– Was it important for you at some point to outdo, or outshine the renowned big business tycoons?
Let’s leave them alone. Personal wealth has never been my ultimate goal. Honestly. But it is really fantastic to see members of your team become multi-millionaires!
I’ve long dreamed of creating a complex project, of developing a crucial technology. This is far more important than the millions you have in your bank account. I have always directed my efforts towards achieving a tangible non-cash result. Whether it’s proving a difficult math theorem, building a company based on the best practices, or building a strong team of like-minded people. These are the goals I’ve always worked for, and with that, my financial resources were gradually increasing. That’s how it all happened.
Although I must confess that I did make mistakes and suffer losses.
– How often did you stumble?
Often enough. But I always told myself the bruises that I was getting were paid lessons. Back in my younger days, I convinced myself that any failure may be of great value; it has to make you stronger. It’s no use getting nervous or desperate. It’s far better to learn by experience so as not to repeat those mistakes.
In some cases, I lost money, a lot, in fact. There were incorrect investment decisions and mistakes in selecting partners who eventually proved to be weak or fraudulent.
– How did you react when you were cheated or backstabbed?
I’m probably not a typical businessman, and definitely not a predator. Whenever I came across any duplicity, I did nothing, and just stepped aside. I’ve always been certain that my emotions and time are worth spending on some new project, and not on settling old scores. I’ve never gone after those who deceived or defrauded me. I simply let go of the situation and turned my back on those people.
Of course, I gained experience that enabled me to minimize such mistakes in the future. I started paying greater attention to some peculiarities of people’s behavior that I had ignored in the past.
For instance, I often thought that the people I was communicating with had the same mindset or felt the same way I did, and that they were like me in many other respects. That they shared the same ethical views. But all people are different. This should be accepted as an axiom. Otherwise, your expectations may be disastrously wrong.
You’ve got to have a strong and reliable team. I believe this is the most valuable of all assets that I have. I owe my success to the people who work together with me. It is not a beautiful gesture, but a reality. The team makes all the decisions. I seldom intervene.
One more thing, you should have people on your team who are stronger than you in some respects. They are to complement each other. That’s the prerequisite of success.
– How many people are there working with you?
About 30 around the world, if everybody, including the secretaries and administrators, are counted. At the beginning of this year, we launched a third fund RTP Global. It is three times bigger than its predecessor, so we expanded the team on all continents where we operate: the Americas, Europe and Asia. This is our main task.
Each contender for the position of a partner undergoes several interviews with other members of the team on Zoom. And we try to meet the applicant in person before making a final decision, although it is not very easy to do these days. I’ve met with a new European partner in Italy, and a new American one in Mexico. The main requirement is that the individual matches our personal and professional culture, has personal investment experience and some accomplishments. Some key members of the team joined me 15-20 years ago upon graduation from universities starting out as junior analysts. We’ve grown together.
– Are there many compatriots?
They are in the majority for the time being. Although in the United States, Europe and Asia we invite local professionals.
– Does the ‘Russian businessman’ label still haunt you?
There’s no way of escaping from it. A Russian businessman has great problems with making investments abroad. In particular, in the United States. But there is no big problem for us by and large. We have to present many documents to prove the origin of our capital. Foreign banks have scrutinized my earnings since the late 1980s. The successful reputation I’ve earned abroad over the years does a great deal to help. The funds we cooperate and coinvest with, and the founders of companies where we had or still have stakes provide favorable recommendations. The move to create an international investment entity made back in 2011 was a winning decision. It would be far more problematic to launch such a project nowadays.
– You have not yet mentioned any unicorn companies that relied on your assistance in building up capitalization to one billion dollars.
Five public companies where we were early stage investors have gone through multibillion-dollar IPOs: Yandex, Delivery Hero, RingCentral, Epam and DataDog. In our portfolio of investments there are another three unicorns. But let me repeat, it was essential that in 2011 we entered the foreign market while making investments in Russia simultaneously. For a long time, I’d thought about building a strong international company. At first, I hoped to do that in IT business projects, and in system integration. But then I realized that my chances there were bleak. Now I’ve managed to see my dream come true in the professional investment segment.
