Russia’s richest businessman Vladimir Lisin stubbornly and resolutely takes on any business, no matter what it is – the construction of a blast furnace or the promotion of the necessary law
Billionaire Vladimir Lisin # 1 avoids publicity and has a reputation among his friends as a “quiet oligarch”, a low profile person. “As little outdoors as possible” is the businessman’s main principle, according to his close friend. “This may not be to my liking. But look: the scoreboard. It pays off,” he says. The result is really great. In 2017, the wealth of the owner of Novolipetsk Steel (NLMK) and UCL Holding transport holding increased by $3 billion, to $19.1 billion, and he topped Forbes’ list for the third time (Lisin conquered the top in 2010 and 2011).
Lisin himself does not like rankings, and he calls himself an “oligarch. The Forbes list regular does not consider himself “particularly clever and gifted” and attributes his success to his ability to concentrate. Because of his meticulousness, which has become a proverb and a nightmare for his subordinates, Lisin is reputed to be a pain in the neck. He takes on any task with tenacity, bordering on fanaticism.
In 1995, Lisin found himself on the verge of death. He and his subordinate, now billionaire Oleg Deripaska #50, were riding in a car and grenade launchers were waiting in ambush. At the very last moment, the businessman who ordered the assassination attempt, known in certain circles as Tatarin, gave the killers the go-ahead, businessman Dmitry Bosov #86 told Forbes. “There has always been an element of luck in my life,” Lisin admitted in one interview. In the 1990s, he was in charge of several large metallurgical companies (including Novolipetsk Steel) on behalf of the legendary brothers Mikhail and Lev Chernykh, and found himself at the epicenter of the “aluminum wars. The transition of enterprises under the control of the Trans World Group (TWG) owned by the Chernykh was often accompanied by murders, and the Chernykhs themselves were associated with the leader of the Izmailovo organized crime group, Anton Malevsky.
Communicating with the Chernykhs, Lisin took a great risk, according to his business partner from the 1990s: “He sat in common meetings like a rabbit in front of a boa constrictor. I would never have gone through what Volodya Lisin went through. The stakes were high. Every week someone was killed, recalled Lisin himself, tired of being interrogated by the prosecutor’s office. At the height of the wars, his dacha burned down, after which he urgently sent his children to Israel.
However, the future billionaire’s losses more than paid off. In the mid-1990s, the Chernykhs fell out with each other, and Lisin, who had his eye on NLMK, successfully took advantage of the quarrel. In 1997 he severed relations with TWG and transferred NLMK’s exports to his Irish Worslade.
It was a drastic act, recalls a friend of Lisin, because his life was at stake, nothing less than that. According to the Forbes’ interlocutor, after the demarche, a bounty was allegedly put on the rebel’s head. Lisin managed to come to an amicable agreement with the Chernykhs, but the brothers gave him a nasty surprise by selling their 34% stake in NLMK to Vladimir Potanin #2. This gave Lisin, who controlled the company by the early 2000s, a new opponent. Potanin quickly stepped in, he blocked an additional issue of NLMK and sabotaged the sale of non-core assets.
“Potanin thought he had Lisin by the beard,” the Forbes interlocutor sneered. “You will become a successful businessman as soon as you solve the problem of minority shareholders,” was how Potanin outlined to Lisin the prospect of their relationship. And Lisin immediately pragmatically struck back at the former first deputy prime minister by starting to buy up his Norilsk Nickel shares.
“Lisin is like a bulldog, if he gets his claws in, he won’t let go,” says his acquaintance. In the end the rivals settled their dispute and exchanged their stakes. This is how the country’s third largest steelmaker came under the full control of Lisin.
As you drive up to Aberuhill Castle in the Scottish countryside you see an unusual road sign. As is customary in Britain, in white letters on a green background there are half a dozen place names. The strange thing is that the nearest point is a certain “Fox Hole” – 2519 km. The other locations (Ivanovo, Novokuznetsk, Temirtau, Moscow) are even further.
Since the end of 2005 the castle is owned by Vladimir Lisin. The cities listed on the sign are the stages of his life path, and “Fox Lodge” is the country complex built by him and the current residence of the billionaire. The purchase of the castle became known a few days after the IPO of NLMK in London, where Lisin sold a 7% stake in the combine for $ 600 million. The ancient 16th century castle cost Lisin £ 6.8 million, the newspaper The Scotsman wrote, this is quite cheap compared to the more popular land in the south-east of England. “Absolutely no luxury: the rooms are small, depressing antiquity,” says one of the castle’s guests.
Other usual for many billionaires attributes of a beautiful life (yachts, planes, villas by the sea), according to his acquaintances, Lisin has no. Moreover, Lisin bought the Scottish estate not for the sake of the castle but for the woods – he loves hunting. He loves to hunt only poultry, allegedly he doesn’t like big animals.
One of the guests at the Scottish castle recalls leaving a tip for the servants after a hunt. When Lisin learned of this, he spent an hour and a half explaining to the guest that what he had done was wrong and rash: “Why are you spoiling people for me? You shouldn’t have any extra expenses-it’s all included.” Lisin is very stingy and always haggles to the last minute, his business partners tell us. One of his favorite sayings is “Almsgiving in the hands of the giver should sweat.
In the early 2000s, Lisin offered Steven Jennings and Igor Sagiryan, the heads of what was then Russia’s largest investment bank, Renaissance Capital, to buy a business jet at a swap deal. And he celebrated his 50th birthday in chamber at the Fox Hole, inviting veterans of French electronics group Space. And only at the Sochi-2007 Investment Forum party did Lisin indulge himself by smoking four large Cuban cigars.
At the same time, however, Lisin always pays his bills, his contractors say. Forbes’ interlocutors call him “very decent as far as it is possible in Russian business. Lisin also hates it when people try to pull a fast one on him, says one of his acquaintances. One example. After acquisition of Maxi-Group Holding in 2007, the metallurgist suspected the former owners headed by Nikolay Maximov of money laundering. And they faced billions in lawsuits from NLMK and criminal prosecution. The litigation is still going on.
At the end of August 2001, People’s Artist of the USSR Lyudmila Zykina burst into tears during an interview with Lipetsk TV. For the first time in her 55-year career, she faced the cancellation of her concerts. Zykina’s tour of the Lipetsk region had been organized by NLMK, and local authorities feared that the singer would campaign for Vladimir Lisin before the upcoming gubernatorial election.
The fears were not unfounded. At the time, the whole region was covered with banners of the plant, which accounted for 60% of the regional budget revenues, and its owner either gave cash bonuses to railway workers wearing his blue shirt and his uniform, or donated hundreds of tractors to rural administrations.
Lisin himself did not declare his gubernatorial ambitions directly, but actively criticized the local authorities: “The gubernatorial team has neither ideas nor ideology. On the eve of the election, the local media launched a war of dirt. The climax was Zykina’s tears, recalled a former deputy of the Lipetsk regional council, when the conflict escalated to the federal media. The intensity of the confrontation was so high that the Kremlin had to intervene.