When Pavel Klimov embarked on his career in communist Russia he had few options open to him. Now he is a globetrotting lawyer in charge of Unisys’ Emea legal team.
It can be hard to understand what it is like to have no say in the direction of your own future. For Pavel Klimov, Unisys general counsel for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea), the possibility of having no choice at all drove him on a career path that now sees him head one of the $5.6bn (£3.71bn) IT giant’s major legal teams.
Back in his native Russia, Klimov studied for five and a half years to become a system engineer on missiles and jets during the ‘perestroika’ period, a time synonymous with Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure as president.
By the time Klimov completed his degree, Yeltsin was in power and communist Russia had fallen, taking the ideal of jobs-for-all with it. Klimov graduated into an unfamiliar country with no employment waiting for him, and was told to “go and find a job” with no idea what that meant.
“It was a very alien concept; people didn’t understand,” he recalls. “Your life was mapped out for you – the option of working for the military or in a civil profession – and you couldn’t change careers.”
It may have been a period of great uncertainty for the young Russian, but the end of communism opened Russia to international markets and he soon found employment at Unisys, working as a customer support manager.
Following the advice of a friend, he enrolled at university to study law in the evenings, eventually landing a position as legal counsel at Unisys. He has not looked back since.
“Unisys realised I wasn’t very good with computers – especially after I had tried to install one for a customer,” jokes Klimov, “and the company needed a lawyer.” He became legal counsel at the company in Russia before moving to the UK in 1997.
Yet another four years in law school – and a PhD in between – made Klimov a fully fledged lawyer in both countries. But no amount of studying could match the real-world experience he gained during his formative years at Unisys.
Throughout the 1990s Klimov worked in Eastern Europe with Unisys’ clients, many of whom had experienced Russian occupation and been affected directly by the various wars in the region.
“It was difficult at times because the people on the other side of the table had been told how to live for 40 years by Moscow,” says Klimov. “People were more apprehensive and reticent because I was a Russian – some of them had parents killed in the fighting during the communist 1990s. The memories were vivid for them and it was harder for me to build a rapport, but in the long run I forged better relationships.”
In 2005 Klimov was sent to Unisys’ Pennsylvania headquarters, but after just two weeks he was dispatched to Australia and New Zealand as acting general counsel.
Since his arrival back in the UK nine months later as general counsel of Emea, he has used the diplomatic skills and knowledge of cross-border lawyering to reorganise the 14-strong legal department, holding the first meeting of the legal heads of each country in nine years.
“We were doing things without consistency and that needed to change,” explains Klimov, one of the youngest members of the team at 37. “We’re a global business and our services don’t recognise borders. The team is having a much healthier discussion now, both with each other and with other parts of the business outside their respective countries.”
Not quite so healthy, however, is Unisys itself. The company, which provides technology services to companies and governments, has suffered as the financial sector reels in its IT spending. The company’s 2008 third-quarter results revealed a net loss of $34.7m (£24.77m) and a two-day crash in November knocked more than 50 per cent off the company’s share price.
Meanwhile Klimov’s team is very busy negotiating a number of large IT outsourcing and integration deals across dozens of countries.
The journey from a life mapped out to a multitude of opportunities has had a profound affect on Klimov, who remembers being baffled when IBM advertised for salespeople in Moscow – surely it would be given someone by the government?
“It’s difficult to compare the person who applied for a job at Unisys 14 years ago to the person now,” he says. “I feel restless if there’s an opportunity and I don’t take it. There’s huge satisfaction in achieving things that were previously beyond you. At the back of my mind I remember that things could have been so different.”
Name: Pavel Klimov
Position: General counsel, Emea
Reporting to: General counsel, worldwide
Company turnover: $5.6bn (£3.71bn)
Number of employees: 29,000 worldwide, 8,000 in Emea
Total legal capacity: 79 worldwide, 14 in Emea
Legal spend: $2m (£1.3m)
Main external law firms: BP Collins, Clifford Chance, Dechert, Druces, Olswang, Travers Smith
Pavel Klimov’s CV
1988-1993: Moscow Aviation Institute
1993-1997: Moscow State Legal Academy
1997-2001: College of Law, Chester
1998-2002: Moscow State University, PhD in Jurisprudence
1994: Research assistant, Moscow Aviation Institute
1994-1996: Customer support manager, Unisys Russia
1996-1997: Legal counsel, Unisys Russia
1997-2005: Legal counsel, European operation, Unisys UK
2005-06: Acting general counsel, Australia and New Zealand, Unisys Australia
2006-present: General counsel, Emea, Unisys