Call him Godfather of the Kremlin, the kingmaker or the expat oligarch who died in regret for his failed vision of the motherland, Boris Berezovsky was, in fact, a game changer. He may not have his own episode in the Bloomberg series but his puppeteering makes up a chunky chapter in the political history of post-soviet Russia. Oligarch billionaire extraordinaire were his credentials and he even managed to top that off when he made Putin president (or at least that’s what he claims).
In one of her books on Putin, “The Man without a Face”, Masha Gessen describes Berezovsky to be all talk and no substance. In all fairness, the man was a big mouth and you’d easily agree if you watched any footage of him preaching against the Putin regime.
However, there was substance to his discourses and that substance was made of money. In Berezovsky’s case, there is no way to prove which one came first, the cash or the street cred, though he once assured the public that his strategy is not based on intelligence per se, but is rather a matter of talent. Too many people believed that Berezovsky owed his success to his brainy studies in cybernetics and mathematics. On the contrary, that period of his life doesn’t even make up the tip of the iceberg. Being head of department at the Institute of Management Problems never aided his ambitions much and neither did his doctorate in information technology.
What did shine a light on his career was, in fact, the free market vibe taking over Russia after 1989.
Berezovsky began making money by importing Mercedes cars onto the Russian market. He wasn’t more than a middle man then and he never quite surpassed that status later on in his career either – he simply mediated affairs on a higher, more profitable level. Let’s be honest though: the standard outcome of that profession alone would not have brought him that much money and influence. The traits that took him to the top of the food chain were his restlessness and appetite for achievement. As a result, the constant struggle to turn the system in his favor gave way to a myriad of ‘rise-to-power’ opportunities, which he didn’t hesitate to exploit.
Surprisingly, those who saw him in action claimed that Berezovsky was a lousy manager and a second-rate entrepreneur who could barely coordinate people and let alone deliver a persuasive speech to potential business partners. In spite of these flaws, however, the man won the deal to orchestrate the re-election of Boris Yeltsin when most observers thought it to be a lost cause. He then took over national television and accepted to represent Russia in the Security Council. If that’s not proof of method, I don’t know what is.
Refusing to settle for what you have is THE mind-set to get you moving forward. As seen with Berezovsky, a career isn’t made by climbing up the ladder of institutions but is rather a frenetic movement from one professional goal to another. ‘To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’ but not just that.
If Berezovsky had to teach a course in university, he’d lecture on two things: the power and dangers of networking. He’d silently walk in front of the class and draw a bell curve on the blackboard to illustrate a merger of the two topics. After all, that same ascending line made him billions and then threw him in exile a decade later on its descent. ‘Networking has its ups and downs’ he’d say, keeping in mind that both his alliances with Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin eventually backfired. The former cost him millions in lawsuits, while the latter nearly sentenced him to jail.
In this case, Berezovsky’s experience of living on the edge can only instigate to vigilance. If you’re going to rely on connections to build your career, which you should to some extent, make sure you’ve got a solid exit strategy that won’t impair your movement and influence in every other circle. Also, don’t be vocal unless it’s strategically beneficial to you. A loud mouth doesn’t inspire trust, not in the corporate world, not in politics and not in any credible professional environment.
Once more, watch and learn from our oligarch. As soon as Putin launched charges of embezzlement against him, Berezovsky sought political asylum in the UK, where he launched a costly anti-Putin campaign. Did anybody listen? Barely, because the same man who used to praise Putin as the enlightened heir to presidency was now stating the contrary in an attempt to undo his ‘game making’ from the outside. That stage of his life should show you how to not to pursue your career, by holding grudges in the open.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight for a cause. Finding meaning in your work is essential but, nevertheless, this only makes up for half of the formula. The rest requires the ability to reinvent yourself as you move forward through different stages of achievement. Berezovsky might have not have realized it in his lifetime but the challenge of dealing with change is a matter of finding the next best thing to move on to.
