In The Golden Calf, one of the most beloved books of several generations, Ostap Bender sent the underground millionaire citizen Koreiko a book Capitalist Sharks, in which the words were underlined in blue pencil: “All major modern fortunes were acquired in the most dishonorable way”. How to become a billionaire in modern Russia?
Let’s look at the example of the billionaire Sergei Galitsky. He started in Krasnodar, where, having absorbed the experience of such networks ASDA, Lidl, as well as other strong discounters, he organized a small network for the sale of products in a very simple way: as cheaply as possible, with a dim light bulb, on pallets, with one seller, the most inexpensive, not at the right place, In 2006, when only a narrow professional market knew about them, and I was already considered a big retailer, speaking at the London Forum, I said: “Everyone who invests some money in this network will get rich very much.” As a result, this is the only retailer on the Russian list in the top ten, it has more stores in terms of quantity than the largest American chain Walmart (well, it is clear that they are smaller), and it continues to develop.
In fact, all the scrapes, exchange rate differences and other problems are not so important. Galitsky was very interesting to me – in 2006 or 2007 I came to Krasnodar just to meet him, drink coffee, and heard: “I control my network by some key indicators – through milk, I watch how it is sold”. He himself wrote the control program, he is engaged in buying and selling – nothing more: this is an extremely honest business, an extremely honest person.
And is he a billionaire?
Moreover, if now there was no situation in which all Russian companies are greatly depreciated due to the exchange rate difference, the war and general distrust of Russia provoked by Putin’s actions, his fortune would have exceeded 10 billions.
Are you a billionaire yourself today?
No, and never was, that is, we were unable to bail out that kind of money for Euroset, but my share, bought from me, was sold after some time for an amount with nine zeros. Let’s put it this way: I participated in the creation of a company that is worth billions.
Yeah, so billions after all?
Well, yes – they paid for half a billion 150 million.
How much were you worth at your peak? What was the maximum figure?
The history of the subjunctive mood does not know, that is, we did not receive a single cent for some other assessment. I once stopped a 200 million deal for 10 percent because I didn’t like its structure.
The first trading experiments, I know, you started in high school – what was it?
Yes, just black market …
What did you sell? Jeans?
Cigarettes (I was unprincipled at the time), some old nail polish, plates – whatever comes to hand.
Where did you get those products?
I got something from my aunt, bought something somewhere.
What was the money raised for?
I put them aside for a while, and then bought records. The current generation does not listen to music, because there are social networks, and in our time it was a way of self-expression. Now, in other words, you are what you posted on Instagram, but 25 years ago you were what you listen to.
“I sold everything except my homeland”
Where did you make the first big money? What did you climb on?
On phones …
Well, not right away – in 97-98 …
And before that, what did you do – when perestroika began?
I didn’t have much money – I had enough for food, once a year to go to the Crimea or the Caucasus.
If I am not mistaken, you have been trading on the Luzhniki market for four years …
Yes, but I was not a brigade leader there, but a salesman – so to speak, an extreme link in a group of persons by prior agreement.
What were you selling?
Everything except the homeland. A huge number of things – and chocolates, and jackets, and some pants, and hairpins.
Did you stand in the market in the heat and cold?
Yes of course.
And did you like it?
The selling process – yes: it was frustrating when there were no buyers, and when everything was sold, how could you not like it?
People say that you differed from other merchants in many ways – for example, before hanging clothes, you ironed them …
Yes, at home, when there was time, at least I smoothed the central part, cut the strings with a scalpel.
Have you seen that this allows the product to sell faster?
Did the rest of your colleagues follow your example?
Some for sure, but the business there was like this: take more – throw on. In our brigade, I was the only one from Moscow – a large, dominant part, by the way, was from Ukraine.
Do you remember what tricks you used to sell the product faster and more expensive?
I tried to hang it as high as possible and hang it up all the time, to change places all the time, to pretend that you were unpacking something, packing it … When there are no people – you change places.
What kind of money was your happiness then?
Well, happiness, probably, was not money after all – let’s call it a good day. If you earned 200-250 dollars, it was just an awesome day – everything over 100 bucks was good.
Do you remember what this money was spent on?
