SCORE school teaches ex-Soviets about U.S. business

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Veniamin Motylev had first-hand experience on how difficult life can be for Russian immigrants. When he arrived here four years ago from Russia, he sent letters to 30 universities in search of a teaching position. But the former professor of international economics at the Moscow Institute of Finance didn't receive any job offers. So instead of teaching, he became a student and enrolled at City College of San Francisco to improve his English.

After a year, he decided to do something to make the American Dream a reality for other Russian immigrants. He knew many emigres held advanced degrees or had other technical backgrounds, but their unfamiliarity with American business practices left them unemployable.

So Motylev approached Duane Erickson, district manager of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) in San Francisco, and suggested starting a business school for Russian immigrants. Through SCORE, a division of the U.S. Small Business Administration, small business owners and other groups receive counseling from retired executives who volunteer.

Erickson was enthusiastic and in September 1993, the new business school opened. In the past three years, nearly 100 students — an estimated 90 percent of them Jewish — have taken classes.

Motylev, now a counselor for the SCORE school, says the business program is achieving what it set out to do. After taking classes in management, accounting, computer technology, business English and other aspects of American business, students are finding jobs and some are even starting their own enterprises.

Lev Reyfman, a physics professor from St. Petersburg, could not get full-time employment as a professor when he came to this country 2-1/2 years ago. So after completing the SCORE classes, he launched his own business, Pacific Rim Connections.

"I learned about organization of business, insurance and other requirements" says Reyf-man, who lives in San Francisco and consults with American firms that want to set up businesses in Russia.

After completing the classes, some students return as SCORE volunteers. Naum Shilman, a SCORE graduate who emigrated from Ukraine four years ago with a Ph.D. in engineering, was one of them.

"I had to start from the beginning," says Shilman, who lives in San Francisco. At the business school he improved his English, developed communications skills and learned business terminology. Seminars on negotiation, developing a business plan and the legal aspects of businesses helped both him and his wife, Ella, improve their job prospects.

Ella Shilman now works for the import-export department of a bank. Naum Shilman is a mechanical engineer at Wesgo in Belmont.

"I'm proud to be working there," he says. But unfortunately Shilman's personal success is a loss for the SCORE. He no longer has time to volunteer.

At the business school, Motylev arranges the seminars, recruits lecturers and hires translators when necessary. Not surprisingly, the program attracts lecturers who are immigrants and Jews who are willing to volunteer their time to make integration into American life easier for others.

One of the speakers, Rolf Stone, is a survivor who emigrated to the United States in 1945. Eric Frank, a Jewish engineer from Munich, is a consultant and lecturer. Alfred Rose, a lecturer on advertising, is American-born, but his grandfather came from Russia.

At the SCORE school, the students' costs are minimal. Occasionally they are asked to pay a dollar or two to cover the cost of materials. Students who attend all the seminars receive a certificate upon completion. According to Motylev, 70 certificates have been awarded.

The program is a "very great help in giving confidence to get into the commercial side of U.S. businesses," says Erickson. But one problem Erickson has observed is that a Ph.D. in Russia is a very narrow degree. "It's surprising how narrow it is. It's one of the tragedies."

After students finish the program, administrators maintain a relationship with them. "Some come back for individual counseling," says Erickson.

"Russian immigrants don't have the understanding of the banking system, how to organize a small business and how to manage a company," says Vladislav Gites, who emigrated from Ukraine 2-1/2 years ago. Seventeen years in the printing and publishing industry did not give him the background for a job in American industry. But with the business tools SCORE provided and a little help from a new friend, Gites is now a customer service manager at Paris Printing in Novato.

"I found a good, good friend in SCORE," says Gites of Henry Betman, a SCORE consultant. "He has been in the printing industry for 60 years. He helped me to find a job and to communicate with the printing industry in the United States."