Seize the Opportunity
Russian Oligarchs have been in the news since the year 1989 smiled upon their fortunes. Whether they cash in their checks for the world’s most expensive yacht or commence with suing each other into bankruptcy, their lives attract the curiosity of an entire planet and almost inevitably a Russian government accusation with that. Looking beyond the gossip, however, their stories stand as lessons of accomplishment that resonate even with those who find themselves working on a startup, in square one. The first one is pretty straightforward: you must always keep an eye out for THE opportunity. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wait for the collapse of a regime or the privatization of state companies to join the bandwagon to riches. However, the saying goes that, in life, it takes being smart for 5 minutes at the right time, enough to see and take the chance. If you understand this in terms of market gaps, the message is clear.
Be a Builder
Before they entered the big game, the oligarchs had to start small back in the day. For instance, the story behind Abramovich’s yacht begins with a rubber ducky, as he used to sell toys before scoring with Sibneft and becoming the magnate he is today. The same goes for Alisher Usmanov, who identified a market gap for plastic bags in Russia and exploited it to the point it became his entry ticket in the banking and metal industries. The fairest of them all is, however, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Famously imprisoned and incredibly rich, as a free man he embodied the recipe for success and the opposite of Boris Berezovski.
While the latter bought and sold in frenzy, Mikhail took his time to build and develop MENATEP bank from start to, well… finish. That is not to say MENATEP failed its purpose – if it weren’t for it, Mikhail would have had no shares in the Yukos oil company and therefore, no shot at becoming Russia’s richest man. So, it takes patience and an eye for opportunity to make it in business but, on top of everything, you need to take your time to build your startup and watch it grow into something that has a worth in itself before reaching for the cherry on top.
When asked to give a shout out to young entrepreneurs, Roman Abramovich plainly replied: “Do not imagine that you will never go to jail.” Let’s just say this piece of advice is a Russian adaptation of having to take risks in business.
If we look at how well Roman has done for himself, his words may well guarantee that assuming the worst will sharpen your senses for the best when making your next decision. Risk assessment is everything when you plan your startup because, by definition, these companies involve a higher level of risk. If this scares you, you’re at least aware that risk is real. Otherwise, if you choose to deny it completely, you’ll find that a career at Goldman Sachs can accommodate your ambitions a lot better than a measly audacious startup.
Find Your Better Half
The “P2P”, Vladimir Potanin and Mikhail Prokhorov, understood the benefits of teamwork while they pumped up their portfolios by delegating amongst each other. Prokhorov handled the numbers, Potanin did the talking and together they launched what was once Russia’s largest private bank, the United Export Import Bank. Now, if the mighty couldn’t make it alone, do you think you stand a chance? You may be an overachiever but you’re not superhuman. Hoarding tasks will get you crumbling under the weight of your startup and that is why you have to find your “P2P” formula before you commit to starting a business. The essence of effective business management lies with learning how to share responsibilities. Call it dependency, risk or requirement, trusting a partner is often the difference between everything and nothing.
Learn to Ride Failure
This one comes from the guy who wore his aluminum crown straight into the global financial crisis. Oleg Deripaska was on the brink of bankruptcy when aluminum prices plummeted in 2008. His company, Rusal, accumulated so much debt that banks began cornering it for their fair share of whatever was left. Although Oleg was standing to be ripped apart by investors, he flawlessly turned the cards in his favor. He taught the banks that it was not in their interest to manage a massively complicated company like Rusal, so he looked them in the eye and said: ‘You keep the debt and I will manage the company and deliver for you.’
The rest of the story is now an open-ended tale about shares on the rise. This is to prove that second chances aren’t impossible: as long as you don’t screw with investors and can demonstrate your dedication and a plan to put your startup back on track, your case is a winner. Also, confidence is the single most powerful tool to impress if you refuse to become a victim of circumstance. Let the economy fail and drive away the weak – the ones who refuse to accept defeat will be the ones riding the market.