“People from the Dagestani diaspora killed each other, but they just milked us”
You became the founder and co-owner of the Euroset network of cellular salons, although it is easy to say: you have become, you have created … So you just created it, or was there someone who saw a talented, capable guy, invested something, suggested?
My friend came up with an idea – he was in a small share in one store in the center, on Maroseyka, and invited me to come and help. He tried to persuade me for a very long time – they needed a person with market experience, and then one of the wonderful girls from my brigade entered into an intimate relationship with the foreman, and he gave her my place. He presented me with a fact: she will leave soon, and I will return your place, but for now, rest. I had another week to wait, and I agreed that for this time I would go out to my friend for some 80 dollars: I would put the windows in order, put everything out, see what else could be done.
And for 12 years stuck there.
Did you realize that this business has a future?
Well, I realized almost immediately.
Was there no one but you and your friend?
There, the main founder was also my friend – a minority shareholder. This situation lasted for about seven or eight months, and in April of next year, my friend and I independently opened a small section of Euroset. (A friend had the right to use this name because we invented it, and two companies got one name: it was very funny).
At the same time, as I understand it, as mushrooms after the rain, the shops selling mobile phones appeared …
Yes, they were like mud …
Why did things go better for you than for them? What was the secret trick?
We had a very good place – initially we differed in the right choice and always had a lot of accessories, that is, the emphasis was on accessories. By the way, do you know what first shocked me? That people buy a phone case for $ 50 was a culture shock for me.
In business, did someone help you or did you all by yourself, with a friend?
In the sense of?
Well, were there any smart uncles?
No, there weren’t any smart ones at all.
But there were many fools …
Enough … And, you mean some kind of “roof”?
Yes of course…
Since we opened in the territory that the Dagestanis controlled, our rent, roughly speaking, consisted of two parts: one was the rent itself, and the second was this Dagestan share. The amount was immediately announced: if you want a section, it costs so much. OK…
Have you seen these Dagestanis? Did they come?
Were they formidable?
No, not at all. In Moscow, people from the Dagestan diaspora were very formidable towards each other – they killed each other …
… and you were just milked …
Yes, and us … I must say that the relations were quite transparent and honest – as they agreed on the shore, this was how it all worked.
Have you ever thought that in business you can do without racketeering, without a “roof”?
And it was not a racketeering or a “roof”. When some guys from “Solntsevskaya” came – punks, thank God, none of the serious ones – we had to solve all our questions ourselves.
Didn’t the Dagestanis intervene?
They said that they would be very upset if there was any noise on their territory.
“All phones in Ukraine, including top officials, in Russia listen to where the MTS and Beeline servers are located”
Mobile phones, I will ask you as a specialist in their sale, who has studied everything thoroughly, are they listening or not?
Yes, of course, but here, in Ukraine, all phones, including top officials, in Russia listen to where the MTS and Beeline servers are located. I still don’t understand why, back in 2014, the Ukrainian authorities didn’t take away the frequencies from the military and immediately didn’t play another license for the Ukrainian mobile operator in order to completely control their communications.
That is, everything the president talks about …
… with the prime minister …
… as well as a businessman, a soldier in the ATO positions, are they listening in Moscow?
Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp are listening too?
I do not see anything difficult in hacking these things.
That is, everything that is said aloud ceases to be a secret?
Yes, what two know, the pig knows.
Do you have any special conversation modes on this?
In the criminal case (they listened to me for three years), there was practically no prosecution in order to present them as evidence, because either we spoke in goat, or in the morning we bought three mobile phones from competitors in Svyaznoy and, knowing when they were turned on, talked to each other, and every day the phones simply changed.
Well, the assistants did it. They came, took the three simplest models, and the phones could not even be kept on, because they could be tracked by traffic.
“The staff stole as if undermined, as if the last day of Pompeii. How did we fight theft? They took them to the forest and tortured – according to the investigation”
You had 200 thousand employees at Euroset …
Through Euroset, while I was a shareholder, 210 thousand employees passed. At the peak there were 33 thousand, after any automation-optimizations – about 30 thousand.
A lot, and you, as they explained to me, had some kind of unique remuneration system – what was it?
All in the share.
All 33 thousand employees?
The dominant part. 80 percent.