We enjoy a good reputation. We have never acted against companies’ founders or other shareholders. This enables us to work normally. Although the market knows very well that our money is Russian. Even the fact that I hold a seat on the observer council of Russia’s state-controlled Sberbank is an extra headache for our fund.
– Wouldn’t it make sense to quit then in order to make life easier?
For the time being we’ve been sorting out the emerging issues, but we have to spend more and more time on them. Sometimes it takes months to open accounts for our companies in European banks. We have to undergo checks and obtain some authorizations. Before everything was done much faster.
– Are the effects of Crimea making themselves felt? What do you think?
I’m in no position to judge. But Russia’s foreign policy certainly does not make our work any easier. We still want to become a major international player. We’ve been growing slower than we could, but quite successfully.
– So far, you’ve described in detail the way we are seen in the West. But there is another side to that coin – the investment climate in Russia. How would you describe it? Frigid?
The two crucial elements for an economy’s development are entrepreneurship and investment. The situation is better in countries where business people, investors and civil servants join forces for the sake of developing priority industries. Businessmen are the key figures in this respect. There are some countries in the world where political freedom is missing. Yet the economy flourishes successfully thanks to freedom of enterprise. There are well-known instances like, China, Singapore and Chile, at a certain time in their histories. Growth and development are not possible, if there is no political or economic freedom.
Russia’s economy is a market one by and large, but it is not free.
– What is still missing?
Economic freedom implies a certain attitude by the authorities towards entrepreneurs and investors. Here are two examples of how countries reacted to an external event as a challenge and in response provided government financing focusing on business.
The Soviet Union’s launch of the Earth’s first satellite was a slap in the face for the United States. As a result, a mixed public-private program was drawn up with the net effect of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the Moon 12 years later. Then, the emergence of the Internet followed.
It was the correct response to the gauntlet being thrown down. The US created a network of computer research centers at its universities. That’s how global computer networks, the Internet and thousands of private IT companies were brought into being.
The other example is China. Just recently, in May 2017, a deep learning computer software from the British company AlphaGo scored an overwhelming victory over the world Go champion in three marathon matches, in front of hundreds of millions of viewers.
At the state level, Beijing took this as a challenge. Within a couple of months, China’s State Council adopted a program for artificial intelligence development to the tune of roughly $150 billion dollars. Two years down the road, thanks to government investment, money from private foundations and an entrepreneurial boom, the amount of China’s venture investment in this sphere had been boosted to about 50% of the world’s investment in artificial intelligence. At this point, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that by 2030 China will become the world’s AI leader.
– Business people were given the green light?
A powerful public awareness campaign to encourage mass enterprise is needed. In China, after the prime minister’s speech on the importance of this issue, civil servants at all levels, including municipal functionaries, did their utmost to help businesses make rapid headway. A vast campaign was launched in the mass media and each big city saw the emergence of technoparks and startup incubators. I visited China several times over the past few years and each time I was astounded: 80% of young Chinese want to go into business. It’s prestigious! The Chinese authorities do not permit political freedom, but they funnel the energy of the country’s youth into private enterprise. Young guys launch projects and companies and try to think up something really awesome that would let them feel like real heroes, like sports or film stars. People like them make a country successful. A nation that does not adore and admire its businessmen will never succeed.
Russia has great business potential, big enough to let it compete with the United States.
– But there is nothing to take special pride in yet, right?
