WOMAN RUNS 'BASTION' OF SECURITY
WOMAN RUNS 'BASTION' OF SECURITY
By Katy Daigle
Wearing a floral print dress, her blond hair swept up into a high ponytail, Yelena Andreyeva sits in a living room furnished with expensive leather couches and wall paintings. On the mahogany dinner (able, her cellular phone rings every five minutes with calls from clients. Andreyeva is obliged to answer everyone. If she doesn't, "they could lose all their money, or their lives," she said.
Andreyeva, 34, is the president and founder of Bastion, a security service firm that offers bodyguards, financial consultancy, mediation of commercial disputes and private investigations.
Bastion is among the largest of about 3,000 security companies in Moscow, dispatching its 8,000 muscular male guards to watch over parking lots, banks, casinos and individuals. The company also does background checks on firms and individuals, which many Western firms request when doing business with little-known Russian partners. For many Russian clients, "who for so long were used to not paying taxes and then checked by the tax police," Bastion offers advice on how to appease tax officials legally while keeping their businesses alive.
"To the bandits, we say we are a krysha, [a roof, or protection] to the tax inspector we say we are consultants, and to the police we say we are private guards," Andreyeva said.
Armed with a business degree and no formal training in security services, Andreyeva fell into the business after hiring a few well-trained guards in 1991 to watch over expensive furs in the women's clothing company she ran. As there were few private security guards at the time, she started receiving requests from others for guard services.
"It was very fashionable at the time to have a guard, to make money quickly, and to spend it quickly on clothes, women and Mercedes," Andreyeva said. "The guard was necessary to protect it all, but he was also part of the fashion."
Andreyeva received so many requests for guards that in 1992 she dropped her clothing business and launched Bastion.
Bastion recruits guards from the police, the army and the Federal Security Service. All guards must pass physical and psychological tests to prove they do not use drugs or drink alcohol, and that "they do not have the post-Soviet problem of hating everyone with money," Andreyeva said.
Guards are routinely fired for reading on the job, showing up late or looking scared. "There is no room for second chances," she said,
Initially, Andreyeva treated her guards as family, encouraging them to come to her with problems. Some guards, however, interpreted her outreach as a weakness and began questioning her orders.
"It is the devil of a Russians character," she said. "They need their leaders to be cold and harsh."
Andreyeva changed her system, creating a strict chain of command with the men answering to other men. Psychologically, she said, men report better to other men. They also need to ask practical questions better answered by a man, like how to sleep or go to the bathroom on a 24-hour shift.
Assistant Director Vladislav Yushin, 30, said he
is thankful that the one woman in the firm is at the helm. "We would never have a female guard," he said. "It's too dangerous, and people would never take a woman in uniform seriously. But as boss, Andreyeva lends her unique, female wisdom."
Andreyeva relies on her femininity when called upon to mediate between irate business partners. "While emotions are running high, sometimes it helps psychologically to have a female present, as men are less likely then to resort to violence and murder," she said. "But it only helps so much. If they're serious enough, they'll do it."
Though Andreyeva said she charges only $100 per mediation session, appreciative clients have often given her cash bonuses of several thousands of dollars. She insists, though, that her service is not an organized racket promising protection from other rackets: "I offer genuine high-level security services for every dollar I make."