Help Wanted at Microsoft Lithuania, Plus Advice for Steve Ballmer Concerning Statues and Zeppelinis

Wanted: Receptionist

Job purpose: To ensure smooth operation of Microsoft Lithuania’s reception and cafeterias and to assist the F&A with key administrative tasks.

Must relocate to Lithuania. Oh and it wouldn't hurt if you could start immediately so as to welcome Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on his first-ever extended tour of central and eastern Europe from May 19 to May 24, should he stop for lunch at the Lithuania branch of Microsoft. Give him a Zeppelini and he won't be hungry until breakfast the next morning—that is, if he can handle a burrito-sized, deep-fat-fried, potato-looking dumpling stuffed with minced meat and smothered in creamy mushroom gravy.

And explain the significance of your cell phone. Lithuanians skipped right over land-based telephone lines, and now everyone has a cell phone instead. Mobile is the way to go in delivering technology to these folks. They've experienced so much change in the last decade. The twenty-somethings don't remember what it was like under Soviet rule, but everyone above thirty does and seems determined to try to erase that memory by buying, building, and embracing all things American, British, German, and French.

In fact, change has happened with such breathtaking rapidity, the Lithuanians created a museum, Grutos Parkas, to remind them that when they were under the Soviets, life was not pretty. At Grutos Parkas, tourists pay to learn about communism (that nod to capitalism's triumph is a favorite Lithuanian irony). They wander around a replica labor camp complete with moat, barracks, barbed wire (and borscht at the snack bar), and read stories of people who survived banishment to Siberia, as well as ogle various tools of death courtesy of the KGB. And rather than topple and destroy all of the commemorative statues of Soviet dictators that were scattered liberally through every Lithuanian town, the statues were transported to this odd theme park and set up along a path for people to look at and perhaps reflect on how fleeting glory was for these men, and for communism.

The way Lithuania and other Central and Eastern European nations have embraced change bodes well for Microsoft's strategy of wooing these markets. Microsoft's Vahé Torossian, regional vice president of Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe, confirms what my family and I have realized on our various visits to Lithuania over the years: "Many countries have made the leap from single-party states with stagnant command economies to vibrant democracies with dynamic businesses; they are enjoying some of the fastest growth on the planet. What makes this transformation all the more impressive is that it has been enacted against the backdrop of massive social upheaval. For some the process has been a painful one, but today they are beginning to realise the rewards of their endeavour."

A visit from Steve Ballmer this month seems to imply that at least Microsoft will realize the rewards of doing business in this region. To that end, I'd like to give Steve a bit of advice—Grutos Parkas is not where you'd like to see a statue of Bill Gates end up. Perhaps instead you might consider offering a bust of Bill to go next to the one of Frank Zappa, which presides over a parking lot on a forested hill in cosmopolitan Vilnius, the capital. And wash that Zeppelini down with plenty of liquids, preferably the kind brewed with hops. It'll go better for you in the end, believe me.

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