Economic freedom requires genuine government protection of private property, a crusade against corruption, free market pricing, effective privatization, a top-notch macroeconomy, and putting the consumer before the producer and the regulatory system. The latter is essential not only for businesses where the client is of paramount importance, but for all industries. In the healthcare sector, the focus must be on patients, in education, on students, in science, on researchers, and in sports on athletes… It is not civil servants, administrators and functionaries that are the real consumers. True, freedom is not an equivalent of permissiveness. That’s what various regulations are for. But such regulations must be independent and serve the interests of the market, and not cater to somebody’s political or private aims.
It seems like our government lacks the authority to develop a free economy. As a result, Russia is losing its technological edge, investment attractiveness and human resources in many industries.
Why are privatization and private enterprise so important? As a rule, the management of public companies does not care about profit and capitalization. It is far more concerned about investment programs, huge budgets and cash flows. In the 1990s, many wished to privatize not so much the companies as the money they were getting. Money was successfully siphoned off even from enterprises’ expense and loss accounts, let alone profit accounts. Regrettably, this is the type of situation that we can often see these days.
– Have you come across such cases yourself?
Here is a story I’d like you to hear. A Russian company in which we had a stake was developing and implementing IT systems. One large government organization was on the list of its clients. When that government organization’s management changed, I got a call from a well-known businessman who asked for a meeting.
Upon arriving at the office, I saw one of the newly-appointed chiefs of that public company seated at his desk. That individual told me outright without much ado that the new bosses were all his righthand men and the controlling stake of our company must be re-registered in his name. Otherwise, all contracts would be terminated and the acts of delivery and acceptance of work performed would not be signed. The public company’s official explained in very plain terms that only businessmen they “know well enough” can count on being their contractors. Indeed, work was halted. The same happened to other contractors. Builders were the hardest-hit. The signing of delivery and acceptance acts was frozen and some bankruptcies followed. It was our good fortune that that top manager received orders from on high that brought him down a peg. But some businessmen had already yielded to this pressure.
Incidentally, later on when some other businessmen “well-connected” to the company’s management took over, the contractors were reshuffled in the end anyway.
– To put it in a nutshell?
This merely illustrates how important privatization is for the economy to develop effectively. It is common knowledge that in many public companies the contractors are told immediately what their “homework” is: in other words, the share of the contract money that is to be transferred to “where they will be told.” This explains why there is no free competition and why only businessmen who are “well-connected” can stay afloat. Very often their companies, lacking the required competences, hire professional subcontractors, but by no means do they allow them to work with the client directly, and consequently even drive them into bankruptcy, because of underpricing. While the profit margin stays in the pockets of the middleman that acts as the general contractor.
Let me say once again, free competition and the investment climate are essential for the entire country.
And when investors begin to be arrested on some dubious charges, it’s a real disaster. Everybody knows the names of Michael Calvey and his partners Alexander Povalko and Mikhail Khabarov. Very few in Russia these days will dare accept investment money from the state. That’s another aspect of the lack of economic freedom.
Promoting private enterprise and encouraging talented businessmen who have built successful and well-known companies from scratch is a complicated task these days. But it has to be tackled. Hi-tech centers must be created in St. Petersburg, in Siberia, in the Far East and in Russia’s South. There should be more Skolkovo analogues enjoying special privileges, such as extended tax breaks and having a free hand in hiring foreign specialists, who may be eager to come and work here.
But the main condition is a ban on preventing law enforcement agencies from victimizing the residents of such centers. And not only these, but any businesses and investors in general. Efforts to persuade them not to crack down on businesses are not enough. Real mechanisms preventing such crackdowns must be established. For this, the key performance indicators of our law enforcement agencies must be revised. Currently, their effectiveness is rated by the number of criminal cases launched. For now, it’s a box-ticking system: the more jail terms there are, the faster the careers are made. Their main concern should not be on sending someone to jail, but rather protecting private property. Some economy-related articles of the Criminal Code must be amended and jailed businessmen and investors amnestied. After all, there is a special article in the Constitution to the effect that the state protects private property.
– Have you ever been targeted yourself?
