Sat in his office one sunny day before spring really hit, Terry Pickard of NAI Pickard, a property consultancy company, tells of all his exploits. Well, maybe not all of them, just the most poignant of the last 20 years all spent in Ukraine. It was 1992 when he made the move, and life was very different...
A Golden Opportunity
“I first came in 1989 for an ag show and then with the JCB road show. I was one of six top directors, and regional director for all of Europe. Shortly after that, Margaret Thatcher brought over a number of British businessmen, I just happened to be one of them,” he says beaming, pointing at the picture of he and Maggie he has proudly on display.
But a generation change and a reshuffle within the JCB corporation, a British company involved in the manufacture of construction, demolition and agricultural equipment, and a marriage on the rocks led Pickard to re-evaluate a few things. “Fed up” as he was, he “sold the house, gave up the job and pensions and all the stuff that came with it and came out to Kyiv”. Playing with properties all over the world as a side business, he could have gone anywhere; I wonder why Kyiv – “When I came to Ukraine in 1992, it was like going complete backwater, there were 45 million people that virtually didn’t know the rest of the world existed. Run by Moscow, it was either going to be the biggest mistake of my life or a golden opportunity.” When I ask him which one it’s turned out to be, he smiles and says, “I have to say it’s been a golden opportunity.”
Adventures and Escapades
As one of expat Kyiv’s veterans, Pickard has been part of some fascinating adventures. One of his favourites involves a trip to Kyiv from the UK without a passport. “I arrived at Heathrow, and realised that I didn’t have my passport with me. I spoke to Anatoliy, a rep for UIA [Ukraine International Airlines], and asked if there was any way I could get on the plane. He said, ‘If you do, there’s no way you’ll get through customs at the other end.’ I told him, ‘Well, you get me there, and I’ll try.’ So he got me through and onto the flight, without a passport, because he knew me – he knew half the people that were coming and going into the country back then, and said, ‘The other end is up to you – if you have to fly back, it’s not our responsibility.’
“On the flight, I ran into the military attaché for the British Embassy at the time who was a friend of mine. After landing, we got to immigration, and as I was with this senior diplomat he convinced them they should let me through, saying, ‘If it was one of your people in Heathrow I’m sure we’d let them through’. It was such spectacular bullsh*t! Anyway, they let me go! You wouldn’t be able to do that anymore!”
Flights into Kyiv weren’t always so “easy”, however. When the iron curtain fell and the country was just getting used to its independent legs, “nothing had been worked out yet” and you couldn’t just fly into the Ukraine. “Before UIA, I had to fly to Moscow, I would pick up my Moscow girlfriend, and we trained it to Kyiv. And the same way back. And that wasn’t even the Soviet UNI0N. But, it was a good train trip” (smiles).
Cheap As Chips
Part of the fun of those days was the “total lack of anything”. “There were no supermarkets, there were only gastronomes, which didn’t have much of anything. The only way to get anything decent to eat was to go to a restaurant”, which at the time meant the Ukraina Hotel, now the Premier Palace, the Rus Hotel and the President Hotel. “It was cheap as chips,” Pickard says laughing. “You could buy a big jar of black caviar for $80, now that would cost you $800.”
He recounts an evening with 10 or so other people at the Ukraina Hotel that included starters, champagne, vodka, caviar – “the whole bloody works came to $25. That was fun”.
While on the topic of money, Kyiv’s real estate guru recalls the coupon, a unit of Ukrainian currency used back in the early days of independence, which the hryvnia replaced in 1996. “When the coupon came out, it was one coupon to the rubble. In less than two years, it became 20,000 coupons to the dollar. One sheet of toilet paper was worth more than a one coupon note – that was the level of inflation we got to.” And, he says, there were no credit cards: “You literally had to have plastic bags of coupons to pay for anything – it was just ridiculous!”
Properties and More Properties
While Pickard has enjoyed the ride, for the most part, he says success in Ukraine took a little longer and a little bit more work than he had originally thought. “I knew I was going to move into the property industry, in fact the first thing I did was buy an apartment on Prorizna Street. There was a time they nicknamed this road Pickard Street because I had five different properties lining it.”
While it might have been tough going in the beginning, he knew it would work out in the end, what with the arrival of embassies and foreigners needing places to work and live. Continuing in this way with various foreign companies, Pickard also helped establish the first importers of Land Rover and Jaguar. Back then they were called British Motors Ukraine, the name of which was chosen by Pickard himself.
Buying properties in the centre mainly, Pickard struck a relationship with Glen Noble, another veteran expat no longer in Kyiv, who helped renovate. “I bought the places, the refurb cost $500, which was thanks to Glen, and we were renting the places out for $55 per square metre – there were no taxes, no legislation, we were getting our money back in 18 months. Those days are over.”
The Language Issue
One of the things that has always interested me about Mr Pickard is that he doesn’t speak a lot of Ukrainian or even Russian, which is strange considering he speaks fluent Danish, Swedish, Spanish, passable German and bit of French. He says, “There was always some pretty girl whispering in my ear who spoke English and so I never needed to learn Russian – I wasn’t going to go and learn the language and stop that!” he says laughing. Today, however, there is only one pretty girl whispering in his ear. “You know, I never thought I would stay,” he says matter of factly. “I thought I would buy up these properties, get them rented out and then go somewhere else. But as usually happens when expats come to Kyiv you end up meeting someone called Sveta. I like it. I wouldn’t have lived here for 20 years if it was just difficult.”
At that moment, Sveta phones, as though her ears are burning. “It’s the boss,” he says, and chats briefly about the trivialities of life. As he gets off the phone, I put my last question to the man everyone in Kyiv must know by now – what’s next for Terry Pickard? “I don’t know,” he replies. I had a stroke three-and-a-half years ago, and had to retire for a few months. But I found it incredibly boring. I really enjoy what I do. I’ll be 66 on my next birthday [at the end of this month], which I find difficult to believe. Not long ago, I was out with my daughter and Natasha [Terry’s assistant] – two young beautiful ladies, at Decadence until 4.30 in the morning. I just love this stuff.”