Twenty-five years ago—as I lived in Vienna—I would often visit Budapest, which was reasonably close and could be reached in less than 3 hours by car.
There I met a young Italian entrepreneur who had recently opened a large jeanswear store in an old Budapest warehouse. He was doing good business, with both young buyers and retail stores, who would buy his high-quality denim merchandise at wholesale prices.
The problem in Hungary at the time was that many businesspeople would stiff you on the payment and simply refuse to settle their bills after they had taken delivery of the goods.
If you did not speak Hungarian—and my Italian acquaintance didn’t—you had a hard time even reporting the fact to the police. Meanwhile, the delinquent debtor would hang up on you if you called him or refuse to see you if you showed up at their place of business.
In those wild-East days, you either took it on the chin and wrote off the bad debt or found more creative ways to collect the monies due you.
Finding himself confronted with an elusive debtor, the young Italian entrepreneur was introduced to a couple of XXL-size Chechens who would take care of the debt collection by entirely extrajudicial means for a reasonable cut on the sums they retrieved.
This one time, they agreed to meet the Italian at a given landmark in the city center and he would then lead them to the debtor’s private address.
The Chechen duo showed up in a battered old Lada trailing a cloud of blue smoke. Their client motioned for them to follow and drove through Budapest to a quiet residential road lined with 100-year-old buildings.
He then walked over to an apartment building’s front gate, a massive wooden affair next to which stood a panel with a dozen or so intercom buzzers. The Chechens gestured for him to ring the debtor’s apartment, but the wily man promptly hung up when he realized it was the Italian calling from downstairs.
The Chechens shrugged and walked back to their Lada. They popped the trunk and extracted two chainsaws, which they promptly started and took to the front gate. In a matter of seconds, the wooden panels were lying on the ground in shreds. The two goons then climbed the stairs and pulverized the apartment’s door the same way.
Inside, they found the debtor’s family huddled in the sitting room and paralyzed with fear. With their two chainsaws burbling on idle, they didn’t have to say a word. Moments later, they were back downstairs, chainsaws turned off and stowed in the trunk, the debt paid in full.
They quickly took their own cut, gave their Italian client the rest of the money and were gone in a squeal of tires before the Hungarian Rendörség (police) ever had a chance to intervene.
Both the Italian jeanswear wholesaler and the delinquent debtor learned a valuable lesson that day.