I have. I still do not feel protected well enough. In Russia, many business people are forced to waste time on protecting themselves from infringement and persecution. In no other place around the world – the United States, Europe or Asia – have there been any situations in which we had to go and ask for something from the authorities.
– You have been very careful in choosing euphemisms so as to avoid pronouncing the word “corruption”.
I’m not just focusing on that. Very often legislation and regulatory acts are the stumbling block.
– Which lets corruption thrive.
Right. Sadly, this is one of the side effects of the lack of economic freedom. The risk of getting within the range of corrupt interests and some officials and so-called law enforcers is on the rise.
– How can this vicious cycle be broken?
There must be economic freedom. I’ve already mentioned its components, with a genuine war on corruption being the most important of all.
– Do you really believe in what you are telling me?
We are not discussing beliefs, but action. You are asking me and I’m trying to provide an answer on where I see a way out…
– Are you still in no mood for changing your geolocation?
I was born in Russia. My motherland is here. So are my mother and my family. But I have no permanent place of residence. I’m a digital nomad, if you wish. Professionally, we are represented on the global investment market. I fly a lot. This is part of my job.
– Did you stay in Moscow during the coronavirus lockdown?
For the most part, yes. Of course, the pandemic brought about certain adjustments to my schedule. Although I must admit that the effectiveness of our corporate Zoom conferences has even improved, yet the duration has been shortened by 25%-30%. Meanwhile, the quality remains the same.
As far as personal matters are concerned, several important cultural events and a number of sporting competitions I had been planning to take part in were canceled. In March, there was going to be a cycling get-together with my friends in Portugal, then a cycling race in Majorca, the Oceanman swimming contest in Italy and a yachting race. All those plans fell through.
In 2017, we founded an international sports project – the first-ever commercial Super League Triathlon. It is for the elite of this sport – world and Olympics champions and medalists. As before, there is cycling, and running, but we have invented new types of races – short and dynamic. It’s become a real thrill to see the triathlon live on TV. Our races are broadcasted in 150 countries. The pandemic ruined the whole season. We had had plans for stages in England, Malta, and Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Sadly, all of them had to be called off. But in August, we managed to hold a contest for the top athletes in Rotterdam. We placed exercise bikes and running tracks inside a swimming pool and used many of the latest technologies. And the Zwift system (incidentally, we are among the company’s investors) projected all contestants’ avatar images on to a huge video screen, which also showed their real position on a virtual track, depending on how hard they worked on the training machines. And at the edges of the screen, the spectators could see the athletes’ current speed and capacity. Top technologies enabled us to divide up the administration of the contest among several centers. The athletes were competing in Rotterdam, the director and manager of the show were in London, the operators in Singapore were responsible for the infographics, and the sports commentators were in Australia. The show turned out to be sensational.
What else can I say about the bright side of life? In August, I became a granddad for the first time.
And my son Dmitry got married in October.
– What do your children do?
My eldest daughter, Anastasiya, has a startup project. Together with a partner she came up with an idea of cordless hair tools for women.
– Do you support the project?
Mostly with some advice. I believe that she should be in a real market economy environment. The company should be developing from the money that independent investors provide, and not from family money.
Dmitry and his partner run a seed stage investment fund. Small sums are invested in startups at the very early stages.
– Your son is a triathlon enthusiast just like you, isn’t he?
At first, he would come several times to see me compete and root for me. It was a kick-starter. I suggested that he could have signed up for a race himself, too. There were still four months ahead, I told him. You might perform well enough, if you start training right away. Dmitry replied: “Dad, I’ve already applied.” He did two full Ironman sets together with me.
Do you know what it is like? It involves 3.8 kilometers of open water swimming, 180 kilometers on a bike and the classical 42-killometer marathon race. My boy did it in 12 hours. My own best result is 11 hours and 30 minutes. The world record – 7 hours and 35 minutes – belongs to Germany’s legendary triathlete, Olympic champion Jan Frodeno.
– When did you become interested in sports?
