Take one glance at Anthony J. Alfano's passport which contains more stamps than are found in an average post office and you might assume that this Payson resident is a serious vacation animal.
But when you look at the places he's been lately, you'd realize that Alfano is no pleasure traveler.
Alfano is a volunteer member of the International Executive Service Corps, an organization made up of retired, semi-retired and active executives from many of the country's largest corporations.
These business pros are sent to some of the most politically troubled, economically distressed and technologically backward corners of the world to boost local industry with a shot of American corporate-management know-how.
A former partner in a large New York construction firm, Alfano's specialty is construction management. Since learning about, and joining up with the IESC several years ago, Alfano has shared his knowledge and skills in a number of Third World and Eastern bloc countries, including Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Turkey ... and the Ukraine, from which he returned just last month after a seven-week tour of duty in the town of Kharkiv.
Alfano's mission was threefold: to work with the country's construction industry and assess each individual company the smallest and the largest to determine their potential to attract American investors; to show the Ukrainians how to market themselves in that pursuit; and help them form a professional construction industry association.
That last element is especially vital, Alfano said, "because everything until 1991 was owned by the state, and then all of a sudden (with the collapse of both Russia and communism), they were supposedly operating under the free enterprise system.
"A lot of the big industry there was taken over by the hierarchy of the old Communist regime; they knew the collapse was coming, and they grabbed these businesses for themselves."
A further problem, Alfano explained, has been American diplomats who've made promises they didn't keep.
"The Ukraine used to manufacture most of the nuclear weapons for the Soviet Union," he said. "They have these huge plants there as big as the Ford and General Motors plants in Detroit and they were considering entering into a contract with Iran, which had offered to build two nuclear turbines for the plants.
"The U.S. promised to provide 26,000 jobs if the Iranian offer was rejected, so the plants were shut down. But we never came through with the jobs ... "
The concept of training the Ukrainians so they could be competitive in the international markets was made difficult by the country's dire economic situation, Alfano said.
"There's very limited capital to spend on maintenance. So many of the buildings, while beautiful, have become very antiquated. The roads are terrible, there are potholes everywhere and because of that, all the automobiles are falling apart. Their subway system is probably the most modern thing they have; they put a lot of money into it because it also serves as their bomb shelter.
"My first impression of the Ukraine is the one that has stayed with me," he said. "When I landed at the airport, I looked out the window and thought, 'My God. I'm back in the 1920s.'"
Alfano was transported back to another time when he tried to leave the Ukraine, too. At the airport, he was interrogated for two hours by security personnel large, beefy guys who are, mostly, ex-KGB agents, Alfano said.
The guards accused Alfano of being in the country illegally. But it turned out to be a fairly simple misunderstanding, and all that was required to clear it up was a bribe.
"I grew up in New York, so I'm used to these things," Alfano said. "But not done as openly as these guys were doing it."
Unfortunately, Alfano had already converted all of his Ukrainian money back into U.S. currency. But the guards were happy to wait while an interpreter reconverted some of Alfano's cash to pay his, ahem, "fine."
Such experiences, however, only added to the color of Alfano's visit, and did not diminish its reward, he said.
"What I come home with is great personal satisfaction at least when I've been able to accomplish something positive. And I've always managed to do that. When I'm there, sometimes I don't feel like I'm succeeding. But by the time I turn in my report, I know I've given these people something they really need."