The whole world wrestles with change today. The Russians are working hard at it, and succeeding—three steps forward and two backward. After all, it is not just changing from last year, but from a thousand years of autocracy, whatever the name for it. Machiavelli said, “…the initiator [of change] has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.”
The most quoted example of change in Russia is McDonalds. While not a big McDonald’s fan in America, I have great respect for them in Russia. I was impressed, watching the attendants at the cash registers raising their hands to signal they were ready for the next customer. I also watched the supervisor behind them, walking up and down the line, encouraging, helping, and training the new girls.
One dayI went to lunch with the president of McDonalds in Russia. I told him, “The criticism of America for exporting fast food totally misses the point. What McDonalds has exported is efficiency, cleanliness, quality, and pride of accomplishment. Ideas are the most valuable export.” The company reports that the original location at Pushkin Square is still today the most popular McDonald’s in the entire world. Over the past 20 years, it has served more than 130 million customers. That’s a lot of beef and chips. The company now runs restaurants in sixty Russian cities and expanding.
Still there is some resistance to “corrupting Western ideas.” But, today they can choose, for the first time in seventy years if not a millennium. They have come a long way. It’s not such a “fearful burden” anymore. Now many of the “lukewarm defenders” of the new ideas are hot “gainers,” hot as Russia’s Big Macs. Machiavelli might be surprised.