I dreamed of becoming a famous athlete back in my childhood. In the first grade, I was taken to a swimming lesson, but right of the bat the coaches said that I was no good and suggested that I try out at the diving section next door. There I was asked to leave the next day. I also tried tennis, football, track-and-field athletics and cross-country skiing, but each time I was either rejected or dismissed within a few days. I had problems with coordination and was very slow. During Phys Ed class in school I was always among those who clocked the worst time in the 100-meter dashes. Not only did the boys outrun me, but half or our girls were faster than I was.
What all the coaches overlooked, though, was my great, innate endurance. In the 10th grade, we had a three-kilometer race. I took second place in my school, because I my moved my legs just fast as I did in those 100-meter dashes.
I gave up my attempts at sports, but the dream of becoming a champ must have become deeply ingrained in my mind. By the time I had already reached 62 years of age, I read a book by an Australian athlete, Chris McCormack, entitled I’m Here to Win. He is a great triathlete, a four-time world champion. The person who gave me the book as a gift told me: “Don’t pay attention to the sports side of it. It’s interesting from the standpoint of goal-setting and willpower. Both are important for a businessman.”
The book is excellent in this respect, but it also sparked something deep inside me. I asked myself why don’t I try to go to some gym with a swimming pool for an endurance test.
You must remember that at that time I could only swim ‘dacha style’, in other words, the backstroke. If I attempted to do the front crawl, I would be gasping for air after the first ten meters. As for cycling, the last time I was on a bike was when I was 14. Yet, I set my sights on tackling the Olympic triathlon program: swimming 1,500 meters, biking 40 kilometers and running 10 kilometers.
I went to an athletic club, got into the swimming pool, did 1,500 meters somehow, then I got dressed, went to the gym and tried to do 40 kilometers on an exercise bike. After 20 kilometers I felt it was getting really hard for me. My backside ached the most. The lack of training made itself felt. I clenched my teeth and eventually pulled through, nevertheless. Then I stepped onto the running track and jogged 10 kilometers. When it was over, I felt euphoric. I did not give up! I did it!
I felt enthusiastic and determined to improve the result. I found a triathlon coach and started training. Then a really amazing event happened. Several months later, I went to a contest in Miami to complete half of the full Ironman. I swam 1,900 meters, rode 90 kilometers on a bike and ran 21 kilometers. Then I packed my things and headed for the exit from the park where the contest was being held. Suddenly, I heard the announcer call out my name. Imagine that, I was invited to the award ceremony. I took third place in my age group. The last time I felt that ecstatic was after winning a Biology Olympiad at school!
– Or after making the first one billion dollars.
No. When I was standing on the podium in Miami, I was on cloud nine. As for the billion bucks, it left me totally indifferent. I’ve already explained to you my attitude to money…
– But does comfort matter to you?
For the past ten years, my friends and I have been in the habit of making annual trips that could be called expeditions, because they are rather grueling and the route is barely passable. For instance, on one occasion we rode through the dense taiga forest along the Tatar Strait in the Khabarovsk Region. Also, we crossed the Lena River’s delta in northern Yakutia. And last August it was Koryakiya – 11 days from the Bering Sea to the Sea of Okhotsk.
We used the Sherp all-terrain amphibious vehicle, capable of surmounting large stones and fallen tree trunks. Also, these off-roaders are capable of developing a speed of five kilometers on the surface of water.
We slept in tents or inside the Sherps. All these vehicles are equipped with built-in foldable beds. In the daytime, the vehicle’s body can be loaded to capacity. When we stop for the night, the beds are pulled down, providing enough room for two.
– Did you see any bears?
Many times. They often show up on river banks. We usually stretch out a high-voltage live wire to poles surrounding the camp at night. Just in case…
I have a ritual – I swim in every sea that we travel to. This time it was the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. The temperature of the water was +12C.
Does that answer your question about comfort?
