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Marshaling a Plan

Marshaling a Plan
By France Griggs Sloat

Deep in the hills around Pervomaysk, a mining town in southern Ukraine, an old Soviet army truck delivers a load of fresh-baked bread from town to town. The villages are as drab as the brown trucks in this former Soviet bloc country, but this truck brightens the landscape with a slightly Westernized look. Its freshly painted professional logo proudly proclaims the product’s name: Roma Bread.

Roma’s owner, Sergiy Tsymbalov, adopted his new marketing techniques after visiting the United States, as did a comrade, who declared during their tour of a Cincinnati bread company: “I have seen sliced bread, and I have seen the future.” Now they’re both reaping the financial benefits—30 percent per year for Roma.

Those are the kind of results that Leland Cole works for. The 1964 MBA graduate runs the Center for Economic Initiatives (CEI), an agency founded in 1995 that hosts delegations from former Soviet bloc countries to tour businesses in the Midwest. Most of its $2.4 million in grants comes from the U.S. Agency  for International Development. But its expertise comes from James Silberman, the 94-year-old architect of the technical assistance portion of the Marshall Plan, the initiative that modernized the struggling economies of post-World War II Europe.

Cole figured the same approach would benefit former Soviet countries today. So far, 20 groups have come to Cincinnati since 1998. As they travel around the region, Cole delights in their awe as they see labels on trucks and milk cartons. In Ukraine, he says, business people compete. “But here they see Mr. Klosterman and Mr. Busken talking and learning from each other, and they say, ‘What a great idea. We’re going to go home and start our own association.’ ”

Which is exactly what CEI set out to do: teach techniques to improve business and production. Tsymbalov got it. When he decided to expand beyond Pervomaysk, he hadn’t considered how to distinguish his loaves from the local bakers’—until he discovered logos, slicing and plastic wrap. Now his loaves of Roma Bread—like his business—are drawing customers and profits.

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