This fun, fragile world
by Nathan Gray at 10/01/2013 18:57
Sandy Krolick came into the world in a fragile state. Born with congenital heart disease, he has had to undergo a series of surgeries during his life, two when he was very young and the most recent just three years ago.
His illness has not prevented him from taking on an energetic and varied career, however, from academia to some of the highest levels of American business, but his life has led him to distant Barnaul, the capital of Siberia’s Altai region, where he assesses the fragility he sees in human civilization.
“On the one hand, I spent my life at the top of American business, and I understand how it should go and what should happen, customer service, all this stuff,” Krolick said. “But I also recognize that American-style business and capitalism and, if you will, the American lifestyle is counter-productive to the maintenance of life on Earth.”
A musician in academe
Krolick, who was born in New York in 1953, spent much of his career in consulting and management training. His intention in high school was to become a musician, but his mother forced him to go to college, so he found himself at Hobart and William Smith in upstate New York, and followed his first degree with a master’s in humanities at the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in religious studies at the University of Virginia.
“First I was studying Buddhism, but they wanted me to practice Buddhism, and I wasn’t interested in practicing any religion, so I switched over to the Christian studies program,” he said.
While writing up his thesis in 1983, he moved to Colorado, which was his base for 25 years, to teach humanities to budding mining engineers at the Colorado School of Mines.
Publication of a management training program followed, starting off a health care consulting career that included stints as a partner in Ernst and Young, as a vice president of General Electric, and as president of Alliance One until his retirement from business in the early 2000s.
“It was a career that went like a ski slope, straight up,” he said. “I was very fortunate – I participated as very few people can, in that ‘one percentile’ that is getting all the bad publicity in the U.S., I lived that big, big life. It’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to downshift to Siberia, because that big life was too stressful, too abusive of not only people, but resources.”
Links to Russia
His connection to Russia originated when he and his first wife – who are now divorced – decided to adopt a child, eventually taking in a boy from the Tula region.
Krolick visited Moscow again in 2003, after a trip to Cannes, France, and Odessa, Ukraine, and met the woman who would, a year later, become his second wife. They now live with their son in her hometown, Barnaul.
“Her family was in Barnaul, and she really didn’t want to stay in the United States,” he said. “She’s very attached to Siberia and to Barnaul and her family, so I was more than agreeable [to move there], because I needed a break from all that chaos.”
Krolick did make one effort to start his own business, a tourism consulting firm, though he soon found he had difficulty understanding Russia’s business culture.
“I had a lot of trouble just understanding Russians in a business context,” he said. “I didn’t understand their mannerisms, their behaviors, their language, their communication, so that got frustrating, and I still have problems.”
He eventually decided that he would prefer to teach and write. In addition to his books and his blog, he is administering a new exchange program between Hobart and William Smith and the Altai State Pedagogical Academy.
Krolick’s time away from business has allowed him to reflect on Russia’s development, which generates mixed feelings. The businessman sees Siberia’s potential for tourism, for example, and has ideas about how it can be fulfilled, but the philosopher wants to warn Altai’s residents about losing what they have.
“I think there are substantial infrastructure issues that they are trying to address, but again, this cuts both ways in my head,” he said. “I’m sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they ask my advice, ‘Well, this is what you should do, but I don’t think you should do it.'”
He counts himself fortunate to have had the career he did, but his view of the world has changed, especially in light of what he sees as the effects of Western capitalism, resource depletion and the conflicts that result – subjects that make him worried for the world’s future.
“I go into the forest and I hunt mushrooms, I go to the river and I fish… I work a little bit in the garden, because I think those skills, those things are going to become crucial,” Krolick said, “certainly not as much at my age because I may not be around when things get rough, but I think things are going to get rough in about 20, 30 years, and I think people are going to have to learn how to fish and hunt and till the soil.”
(But I still spend time in a city, with real people, doing what I do best, meeting folks, talking and writing.)