We have a very remarkable group of people. Each one is a professional in some field. While sitting around an evening campfire, we usually lecture each other on various things. For instance, I brief them on artificial intelligence and various technical solutions, while others dwell at length on green power or the development of liberalism in Russia. It all goes down perfectly with a shot of vodka.
– How about fishing and hunting?
We never take shotguns with us. As for fishing, it is wonderful. I love fishing and usually catch a lot. This time I caught a white-spotted charr, a dog-salmon and a grayling.
– What’s your personal record?
On the Kamchatka Peninsula, I often catch Chinook salmon. One day it was a huge fish, 25 kilos or so. It took me half an hour running along the shore back and forth to prevent it from breaking the line. It was a very strong opponent and kept on struggling incessantly.
– That’s when your good physical shape came in handy.
I’ve always been in good shape, thanks to the triathlons. In 2015, I was even selected for the Ironman championships in Hawaii. I came in second in the contest in the US. But I was not destined to participate in the world championships, though. Two months before the event, I was badly injured during a multiday cycling race in France. I had to undergo an implant surgery and two weeks after leaving the hospital I ended up breaking that same leg’s thigh-bone. More surgery followed…
– To my recollection you skidded off a road into some ditch…
No, I had a plain fall. But that was enough. As for the other bone fracture, it’s a result of my own foolishness. I went ahead with my training in Italy, since I wanted to compete in Hawaii in spite of the implant. One day I decided to take a swim, though the sea was rough. A powerful wave hit me and the steel rod in my thigh broke the bone. The second operation was far more serious. An intricate piece of hardware had to be used. But I was determined to prove myself and the doctors that I won’t give in. Five months later, I was already competing in the full-scale Ironman contest in North America in Texas. I finished with success.
– Are there any other such precedents?
Yes, as many as you wish! At that multiday cycling race in France where I ended up with a broken leg, there was a contestant whose leg was amputated below the thigh, and he had no arm below the shoulder. He used only one pedal. It was a mountain road with steep slopes and sharp turns. True, he was not very fast, but surely not the last and he never fell short of the expected deadline. He crossed the finish line to our loud applause.
There I got acquainted with John Maclean of Australia, who became a paraplegic after suffering a spinal fracture, when a truck knocked him off his bicycle. John became the world’s first athlete with paralyzed legs who performed in the Ironman championships in Hawaii. He swam across the English Channel in accordance with the rules of that contest. Forty kilometers in frigid waters: the temperature was just 14-17 degrees! Then Maclean met doctor Ken Ware who discovered that some nerve fibers in his legs were still alive. Ken Ware is the author of a course of rehabilitation of paralyzed people on the basis of essential tremor therapy. He succeeded in helping John free himself from his wheelchair, after 20 years of having been confined to it. Maclean managed to stand up and walk! He can ride a bicycle again. He even participated in triathlon contests alongside other athletes. His willpower is amazing. Maclean has written a book entitled How Far Can You Go? It was translated into Russian.
– Do you keep training?
Yes. I find it a little bit painful to jog and even to walk around due to that trauma. Nothing can be done about it. I’ve visited different surgeons and orthopedists in different countries. They concluded that my problem is due to the implant, but replacing it again is too risky. Gradually, I’ve gotten used to this pain. And then I suddenly discovered that if I start walking the sports style, it hurts less than when I walk and jog the usual way. I’ve found a coach in Izhevsk, a former European champion in women’s sports walking. She trains me online. My results and speed have been accelerating. I can already do nine kilometers an hour. My goal is to complete the full Ironman competition, where I hope to walk the marathon distance. Perhaps, I will be among the winners in my age group again.
– And what are your business plans?
I’d like to make our RTP Global one of the leading technological funds in the world. Established by a Russian founder. This is quite a challenge.
– How important is intuition in an ambitious undertaking like this?