Do you feel like you can create your own internet business empire?
How Roman Abramovich makes money
Roman Abramovich does not need an introduction. Whichever your hobbies and interests are, he probably owns something related to them. For football fans it’s the Chelsea club, for art enthusiasts it’s his multimillion dollar collection of paintings. The list can go on but, instead of admiring his possessions, we’re interested in seeing what is there to learn from a man who is famous for his ferocious spending.
Wasting money is definitely not the moral of his story. In fact, his story doesn’t distinguish itself too much from the usual narrative of the Russian oligarchs’ rise to riches. He started off modestly, as the owner of a toy factory, before the year 1989 struck the system and gave him the opportunity to enter the oil business with partner Boris Berezovsky. In the follow up to his emancipation, he underwent a costly divorce, some heavy lawsuits against Berezovsky but, on top of everything else, he adopted a repeating sequence of billionaire behaviour.
Abramovich has a tendency to buy yachts and airplanes and helicopters and mansions, keep them for a while, then sell them and go on to buy bigger, more expensive ones. You’d ask yourself, why on earth would one individual and his family need a Boing 767 with 400 passenger seats? Take the fortune away and his 5 star shopping frenzy brings him frightfully close to resembling a junkie.
However, you’d be surprised to know that it’s not the addiction driving the oligarch’s absurd expenses, but rather his competitiveness towards all other billionaires of his calibre. While there’s not much to take away from the fact that he spends, the reason why Abramovich does so is golden. COMPETITIVENESS gives him something to strive towards even though he has reached what others see as their destination in life. Apparently, the struggle doesn’t stop at wealth and, if a man like Abramovich can readjust his goals while sitting on top of $12 billion, then you have absolutely no excuse for stalling in your career. If you’re not motivated to make an effort for yourself, then look around and see yourself surrounded by every other individual that will get to where you want to be. Try and activate that basic human instinct that pushes you to want to be better, more valued and more valuable than your peers.
Coming back to our oligarch, at the rate Abramovich is spending, no one would be surprised to find him in the news headlines filing for bankruptcy. However, the fact that this hasn’t happened yet shows that ‘the odds are in his favour’ and that (remarkably) the man earns more than he wastes. If you take a look at the oligarch’s investment portfolio, you’ll find that a key to his success is DIVERSIFICATION. Basically, Abramovich owns a chunk of shares in any industry that comes to mind, be it construction, steel, aluminium, insurance, cars, banking or aviation. Having his investments spread across the arena means that he’s never going to lose his fortune in one go. More important, though, is that his strategy can deliver even for those who have more receipts than money.
Let’s assume that you’re short $12 billion but you have a free weekend on your hands and an average Internet connection. Regardless of your Bachelor degree in Business Finance, you’re at a loss if you don’t use your resources to learn a new skill. Abramovich may be able to afford diversifying his shares but he’d definitely find a similar logic in investing in personal aptitudes. In both cases, you’re trying to minimize the damage incurred during unproductive periods. If there’s anything you should have learned from the recent financial crisis, it would have been that jobs are disposable and that different times create a higher demand for certain professions. You could, at some point in your life, be unfortunate enough to have your main set of skills rejected by the job market and then you’ll obviously have to mobilize your labour into a different direction. By the time you find yourself in that situation it might be too late to reboot your career. Even if they say that a man can have many different career paths throughout his lifetime, it is crucial to build a base for them as early as possible.
So, while you’re doing well, save a few hours to invest in your professional development and explore the possibilities that are as endless as Roman’s list of assets. There’s no denying the existence of investment opportunities once you’ve Googled ‘online courses’. Realize that you can pick up a new language, learn to program, teach yourself design or study the markets. Take responsibility for your future and understand that, in the beginning of your career, long before you’ll consider owning a football club, your skills remain your most valuable assets.