That is, the better the overall result, the greater the share of each?
No, no, the determining factor was the result of the store – each of them has its own indicators.
Is everything on percentage the best option?
Absolutely, that is, at first we have not yet disclosed what is behind these or those numbers: this, roughly speaking, was a percentage of sales, and now it is a percentage of real profit.
Did many fools come to work?
How did you neutralize them?
Even a fool is not dangerous – a person with a low humanitarian culture is dangerous …
… and also an active fool, active …
An active thieving cattle is dangerous – here it really poses a threat, but a fool, if he is, by and large, kind, diligent, can learn some new skills and do simple work.
However, did you have any problems with the lack of intelligent personnel?
This was the only problem.
And it’s unsolvable, right?
It can be solved for a very long time, it is difficult and never completely solved, but if it is better for you than for others, it is solved, you have it …
… begins to take shape …
You get rich.
Did your employees steal a lot from you?
Yes, as undermined, as if the last day of Pompeii.
How did you deal with this?
They took them to the forest and tortured … – according to the version of the investigation, but in reality they eradicated it in different ways, including some kind of preventive methods, control. They fought over this for a very long time … It took us three years to install the system with IP cameras, on which Mercedes works – after this theft has decreased, but the main fight against it should be at the hiring stage. You just need to take originally decent, good-natured people.
Where to get them?
By a simple search – here we have gone through 210 thousand.
Is there less stealing in the West than in Russia?
The culture is different – this is not accepted in Protestant countries.
Do you think a lot has been stolen from you during all this time?
Together with the cops? 100 million …
Yes, or rather, 100 million plus …
A lot! Well, how the Dagestanis behaved with you, I already understand, but the representatives of law enforcement agencies: FSB, Ministry of Internal Affairs?
In what time period?
When you were already on the list. Forbes By the way, what number did you go there?
I’ve never been on the list – thank God, they haven’t figured me out. If this had happened, the appetites of these jackals would have increased significantly, and so they spent a long time composing difficult criminal cases, trying to milk as much as possible, and all the time strove to rob: steal phones and, for example, through the Russian Federal Property Fund to sell them.
“I don’t consider high-ranking FSB officers and policemen as people, they apparently do too. They committed sexual acts against the brain of the head of our security service”
How did this happen? Have you had any conversations with any of the high-ranking FSB officers or policemen?
No, I have always disdained it. I do not consider them to be people. They seem to me too.
And if they needed you?
Usually, through our security service, they were intimidated – their leader was approached and acts of a sexual nature against his brain were performed.
What did they threaten him with? If, they said, this will not happen …
… we’ll just slap you, and that’s it, you will be Khodorkovsky-2.
After that, did the head of the service come to you and inform you that you need to pay that much?
We discussed all these issues and, of course, each time we looked for solutions. I always acted asymmetrically, that is, if they came to him and asked for a certain amount of money, I went to the Kremlin and talked about it.
Could you afford to go to the Kremlin to tell about it?
Well, at some point, yes.
And what did they advise you there? Don’t pay? Or, on the contrary, pay?
In fact, I did not communicate with the power unit. If acquaintance with him – with his representatives, the elite – would lead, maybe I would still go to anti-Maidan and shout chants, but the people with whom I contacted have no such influence – on the one hand. On the other hand, when Putin needs it, he hears them.
What was the maximum amount of money you gave to the security forces?
They took it themselves …
And how many?
Only in July, August and September 2005 – 36 million dollars: they just dumped the entire warehouse and sold it. Well, then in December we visited again.
How did you feel during these moments?
I regretted that Moses had inscribed those same commandments.
Was there despair? In fact, they came to you, turned your pockets inside out, “Give it back!” You live well …
I have sharp changes in my psyche, such as anger or despair, but they are short – no one sees it.
“Envy towards us – yes, there was, but there was no hatred”
You, I see, are generally calm, like a boa constrictor – has it always been like this?
No, it’s me who was extinguished after my trip to Ukraine. I traveled three cities: Lvov, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, and the stop in Odessa is the largest in terms of the number of events turned out to be the longest.
And when you are not suppressed, are you afraid in anger?
No, emotions are not overwhelming for long. This is how Turkish coffee is made: psh-sh-sh – bloom (threw up his hand) – fluff!