It is certainly not the most important factor of all. Experience is far more valuable, even from previous mistakes. There are several things an investor should seriously focus on and among them primarily is the team that created the project in progress. It is essential to decide if these people will be able to cope with the task well enough. Any idea, even the greatest and newest one, accounts for merely 20% of the success. The team’s ability to make the project materialize is the key. Thousands of wonderful ideas around the world were buried for the simple reason that the people who embarked on implementing them lacked the skill and competence.
It was not Google that invented the search engine and it was not Facebook that came up social networks. Other companies were the first, but their teams were not strong and effective enough to withstand the competition that emerged later on.
Second, it’s the scale that really counts. That’s where intuition comes into play. Say, a local project, confined to a small niche, may be of interest to its founders, but not to investors who are eager for a hefty return. Each time I do my best to estimate the potential.
For instance, in 2011, together with my partners, we founded and made the first investment into Delivery Hero, a German company offering food delivery service from restaurants. Our inner voice was telling us that this model might have good prospects. If it is replicated in other countries quickly enough, the scale may be really impressive. Delivery Hero is now a well-established company worth $20 billion …
– What’s worth investing in now to make good money?
In my opinion, you either have to start investing seriously and become a professional, or if you have money to spare, give it to successful funds. Making casual investments on your own from time to time is not a good idea. Ninety percent of people lose money this way. It is wrong to invest in one, two or three companies. It’s better to create a portfolio of investments into at least ten companies. Experience shows that one-third of them will go bankrupt and about as many will stay at the break-even point. Some investments will be quite good and only one company will become a bonanza. If you are fortunate enough, of course…
As for the sectors of the economy, we at RTP Global continue to invest in companies and technologies offering software solutions for businesses, cloud services, distance learning, new technologies of mobility, artificial intelligence- based applications and some other sectors.
– In Russia or in the West?
In different countries. There are talented entrepreneurs and specialists in Russia. But very often they manage to display their potential to the fullest only abroad. We’ve already discussed the reasons why.
– Do you set some timeframes for yourself? Have you ever thought of getting away from it all? Next year you will turn 70.
My age group is the most active one. My own mother is an example for me to follow. She is 96, but she goes to the office almost every day to run the cultural fund. I still have someone to look up to and keep up with.
– But at some point, you will have to pass on your business to your heirs anyway.
We have made some legal arrangements to guarantee that should something happen to me, everything will be placed in the hands of my team and my children, who will have seats on the board of directors enjoying equal rights with all the others. I have four children. They will be only part of the group of partners with decision-making rights. Also, there are certain restrictions on the amount of money my children can count on.
– You’ve set some limits?
Yes, everything in excess of the fixed amounts must remain in the domain of business. There are some restrictions regarding expenses on such things as education, housing purchases or weddings. In all cases, the sums in question are very moderate. A small share of profit is reserved for my children’s current expenses. The main capital cannot be withdrawn. The money must keep the company going and developing. This is very important for the members of our team. They have the right to know what will happen, when I am not around anymore. The show must go on.
– Do your children feel disadvantaged?
The young are unable to ask such questions by virtue of their age, while the older ones seek to achieve everything on their own. That’s the way they were brought up. Apparently, just like myself, they are reluctant to be treated as their parents’ shadows…
– Is a businessman obliged to be a risky person?
People differ. I’m not afraid of losing money. I’m never scared to try and fail. This explains why I sometimes take greater risks than I possibly should. Each person has to make dramatic decisions in life. I’ve been in such situations many times. After Yandex’s IPO, I had every reason to say that I’ve been successful in life. I could afford anything I wanted. And by that time, I was not a young man. But I began to invest the money in creating an international company. I ventured into India’s market where the first four investments cost me $20 million. Despite the losses I sustained, I had no intention of leaving the Indian market. By no means. I’d just paid for knowing it better.
– Some people say: “Once bitten, twice shy.”
That’s why I am telling you: “It depends.” There are successful businessmen who prefer to stay very conservative and shun extra risks. I, too, would possibly decide against putting somebody else’s money at risk. What makes the situation so unusual is that most of the money in the fund is mine.
