for all those years.

Work in the gas sector gave me necessary life experience so that now I could contribute to life improvement of my company’s employees and even in the republic. The results of this activity give me a sense of accomplishment and the desire to do more. By the way, the Great Patriotic War veterans can serve as a good example. 65 years ago this united, sincere, hardworking generation fulfilled their duty to the country, which was necessary in that severe time. I’m sure that many people today would be happy to accomplish a feat, making our world kinder and better. For me, the pre-requisite for happiness is the family. I dedicate every day of my life to it and I think it is the main source of success. Feeling needed and caring for people, I am motivated to go ahead. The possibility to make plans for the future is happiness, too.