The long-liver of the rating of billionaires, Vladimir Potanin, according to journalists, stands out for his decent manners and competent speech. At the same time, in business, he shows uncompromisingness, and perseverance bordering on stubbornness.
Vladimir Potanin has consistently been in the top 100 richest people in the world since 1997. In 2016, he moved from 1st place to 4th in the Russian list, but this does not mean that his fortune has actually decreased (Fig. 1). Since 2013, there has been a lawsuit over the division of property between him and his ex-wife Natalia. Therefore, many assets are taken offshore, although the billionaire did not advertise his investment projects before.
- Place and date of birth. January 3, 1961, Moscow
- Education. 1983, MGIMO, international economist
- Capital. The sole owner of the Interros holding. The main assets are Norilsk Nickel – 30.4%. Through Cyprus offshore companies (Winter Capital Partners), he has shares in the pharmaceutical company Petrovax Pharm, owns a controlling stake in the Zaodno retail chain, which competes with the well-known discounter Fix Price.
Vladimir Potanin is a bright representative of a dynasty of functionaries who received a good education back in the USSR. During the years of subsequent perestroika, he organically fit into the number of those who “turned out to be at the right time, in the right place.” He is said to be simple and easy to communicate, fluent in English and French. At the same time, they note his outstanding business acumen – “the ability to grab on and not let go.” He is able to achieve results for years without deviating from the chosen direction.
“I am not downplaying the specific factors. In life, chance, luck, and also who is with whom, when he met, who said what to whom, who became friends with whom are of great importance. Interview, 2010.
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The life of a businessman is not boring, and sometimes stormy. He managed to participate in privatization, to visit politics, to be noted in large “business divorces” and corporate wars. Business and friendly ties linked him with Mikhail Prokhorov for a long time, but the union fell apart with a loud scandal.
He talks a lot and willingly with the media, is regularly present on the screens – he even hosted the Candidate TV show. He mainly talks about his life, numerous charitable projects, and very little about financial affairs. Except that Norilsk Nickel is being actively discussed, this topic cannot be avoided. The company takes 11th place in the list of the largest in Russia, is one of the world leaders in the production of precious metals. In addition, this is a city-forming enterprise, on which the existence of a unique single-industry town beyond the Arctic Circle literally depends.
The beginning of a career and leaving for the “market swimming”
Vladimir Potanin graduated from school with a gold medal, and honestly admits that he entered MGIMO “through pull” – his father served as head of the Soviet trade mission in New Zealand. He studied with Andrey Brezhnev, the grandson of the General Secretary, and recalls many funny incidents about this. So, Andrei, inviting shy fellow students to his dacha, said: “Yes, there is no one there, the parents left, one grandfather, Vysotsky listens.”
After graduating from the university in 1983, he worked for 7 years in the Soyuzkhimexport association of the Ministry of Trade. Just in time, before the collapse of the USSR, in 1990 he went to work at the IBEC – the International Bank for Economic Cooperation.
Owner of “factories, newspapers, steamboats”: 1990s
In 1991, the Interros association was registered, with Vladimir Potanin as its president. Money was earned on foreign trade operations. According to media reports, during this period he was supported by Oleg Boyko, an entrepreneur with a scandalous reputation, and the future owner of Sportloto, Vulkan, the Sportbet bookmaker and others.
In 1992, together with Prokhorov, they established the MFK bank. Many economists believe that it was there that the currency of the former state bank IBEC, intended for international payment transactions, went along with its clients. In 1993, ONEXIM Bank was created.
Vladimir Potanin is the author of the idea of “loans-for-shares auctions”, thanks to which he earned the nickname “father of the torn apart”. In 1995, during a period of acute state budget deficit, he and several other bankers offered the Government a loan of 9 trillion rubles secured by the largest state-owned enterprises. As he himself later claimed, the goal was not to buy them out, but to transfer them to trust management. It was assumed that effective owners would ensure the growth in the value of assets. It turned out: within 2 years, controlling stakes in Surgutneftegaz, Sibneft, LUKOIL, Yukos, and the Novolipetsk Iron and Steel Works passed into private ownership.
It would be unfair to place the blame for success solely on the author of the idea. It was embodied thanks to the “efforts”, first of all, the head of the Federal Property Management Agency, Alfred Koch, and other officials of the Yeltsin government. In 1998, ONEXIM Bank and IFC owned: 51% of SIDANCO, 14.8% of NLMK, 38% of Norilsk Nickel, 20% of Northern Shipping Company. On August 15, 1996, Potanin served as Deputy Chairman of the Prime Minister for six months, and according to rumors, he left him, because he did not work well with Viktor Chernomyrdin.
In 1997 – he participated in the section of the Izvestia newspaper. After the conflict with Lukoil, Igor Golembiovsky began to look for other investors. Assistance was offered by ONEXIM Bank and SIDANCO. One of the terms of the contract was that he retained the post of editor-in-chief. However, the shareholders conspired behind the back of the editorial office and put forward their candidacy for this post. After that, the businessman gained fame as a person, after a handshake of which it is worth counting the fingers on the hand – is everything in place. By the end of the same year, he created the ProfMedia holding, which included the controlled Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Express-gazeta, and Expert magazine.
According to experts’ calculations, in 1998, Interros financial and industrial group accounted for about 7% of Russian exports and about 4% of GDP.
“Nickel” and other wars of the 2000s
In 2001, 44% of SIDANCO was sold to Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa. Potanin retired from the oil business and focused on metallurgy and heavy engineering. He created Power Machines JSC, which included Elektrosila, the Kaluga Turbine Plant, the Leningrad Metal Plant, and others. In 2002, a group of gold mining companies was acquired, since 2006 – Polyus Gold.
The beginning of 2007 was marked by the announcement of the division of the financial empire. The scandalous divorce lasted almost two years. At the same time, Vladimir Potanin, forcing his partner to sell him Norilsk Nickel shares, attracted Alisher Usmanov, who had a 5% stake. However, Prokhorov collected a blocking stake and sold it to Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal.
New partners could not agree on parity participation in the management of the company. The Nickel War ended in 2012, when Roman Abramovich took part in it as an arbitrator. An agreement was reached on the creation of a trust fund, where 20% was invested, and Abramovich received the right to manage this share.
“When a person starts to fall in love with their businesses and treat them like children, this is not a business approach. There is what is called personal, there is public, there is business. And business is business. And if investments were made to make money, then this motive should be prevailing.” Interview, Vedomosti, 2011.
“Time to Gather Stones” – Oath of Giving
Since 1999, the Potanin Charitable Foundation has spent annually about $10 million to support educational and cultural programs. During this time, more than 25 thousand students became his scholarship holders. According to the results of the 2016 competition, 500 applicants were selected to receive 15,000 rubles a month for the period of study at the university. He is a member of the Hermitage Board of Trustees, and pays for exhibitions of Russian artists in France and other European countries.
The billionaire is fond of sports: he plays hockey, including in the Night League, and goes skiing. He is one of the sponsors of the Sochi Olympics; he invested more than $2 billion in the construction of the Rosa Khutor ski village, including $500 million of his own funds.
Back in 2010, he announced that the bulk of his fortune would be left to a foundation in his name. And in 2013, he officially joined the Giving Pledge, a movement led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to promote the idea of investing money in charity. The children of the oligarch, and there are three of them, reacted calmly to this.
Potanin’s eldest daughter Anastasia is a 3-time jetski world champion.
“You can’t leave such states that demotivate. If you want to make a child happy, give him a million, roughly speaking, but if you want to ruin him, give him a billion. That’s it, life is over, what else do you want? 2010 Forbes