Russian Tycoon Alexander Lebedev
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 a group billionaires, or “Oligarchs,” quickly emerged in Russia. By about 1995 there were a handful of billionaires helping Boris Yeltsin to run the country as well as many other up and comers who would comprise the second and third waves of tycoons. As a group these men are fascinating to study because of the unstable and very dangerous environment they had the courage to operate in. Back then to build an empire you also needed a private army of former military, police, and intelligence types to protect your assets. Some of these private armies had up to 1000 or more members. They guarded the tycoon’s banks, factories, head offices, and families. Whenever a tycoon had to travel across Moscow to attend a meeting it was in a convoy of armored limos and SUV escorts packed with machine-gun wielding men.
Recognizing a Lost Cause
One of the most interesting Russian billionaires in my opinion is newspaper magnate Alexander Lebedev (born 1959) who belongs to the second wave of self-made Russians. His business career officially began in the 1990s when he left the KGB to start a new career as a capitalist. One of the stories that makes him so appealing is that while employed by the KGB he was charged with spying on the British from an economic attache position in London. He quickly realized that he had far more interest in getting a handle on how capitalism really worked than in spying and so switched his focus to educating himself for a major career change.
It’s safe to assume that he understood that the USSR was a lost cause and had decided to find a more lucrative line of work.
From KGB to Fleet Street
After the career change he quickly started building an empire in Russia before moving to the UK where he acquired a number of major newspapers. For more detail here’s Lebedev’s wiki page.
A Two-Fisted Old School Tycoon
Last fall Lebedev was involved in an incident that gained him international notoriety. After another CEO on a Russian talk show threatened him physically, Lebedev stood up and punched his lights out. Yes, I know that violence is wrong and that in this PC age we are all supposed to act appalled when it happens, but there is something admirable about a man who deals with a physical threat the old school way.
As I have said before, these guys live by their own rules.