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Press about Auriga

Jun 25, 2001

Scholar Takes IT Business Across the Atlantic

The Moscow Times,
Torrey Clark

Sukharev's access to talented
students and researchers at MGU
made it easy to create a software-
developing team in Moscow.

Alexei Sukharev looks more like a professor than a businessman. Other than a shelf of books he wrote as an academician, his office is bare. But as he launches into a description of his company, his eyes gleam.

With no start-up capital, Professor Sukharev made the leap from Soviet academia to business, founding Auriga, an information technology company with sales of $6.3 million last year. The company provides a range of IT consulting services to clients worldwide, and it employs 60 IT consultants in the United States and 110 programmers at its software-development center in Moscow.

Sukharev was born in Grozny in 1946. His grandfather had settled there in the 19th century, lured by the beauty of the area while working on the railway in southern Russia. Sukharev moved to Moscow at the age of 17 to study mathematics at Moscow State University, or MGU. After graduating, he became a professor of applied mathematics and computer science at the university.

Sukharev first visited the United States in 1977 as a visiting scholar, just as computer science was becoming popular. At the University of California at Berkeley, he met Joseph Traub, a pioneer in computer science.

Traub was head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University and founded the computer science and telecommunications board of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which he chaired from 1986 to 1992.

Traub introduced Sukharev to major computer companies, including Hewlett-Packard, which became his first client.

At the time, though, Sukharev had no thought of becoming an entrepreneur. He continued teaching, research and writing. Sukharev published more than nine books, including several textbooks still used at the university.

From 1982 to 1984, he was secretary of the Communist Party in his department at MGU. "I don't consider those years wasted, though. The experience working with people was very useful. Maybe that's why I succeeded," says Sukharev.

But by the late 1980s, he began to feel stifled. The country had fallen far behind in the information revolution. The attitude of many was that computers were "very big abacuses, just to calculate some very complex functions."

As the Iron Curtain fell in 1990, Sukharev answered his new calling. "I always had the inclination for business, but no opportunities," he says. "[But] in 1991 to 1992, everybody abroad was interested in Russia. … It was a huge opportunity."

He brought together his position as head of the computer science department at MGU and his contacts with U.S. computer companies. With experience in the United States and access to talented students and researchers, "I was in a unique position to marry two worlds," he says.

In December 1990, Infort, later renamed Auriga, was born. "We started from zero and grew as we were going. We earned our first money selling software and training programs," says Sukharev.

Infort won the right to become Hewlett-Packard's partner for Moscow and the Moscow region and gave it the chance to send 20 people to the United States in 1993 to work and train.

But Hewlett-Packard's program collapsed before the end of 1993. "Two and half years of my life, the company's life, went nowhere," says Sukharev.

Sukharev then decided to go to his customers in the United States. "By 1993, we were making enough money to start the American company," he says.

The company is headquartered in Amherst, New Hampshire, with software-engineering operations in Moscow.

Sukharev moved to New Hampshire with his family. "It was more logical to be there for business reasons. It was the most advantageous combination. The customer is the god who rules the games," he says.

Asked about the "brain drain," the flight of intellectuals and scientists to the West, he answers quickly:" We give a challenging atmosphere to help grow professionals [in Moscow]. Very few have left for the States."

Of these who have left, he says, "I don't feel it is an evil for this country. ... The Russian diaspora is growing and maturing. Now there are very few managers. But they will grow, start companies and will look to Russia for talent, to find outsourcing."

As for Sukharev, " I come back every couple of months. I've never left Russia, in fact."

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