In Russia, did you feel self-loathing just because you are a rich person?
Practically not – extremely, extremely, extremely rare.
And what feelings did ordinary people have for you?
Envy – yes, there was, but there was no hatred. Maybe if I was some very pronounced Jew, or African, or Caucasian, I would have sipped it in full, but no, and there was no strong hatred among those who are not clients of a mental hospital or a psychiatrist. In general, people, I must give them their due, treated the company and us very well.
You are a very creative person and have come up with an amazing slogan, which sounded like this: “Euroset” – prices are just – well, let’s just say – stunned “…
Actually, its author is not me, but Nikolai Krupatin, who at that time invented an advertisement for us, but I corrected one word there – “stunned” was replaced by that one.
How long did this slogan last?
A few days – closer to May 9 – was taken off the television, because he insulted the feelings of veterans.
Did you pay the fine?
Yes, some kind.
Did this hooligan slogan give something for business, in your opinion?
Yes – recognition, which did not exceed two percent, immediately jumped to 50 …
You do not like formalism or officialdom and, probably, this is great annoying some of the people around you. Well, at least even with clothes, that is, many believe that the appearance of a very rich person should correspond to a certain dress code: a suit, tie, shirt …
Well, probably, if he is running somewhere …
Your wonderful manner of dressing only testifies to one thing – that you are a very free person: is that so?
This is probably my dream – to be more free than I am. It is clear that we are driving ourselves into some kind of framework and limitations for ourselves, we set some silly limits. No, I try to go through the frames, look over them, but, in fact, this is a constant struggle with myself.
Have you ever wore a business suit, a bow tie, a tuxedo?
There are events that are simply not allowed in any other way, for example, to a meeting with top officials of Ukraine. They are used to the fact that everyone is there at least in a shirt and trousers, even if without a tie. Okay, not a problem: I feel uncomfortable, but I have to.
Again, I read that you usually wake up at 7.40 am, and why not 10 minutes earlier or not later?
Because at eight we often go to school with my daughter.
They also wrote that you drink four glasses of wheatgrass juice in a row …
No glasses, no – these were shots, they are small. The period of the experiment with wheat germs was the year before last – now I stopped drinking it.
Who advised you this potion and why?
It was just that wheat germs were on sale next to my store – we tried it in some hotel and thought: since people drink such nasty stuff, it should be wildly useful.
“In 1997, swearing still meant fighting the system, but now it looks more like a bad habit.”
People write about you as an insanely rich man, but at the same time they call you a clown, an eccentric, and a madman, and an eccentric – are you deliberately shocking the public?
Yes, it somehow happens by itself. Here we were in a restaurant in Odessa and there we met the owner, whose name is Savely Libkin. When three bottles of cold white wine were drunk, he suggested: “Well, let’s take a photo,” and since almost everything was over there, he took out the octopus. “Aren’t you afraid to take it in your hands?” “Not at all,” I replied, “over there Dali put a lobster on his head.” He laughed: “Let’s put octopuses on our heads.” The three of us together with Andrey named Fedorov, who did just that and even sang – then the video was uploaded.
What did you sing?
(“I’m going crazy”), because in the video for this song, terminally ill Freddie Mercury put bananas on his head and there was a certain connotation with something funny on his head.
On the 10th anniversary of the company, I know you gave people rubber penises…
Journalists, sorry …
… and what kind of people are they?
Why? – although no, in fact, not only to journalists – to colleagues too, because it seemed to me that it was very funny. In general, in 1997, five years after the fall of the scoop, swearing still meant fighting the system, but now it looks more like a bad habit.
By the way, they reacted differently to such gifts – for example, the editor-in-chief of one of the magazines, who had previously written nasty things about us, took it as a monstrous insult, and for another three years we had nothing with this magazine, and Tina Kandelaki, who was given the same penis, wrote: “Thank you very much, this is …
… that’s exactly my size. “
We also scattered confetti from 200 euro banknotes – well, of course, not real, punched-out – all the pleasure was worth three cents, but, in my opinion, it was ridiculous – our entire floor was covered with this money.
“I don’t even want to sit in prison for two and a half years, but they could well have been sentenced to 15 years.”
