Russia’s richest businessman is also one of its most discreet.
Did you know that, in the mother tongue of Pushkin, Stalin literally means ‘man of steel’, a nickname that could easily apply to Vladimir Lisin. This steel and aluminium magnate has a none too shabby bank balance of $22.8 billion according to Forbes, a fortune amassed without fanfare or close links to the political elite in Moscow, but via a true mastery of the metallurgical sector and perestroika era entrepreneurship.
An engineer turned businessman, Lisin knows his industry from top to bottom, having started out at the coalface in a Siberian mine in 1975 when, after studying at the Siberian Metallurgic Institute, he got a job working as a welding foreman at Tulachermet Metals Works. Lisin rose through the ranks to become section manager, shop manager and, in 1986, deputy chief engineer.
Although a billionaire since the 1990s, the 64-year-old remains an engineer at heart. He has continued to study extraction and detoxification techniques, publishing his findings in the country’s foremost mining publications. In 1989 he even garnered top national honors for his contribution to the fields of science and engineering.
At the start of the 1990s, while the Soviet Union was crumbling, several far-sighted capitalist-minded Russian businessmen moved to gain control of the country’s suddenly privatized natural resources, as was the case with Lisin who, with the assistance of three key financiers, acquired a sizeable chunk of the country’s massive steel industry. In 1998 Lisin took control of the steel interests of NLMK and, as CEO, oversaw the rapid growth of the Lipetsk-headquartered operation, which saw him become Russia’s richest man by 2006.
"In the exclusive club of Russian billionaires, Vladimir Lisin is seen as, if not an outsider exactly, then someone who is not afraid to go against the grain"
NLMK’s stunning growth was built on two pillars, the modernization of production facilities and controlling the export trade. Little by little, NLMK’s mining and manufacturing infrastructure got up to western standards, which saw the company reach a level of production to rival that of the United States or German steel industry.
In parallel, Lisin created Universal Cargo Logistics Holding (UCLH) in order to cut out the middle-man when exporting his company’s steel overseas. More than a facilitator, UCLH has become the goose that laid the golden egg, as the company now handles the majority of all haulage in Russia. This feat, like Lisin’s previous ones, has been achieved through costly investment that, ultimately, turned out to be worthwhile.
In 2011 Lisin purchased 95% of the Russia’s freight-rail network from the state – some 53,000 miles of track – alongside 200,000 carriages, rolling stock which he continues to modernize. In recent years he has also cornered the cargo-ship market in his homeland.
In the exclusive club of Russian billionaires, Vladimir Lisin is seen as, if not an outsider exactly, then someone who is not afraid to go against the grain. He was not part of the first generation of oligarchs which had close ties to Boris Yeltsin. Nor is he particularly pally with Vladimir Putin, unlike Vladimir Potanine, Suleyman Kerimov or the Rotenberg brothers.
He may shoot from the hip when it comes to business, but Lisin takes a more measured approach to his passion for shooting. He is responsible for building one of Russia’s largest shooting ranges, located just outside Moscow and at the end of 2018 was named president of the International Shooting Sport Federation.
One wonders where he will train his sights next.