– Do you believe in luck?
Each person creates their own good fortune by managing the space of opportunities. They emerge as a result of meeting other people, studying the information flows and participating in events. From time to time, there may happen to be some important events, and we make certain decisions in response to them. They can lead to success. Not that one person is unexplainably lucky while another is hopelessly unfortunate. Each of us is given certain chances in life, but very often people overlook or miss something very unique and interesting that can make them successful.
Your question has another side to it. Many are reluctant to leave the area where they are quite comfortable today. Very often people fail to achieve success because they are afraid of failure. Only a minority try to grab the chance that comes their way. To catch a fish, you’ve got to bait the hook. This may not happen at once. This merely means you should try again and again until you catch it.
People on our team are all architects of their own success. Last summer, I asked each one the same questions: What is your professional dream? How do you see your place in RTP Global? What are your strengths and weaknesses? All of them replied that they would like to see the company become one of the greatest funds in the world. These guys are prepared to spend at least ten years of their life on achieving this goal. This is a long-term objective.
– Don’t you think you were told exactly what you wanted to hear? What if your subordinates were just seeking to please their boss?
No, we have a different culture. I’m not the boss. True, I have the right of veto, but I cannot recall when I last used it. I’m rather an adviser to the team, a person who voices his opinion, but never presses for it. Should some problem emerge, any staffer feels free to come to me for advice, but before that I expect to hear a proposed solution. We have a high level of transparency of what we do. It is really fantastic when I see the team do its job right without me.
It is important not to feel lost in the crowd and not to cater to others’ views. In school, some of the boys played the guitar, while others were great dancers. I wanted to win some recognition, too, but all my attempts failed. I studied well, I won contest prizes again and again, but in the company of friends I remained a second rater. I recall that in the ninth grade our class was granted ten vouchers for a trip to Czechoslovakia. The teachers decided to distribute them by means of an open ballot. I was number 13. It was a bummer. Many guys voted against me. I reconsidered many things in life and realized that it is wrong to try to woo others. Also, it is essential to find your own way in life and focus on it, trying to be better than the others. And once you’ve achieved some goal, you should immediately set another one. While most people prefer to float downstream.
– While you are swimming upstream?
I’ve always tried to study the best practices and sought to meet those who succeeded in what I was striving for. I would come up to them with a list of questions and start asking them in detail. It was very useful. The main thing is to determine what you want to be the best at. I don’t mean successful, what I mean is the best.
All people, even the most talented ones, can be divided into two groups. There are those who, like some athletes, would like to win a couple of competitions and to make money. This satisfies their ambitions. And there are others, who wish to become legends. Look at our football. Russian players are pretty happy with the money they earn. It’s quite enough for them. Of course, there is corruption that can kill dreams. Who among our star players is eager to become another Messi or Ronaldo? If you’re lucky, you might find a couple of guys in the entire country.
Or take men’s tennis. Its main driving forces are Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. They’ve stopped playing for money alone long ago. Their inner challenge is to become a legend, to go down in history, and outperform everyone in the number of tournaments won.
If our people, who are no less talented than their counterparts elsewhere, learn to have big dreams and believe they can achieve what may look unachievable at first sight, Russia will see many changes for the better.
– As far as I can guess, you’ve set your sights on becoming a legend?
It’s not about me personally, but about the team. Correct. We’ve been very good at investing so far. And we’ll keep on striving…
– And to wrap things up, my final question for you is: “What’s your idea of happiness?”
Personal freedom. The right to choose the way I should live, what I should do in life and with whom I’d like to associate. People are often asked whether they want to be happy or have freedom. Many choose happiness without freedom. I should say that I’ve enjoyed maximum personal freedom only over the past few years. I don’t have to meet with unpleasant people that I may need to for some reason. I can do whatever I please. And I can say what’s on my mind. This is happiness.