Kvint: Scot was architect of my career

RMJM’s new Russia chief tells how Adam Smith gave him the economics bug

kvint with President Putin

Dr Vladimir Kvint with President Putin

Dr Vladimir Kvint has just returned from a meeting with RMJM’s newest recruit.

As chairman of Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States business for the Edinburgh-based architecture firm, he is in a perfect position to advise Sir Fred Goodwin, the former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive, on his new role as a special adviser.

“He is mainly a banker and I am mainly an economist, so we had a lot to speak about,” explains the economist. “He seems to be a well-educated person with great vision.”

Despite the furore surrounding Goodwin’s appointment, Kvint insists the move was the best one — for both RMJM and Sir Fred himself.

“When a person experiences new challenges, he is growing into himself,” muses Kvint, who is on a whistlestop trip to Edinburgh to lecture at the university and speak to economists about Scotland’s financial future. “That is what I’m seeing, anyway.”

Kvint, who jokes that he has “three full-time jobs” — including heading the financial strategy department at the Moscow School of Economics and being adjunct professor of business strategy at La Salle University in America — is, with Goodwin, one of four advisers to the firm behind the Scottish parliament and the Falkirk Wheel.

A renowned economist, who coined the phrase “emerging markets” and successfully predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union, Kvint claims he has a Scot to thank for his distinguished career.

While doing a spot of “unofficial” labouring work for the Soviet railway company as a teenager, trying to fund his passage to the warmer climes of the Black Sea coast, Kvint was told to hide in a train storeroom to avoid an unexpected visit from the authorities. In the room, a passenger had left behind a book on political economics, which featured heavily Adam Smith’s teachings.

Kvint, who had never heard of the concept of economics, read the book from cover to cover and was hooked.

“I fell in love with this book. At the next station, I got out and phoned my mother and told her I was going to be an economist,” he remembers.

But his mother had other plans. Descended from a long line of mining engineers — the Kvints lived in Siberia’s most northern city, Norilsk, 1,000 miles north of the Arctic Circle and home to a metals mining plant reported to be two-and-a-half times the size of Belgium — Mrs Kvint was insistent that her son finish his studies.

He did a degree in mining engineering and went on to work for the town’s Norilsk Nickel company. Encouraged by his boss, he eventually left to study economics in Moscow, then returned to Norilsk as the firm’s chief economist.

“I was lucky because I met some very nice people who told me that, for me, it would be better to do something in economics. The rest is history,” says Kvint, who has been an economics professor for 38 years, after moving to Moscow to teach at the university.

“I was always used to being the youngest one, for my subordinates to be older than me,” he laughs. “Then one day, I suddenly realised I had become the oldest, but I don’t feel it.”

As a part of a tiny group of Soviet economists, Kvint was not allowed to travel abroad, having been deemed a risk by the Soviet authorities.

“The government and KGB would not allow me to travel because they thought I would leave,” he remembers. But Austrian education authorities persisted in their requests and, in 1988, he was finally allowed to work in Vienna, sparking the beginning of a spate of foreign travel, which often took him to America.

“I started to quietly develop my forecasts, saying that the Soviet regime would come to an end, that it wasn’t sustainable.” says Kvint. “I had all possible problems with the government at that time.”

He also faced another problem, in the form of western publications afraid of angering the Soviet authorities.

“No western magazine or newspaper would publish my research,” he says. “Nobody thought what I said was true.”

He recalls a chat with Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state. “He said to me, ‘Vlad, you see the KGB, the Red Army and so on, they are keeping the country together.’ He would not believe me.”

The turning point came when he met Malcolm Forbes, the owner of Forbes magazine at the time. “They asked me if there was anything I had written that they could use. I told them I had an article they could publish but that 32 magazines had already turned it down.” Forbes took the risk. The article became its cover story and Kvint became a well-known name in American economics. A story in the New York Times swiftly followed.

“I said in the New York Times that, by 1992, there would be no country called the Soviet Union,” says Kvint.

He pauses. “The Soviet Union disappeared in December 1991. I am sitting here and I am no longer a Soviet economist because the Soviet Union disappeared. So everybody knows now that I was right.”

Before landing the job with RMJM last year, Kvint regarded Scotland as “the European Siberia”. “It is cold and it is northern,” he laughs. “But not as cold as Norilsk.” Kvint has views on the Scottish economy, adding his support to calls for fiscal autonomy, which he claims is necessary to allow Scotland to develop a successful economic strategy.

He has described the country as an “emerging market”, insisting that Scotland’s potential for economic improvement — especially through marketing its education system — is huge.

On his first visit to Edinburgh, Kvint asked to see Adam Smith’s grave and was surprised to find it tucked away in Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirkyard. “Scotland was always very special to me because everything I am doing in my life is because of Adam Smith,” he says. “For me, I expected it to be like Red Square in Moscow. But nobody really knew where it was.”

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