Business 'matchmaker' tries to make Russian connections


GAMBER -- In the cinder-block basement of his home, wedged in a corner by boxes of holiday decorations and a Ping-Pong table, Paul A. Tashner does business with companies on the other side of the world.

He has a computer, phone, fax machine and an assistant who speaks Russian.

"It's a ground-floor opportunity," he jokes.

Tashner, 34, formed TCO International Inc. in March with the goal helping U.S. and Russian companies do business with each other.

He has visited Russia twice since last year.

"It's a very fascinating place to be. For the rest of our lives, it's going to be the major developing nation," said Tashner, a former sales and marketing manager with CSX Transportation in Baltimore and the father of three young children.

He is targeting smaller businesses -- those with less than $1 million in sales a year, he said.

Tashner already has some interesting proposals from Russian companies to consider.

There's the apparatus that will stop motorists in their tracks -- or "a device for forced stoppage of road vehicles" in Russian executive parlance.

If the company signs a contract with him, Tashner will help secure a U.S. patent and research possible markets for the accordion-like gadget with 6-inch spikes that police or military officials could stretch across a road. The Moscow company -- Mettem Ltd. -- proposes it could be used to fight drug traffickers or terrorists, he said.

The company, which has 450 employees, also would like to sell dental implants and instruments in America, said Tashner, who would work on commission and be the importer for the products.

Tashner has proposals from Siberian bankers who need investors for several projects, including mining huge untouched quartz deposits and cutting timber.

"I think all of these have a chance," Tashner said.

Thomas J. Henry, coordinator of the Maryland/Eastern Europe program at the Maryland International Division of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, said many entrepreneurs have formed companies like Tashner's since the Russian economy has opened up.

"He's picked a tough business," Henry said. But the need is there for a "matchmaking" service, he acknowledged.

Many Russians don't understand capitalism, Henry said: "They don't understand how business operates."

Tashner, for example, has had problems scheduling meetings for a July trip he has planned to Moscow. The Russians don't seem to understand the importance of planning ahead, he said.

The July trip may not happen after all because a group from North Carolina that had planned to go has backed out, leaving Tashner struggling to find 10 people interested in learning about opportunities in Russia.

Tashner also is planning a training seminar in September in Virginia where business people from both countries will learn how to do business with each other.

As his first project as president of the new company, Tashner brought a group of Russian business people to Maryland in late March to talk with a variety of business owners, including Carroll County bankers and Melvin Mills, owner of a telecommunications company in Westminster.

Tashner coordinates his programs with help from the Russian company "Vesta," which stands for Versatile Educational Systems, Tourism and Art.

Tashner said he would like to have an office and 20 to 40 employees eventually. Now he has one employee, and she's crucial. Marilyn McKenzie, 24, of Finksburg, has a bachelor's degree in Russian and visited the country for a summer. She communicates with his Russian colleagues.

She gradually is teaching Tashner how to speak the language. "There are 150 words I pronounce pretty badly," he said.

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