The Landscape of an Expat’s Life

Back in 2005, Christine Bourron Tchelikidi, G’95, WG’95, told Wharton Magazine that Russia was a “dream place for entrepreneurs.”

“There are so many needs to be fulfilled,” she said back then.

Now in 2012, she is fulfilling one of those needs through her latest company, Green & Grass. As she tells us in our latest interview with her, the boom in private property since the fall of the Berlin Wall has left property owners bumping up against another wall of sorts: the dearth of landscape architects in Russia.

“There was absolutely no know-how for landscape design,” she says. People are buying houses but are left outside with “fields of mud.”

Bourron ran into this personally when she tried having a garden built for her home in Russia, where she and her husband, Ilia Tchelikidi, WG’94, had been living since 2002. She flew in her sister, a professional landscape designer in France, to do it. Word spread about the garden among neighbors, sowing the seeds for a business. Green & Grass recruits architects from around the world and assists clients with design, organizing and gathering all the different materials and tender offers, and then supervising the contractors during construction. Russian gardens can cost in the millions; the firm is currently involved in one project that will produce a garden larger than Versailles.

Avid readers of Wharton Magazine will remember Bourron for launching PaintingsDIRECT.com in the late 1990s, a website that offered a convenient way to purchase paintings, photographs and limited-edition prints. The Magazine covered that topic in an article from the Summer 2000 issue, “Reunions 2000!”—and Bourron’s international lifestyle in “Cultural Fluency for Global Lives” from the Summer 2005 issue.

In catching up, Bourron reports that PaintingsDIRECT.com did not survive the financial crisis of 2008. She has been able to pivot from one business to the next in part because of her eye for unmet customer needs, which she developed during her early career in marketing at Procter & Gamble in her native France.

Still enjoying a “global life,” she now lives in the U.K. with Tchelikidi and their four children. She travels to Moscow about every other week for work. Her lifestyle of moving from one country to the next, and starting new lives and business, makes Bourron feel like she is never getting old.

“I really feel like I always get to live a new life,” she says about moving to a new home.

Perhaps her free spirit resulted from the fact that most of her family still lives in Lyon, her family’s ancestral home. When she turned 18, she kids, she was handed 10 volumes of history explaining how the family has been in the same place since the 12th century.

No matter where she got the appetite for travel, Wharton gave her the abilities to work wherever she wanted and the tools to solve almost any business-related question.

“I don’t necessarily know the answer, but I know there is a path to find the answer,” she says.

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