You were an amazingly successful person who created your business from scratch, but at the end of 2008 you dropped everything and now you live in the UK – why?
Because the Chekists wanted to put me in jail – for the abduction and torture of the forwarder Vlaskin. For a long time he kept this terrible secret in himself, but after five years he finally plucked up courage and decided to open the eyes of the world to our criminal nature.
Were you warned to leave?
I have been warned for the past three years, and the further, the louder.
Was it unprofitable for the same Chekists that you stay in Russia, work and give them some share? Or you didn’t want to share?
Since 2005, as soon as the import blew out, we sent everyone by showing our big middle finger.
Did you leave with pleasure?
Of course not, but I don’t even want to sit in prison for two and a half years, but they could well have been sentenced to 15.
Russia, as far as I know, has put you on the international wanted list …
… yes, this is very funny …
… and Great Britain refused to extradite you …
Because ours have sent some enchanting nonsense – these people are not even able to write a request without errors.
Was there any fear of extradition?
No, absolutely – no issue from the banks of the Thames.
No one was ever extradited from there.
When, even in a very good country, but still in a foreign land, there was no thought that starting from scratch, in general, is too late?
What kind of zero is that? I had start-up money for buying wine, for renting a shop.
That is, what will you do, did you know?
After a year and a half of idleness and drunkenness – yes.
For a year and a half you did nothing and poured the insult into alcohol?
What did you drink?
Everything. Just kidding … Red wines …
Was it an attempt to escape reality?
No, I was so tired that for the first six months I did nothing at all. I never even went to a Russian store – it was just disgusting to the point of nausea, and then I still wanted something, I realized that it was too early to retire …
Did you immediately buy some real estate for yourself or rent something?
First I rented it, then I bought it.
And the relatives were transported?
And they were not very eager to move – their parents, for example, did not want to.
Okay: the day began … What have you been doing since the morning – an unfamiliar country?
With lawyers, with some kind of plumbers, I dealt with schools … Well, a little bit with friends the same had to groan …
Was it longing for Russia?
Yes, and it has not gone anywhere now.
Have you watched Russian TV channels?
We haven’t had a TV in our house for a long time. To see this is very harmful – the fluid through which the neurons in the brain flow liquefies. What pours from the TV is more dangerous than absinthe.
Are there many former Russian billionaires in England today?
What do they usually do?
Who with what. Someone is selling oil there, someone has given all the money to management, someone is actively engaged in real estate, but for the first six months, almost everyone is gorged, they drink, they let go of their belly, and then they take up themselves.
How do the British treat rich Russians?
First they try to sniff something of their own, but if they see …
… which is not being conducted …
… that they did not hit the sucker, they lose interest.
Do people who have achieved fabulous riches in unfamiliar Russia feel respect or contempt there?
And there is envy?
Of course – they are very envious, very much!
Did you communicate with Boris Berezovsky in England?
Of course – we even drank …
Have you been to him?
In the office – yes, at home – no.
Did he tell you a lot about Russian realities that you did not know?
Yes, and based on his stories, it is understandable why Berezovsky put his hand in the mistake that Putin’s choice had become – he really considered him an absolute insignificance.
“Berezovsky’s death is his last desperate attempt to throw a stone at Putin”
How did Boris Abramovich seem to you? What, in your opinion, was this figure?
The player with all the letters. Lived as a player and died as a player. A very smart person, very funny …
And he didn’t know Russia, right?
Do you think Berezovsky knew Russia?
Yes – he served for some time, quite a long time, in the Academy of Sciences, for a long time he lived in an ordinary apartment on Leninsky.
If he deeply understood the essence of Russian realities, would he have helped bring Putin to power? Boris Abramovich told me several times that he is very trusting and does not understand people …
It is a fact, but knowing Russia and making mistakes in people are not the same thing… This experience of my friend proves that he is now in prison and who has been completely plundered – I do not understand how it was possible to surround yourself with such a number of notorious bastards, thieves and swindlers. I’m talking about Sergei Polonsky… Also, Boris Abramovich had both successful personnel decisions and failed ones…
Is Berezovsky dead?
What do you mean?
Well, is he dead or is he alive?
Dead, of course.
Are you sure about that?
