We are starting to publish biographical sketches about people known in the construction industry. The first is the federal construction minister.
It often happens thus: the higher a man rises on the social scale, the more complicated the rise. People heading federal structures seem to be children of fortune, receiving promotions on a platter. But the majority of them have had to find complicated and not always clear-cut solutions to pressing problems more than once. Today’s character, the Minister of Construction, Housing and Utilities of Russia, Mikhail MENN, is no exception.
Ever since his childhood, Mikhail Menn’s life has not been simple. He was born in 1960 in the Moscow region to the family of the famous priest Alexander Menn. It need not be explained how difficult it was for a priest’s son to live in a society struggling against religion. The discrepancy between social and family values was hard to overcome.
So, we are taking a liberty and saying that the minister’s fate has always been connected with construction: the first thing to be constructed was his own life. To achieve that, Mikhail has had to make tough decisions since early childhood.
Decision № 1: “Deniska’s stories”
The first such decision was taken by Mikhail when he was 10. He insisted on taking part in the casting for the role of Denis Korablev in the famous Soviet film “Deniska’s stories”, based on the book by Victor Dragunsky. We may only imagine the reaction of his orthodox parents to their child’s wish to act.
— They poked fun at me, — Mikhail Menn remembered in one of his inetrviews, — but then decided to let me try, if I was so resolute.
Mikhail Menn in childhood: a photo from the “Deniska’s stories” film shooting
Mikhail triumphed in the casting session, in which more than 2,000 candidates took part, and received the star part, earning 800 roubles for eight months work. His parents bought him a bike and a camera but refused to allow him to indulge in his cinematographic dreams, as Mikhail was neglecting his schooling. — They might have been right to have done so, the minister confesses now.
In general, Mikhail was lucky with his parents. Alexander Menn was a wonderful teacher and he insisted on only one thing: that his children grow up to be good orthodox Christians. And it was their choice as to what path in life to follow.
Decision № 2: combat engineering unit instead of university
On finishing school in 1978, Mikhail Menn entered the I. M. Gubkin Moscow Institute of the Petrochemical and Gas Industry, specializing in “Industrial thermal engineering”. He studied for two years and decided not to continue. When his mates discussed their futures, he understood that he had no prospects in the industrial or management spheres.
He decided to study a creative profession, but such institutes had no senior divisions, so Mikhail took his second tough decision and joined the military, and only then did he plan his further life.
Mikhail Menn (lower row, in the center) during his military service in Dalvoenmorstroy (Far Eastern Naval Construction Department)
He had to serve with a naval construction battalion in the Far East. There, Mikhail got his first taste of the construction industry, as a tower crane operator.
— It was not easy, Menn’s mate, Vitaly Yarovitsin, remembers.— Misha was tall and broad but never showed his hackles. He always tried to prove everything with words. Everybody respected him for that.
— Recently I found my crane operator’s certificate: the fourth rank, — the minister said.
Mikhail spent four months in the army training center in Vladivistok in order to operate the highest tower cranes. Then he was sent to Sovgavan (in the Khabarovsk region) where he also worked at a concrete goods plant on a tower crane, an overhead travelling crane and a levelling crane. He “made a career”, having become shift master.
— It is not so fearsome upstairs, on the crane: you get used to the height very soon, Mikhail Menn said in one of his interviews. — By the way, my colleague was a woman. There are many women among crane operators, since the work requires accuracy, attention, and an absence of bad habits.
Mikhail Menn is checking a crane work at a plant (the 2000s)
Mikhail Menn does not regret his decision. He is sure that the army helped him learn to answer for himself, to back up his words with actions, to communicate with people and to carry out orders. And, of course, to understand the construction business from the inside.
Decision № 3: business instead of creative work
Having been dismissed from the Armed Forces, Mikhail realized his dream of creative work and entered the department of general stage management of the Moscow State University for Culture and Arts.
He studied stage management, mastered stage speech, and developed the skill of holding an audience. It all helped him in his future career as a politician.
At the same time he played rock music with the band “Most” (“Bridge”), in which he sang and played the bass guitar. By the way, the project was rather popular with Russian rock afficionados.
Mikhail Menn as a student
But in the end, he had to part with his dreams of creative work. At the end of the 1980s there were opportunities for business. Mikhail got interested in entrepreneurship, and these new tasks forced out all other ambitions.
— I am a capable man, — Mikhail Menn says, then admits at once: — but without much talent for music.
Nevertheless, music remains his hobby: he has a collection of unique guitars, and in 2004 he recorded an album, “Made in Moscow”, together with such famous musicians as Deep Purple bass player Glenn Hughes and the singer of Rainbow, Joe Lynn Turner.
Decision № 4: to go to politics
Together with business, Mikhail Menn started dealing with public issues. In 1993 he got an opportunity to test himself as a deputy in the Moscow regional Duma.
It was not an easy decision, as in politics one cannot always behave as he wishes or thinks right. At that time he asked metropolite Yuvenaliy for advice and received a blessing from the archbishop.
— He told me then: “If you join this sphere, for a long time you must remember that tough decisions are taken in politics”, Mikhail Menn resembles. — “But the use you may be to society may surpass the negatives connected with making unpopular decisions”.
And the decision was taken. In 1995 Mikhail Menn became Deputy of the State Duma of the second call, and in 2000 he was elected Vice-Governor of the Moscow region, supervising the land and property complex of the region, and in 2002 he got a new job in the Moscow government.
Decision № 5: to become a governor
Walk the walk and talk the talk. In 2005 Mikhail Menn was invited to meet President Vladimir Putin who gave him the task of heading the Ivanovo region. The region was difficult: the former governor did not operate within the federal budget, and Menn had to start many things anew.
Governor of the Ivanovo region Mikhail Menn welcomes President of Russia Vladimir Putin
And the first decision as governor was to forbid gambling. In 2005 the Ivanovo region shared second place with Saint Petersburg, after Moscow, as to the number of gambling tables and one-armed bandits.
― I had no doubts about whether to take the job or not: it is most interesting to start from the start, Mikhail Menn says. — Sometimes it is easier to start from zero.
Decision № 6: federal minister
Mikhail Menn worked for eight years as the Ivanovo regional governor. Analysts noted political stability in the region and an absence of failures.
The country’s leadership decided that Menn was a success, and in 2013 Vladimir Putin offered him the chance of heading the newly created Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities of the Russian Federation.
The ability to design a new scheme from scrath, of course, played a major part. But the job looked like a dead end, taking into account that the utilities sphere was the most scandalous area of business at that time.
Minister of Construction, Housing and Utilities, Mikhail Menn inspects a plant in Ulianovsk
They said that Menn would not keep the chair, and the new ministry would not survive for long, as it was said to be created for the imitation of activity, just to calm public opinion.
Three years have passed since then, and nobody is going to fire its leader. The utilities sphere is being reformed, and the changes are visible. The construction sphere, in spite of the crisis, is putting out record housing volumes, and for the first time in decades it has been chosen as the topic of the State Council Presidium’s sitting.
Of course, there are criticisms, but practically everybody admits that there appears to be a systematic approach in the authorities’ attitude towards construction.
It is clear that it is easier to put a region in order than a whole industry in Russia, Mikhail Menn says. — We need at least 6 or 7 years for the reforms to yield results.
And the statement seems to be correct, but we will judge by results.
The editorial office thanks the press office of the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities of the Russian Federation for their help in the preparation of material, and for the photos from Mikhail Menn’s family archive.