Among those who came to say goodbye to him, to spend his last journey to Brookwood cemetery, were you?
No – at the age of 25 I was at the funeral of my first love and since then I have not gone to the funeral: to none.
I saw photos from the funeral of Boris Abramovich: smiles on their faces, short skirts for women, a very calm mother who adored him and whom he idolized, said that the funeral ceremony went well. By the way, no one saw the body – the coffin was closed, no one saw the body even when Berezovsky was allegedly killed or he hanged himself … Everything suggests that this is an elegant trick, that maybe a born BAB player went all-in and is actually alive – don’t you think so?
I have no such thoughts at all. I communicate with one of his daughters, I know in what psychological state he was after losing in a British court to Abramovich and in what financial condition he was …
In the hardest, and he simply could not afford to be poor.
Do you think that Boris Abramovich himself passed away or was he helped?
I’m not ready to guarantee 100 percent: this is generally too much of a responsibility – one way or another to say …
… but what tells the heart?
At first, and for a rather long time, it seemed to me that, of course, someone sent Berezovsky to the next world, but now I think that this is his last desperate attempt to throw a stone at Putin, so that they would think of him …
Did you communicate with Roman Abramovich in London?
There are non-public people, and if they are, then, probably, they would not want to disclose any information about them … In other words, if we were talking about a public person who, I know, would most likely not mind our contacts becoming public, like with Berezovsky, I would answer your question, but here I’ll dodge.
Roman Arkadievich is called Putin’s wallet – is this true?
I think that Putin’s wallet is Surgutneftegaz, here!
“I know who and why killed my mother, and sooner or later this crime will be solved.”
In April 2010, your 60-year-old mother was found dead at home – what was that?
Do you know why she was killed and who did it?
It seems to me that I know who and why, and sooner or later this crime will be revealed and made public. Sooner or later, the secret will be revealed.
Are you the reason for this murder?
(After a pause.) Probably yes.
If you could rewind something today and behave differently with someone else, would you do it in order to keep your mother alive?
It was necessary to persuade her to move to the UK more persistently. She refused – she did not want to open an elementary visa.
What are you doing in England today? Do you have a good business?
Yes, I sell wine.
Do you produce it yourself?
No, no, I just sell – everyone should do their own thing. I think I know how to organize… Not even that: to conceive a retail story is organized by my colleague and partner Tatyana, and I invested there. This is a very pleasant affair, very positive.
Have you invested a lot?
Everything I had. Everything that’s left.
I do not disclose the numbers.
Are these investments a plus today?
Small. Well, let’s put it this way: formally yes.
Do you sell wine all over England?
All over the world.
And in which countries is it most in demand?
In the USA, it is most often necessary to send there, and in terms of quantity, there are most of the British among buyers.
Wines of whose production are best sold – French, Italian, Spanish?
From 30 countries.
What kind of wine do you prefer as a consumer?
Old champagnes and some interesting ones from the New World. Red.
Are you comfortable in London? Is this your city?
It is very good to live, to walk, but to work, to implement some of your ideas there, is probably less comfortable. As people say, where he was born, he came in handy there…
Someday, even if in the distant future, are you going to return to Russia?
And can you imagine this moment of meeting your homeland?
Do you love Russia?
I don’t like many people, especially when the most base, disgusting feelings are concentrated in them, but I understand them, I know that, besides this shit, they have many good qualities. Our company activated, strengthened, aroused these qualities, and I saw how people changed, and yes, I love Russia: as I once sang … Lord, I forgot! ..
Shevchuk answered him to this song entitled “I live on Lenin Street” … Yeah, Fedor Chistyakov from the “Zero” group: “As I hate, I love my homeland” – you can’t say better.
Pushkin once wrote that he was lucky enough to be born in Russia, but did you? Is this karma, some kind of cross?
No, I’m lucky.
I was lucky that I was born in Russia, because if I were born somewhere, say, in the southern part of Europe, I would now be a disgusting nerd, it seems to me.
What parts of Russia do you like the most, where do you feel that this is absolutely your place, that you feel good about it?
On the banks of the Moskva River, near Zhukovka. In Mandrogi near St. Petersburg. On serpentines in the Caucasus. Yes, many where…