How the heir to a $16 billion fortune proved himself in the media business, shipping and “strategic planning
A November evening in 1994 did not bode well for the guests of the House of Foreign Specialists “Yakhont”. Krasnoyarsk’s most posh hotel with a strange name was packed with armed people. The force was evenly distributed between the strong men in plain clothes and the uniformed personnel. In one of the rooms of Yakhont Vladimir Lisin, vice-president of Trans-CIS Commodities # 1 was negotiating with Yury Kolpakov, general director of Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Plant.
No shooting happened that night. But when in 1994, Lisin’s dacha on Kaluga Highway suddenly burned down, he did not hesitate to send his entire family abroad. Lisin’s eldest son Dmitry returned to Russia only in the mid-2000s. By his own admission, he has a poor recollection of the details of his father’s “aluminum wars.” He was only 13 at the time. But to this day, Dmitry Lisin avoids publicity. Forbes tried to find out the details of biography of one of the three heirs of the $16 billion fortune.
A formidable basket
“He is informal, open, and always returns the call,” describes Dmitry Lisin’s acquaintance. According to another acquaintance, Vladimir Lisin’s heir “is meticulous like his father,” prefers modest business-class cars and drives himself, “lacks a weakness for show-offs and is 99% immersed in business.
Dmitry Lisin received his first experience in business in 2001. A twenty-year-old student at the London School of Economics, he set up an agency to provide financial and immigration services to students in Europe. Then he became involved in commercial real estate management. Forbes was unable to find out the details of these undertakings: Vladimir Lisin’s heir did not give an interview and confined himself to short answers, which he passed on through a representative.
Dmitry’s first job in his father’s business empire was with the management company Rumelko. A former employee of the company describes it as “a basket for Lisin’s personal assets” to which all non-core assets were transferred before the IPO of Novolipetsk Steel (NLMK; Vladimir Lisin’s main asset) in 2005: from ports to shooting clubs (both Lisins are keen hunters).
Dmitry joined Rumelko in 2006 and in four years worked his way up from asset management consultant to strategic planning director. He did not specify the projects he was involved in, but noted that he “had the opportunity to get information quickly and get into details in all areas – banking, real estate, metallurgy, transport, engineering, sports”.
In the 2000s, Rumelko was a “formidable force” that “was taken into account within the Lisin empire,” recalls a former employee of the company: its managers were directly involved in managing assets as members of their boards of directors. Dmitry Lisin made his debut in this capacity in 2008, when a Rumelco private equity expert took the director’s chair at Rumedia Media Holding.
Hearing aid or digest
Vladimir Lisin took Vladimir Putin’s accession to power with enthusiasm. In order to play a more active role at the federal level, the billionaire needed a mouthpiece, says Raf Shakirov, former editor-in-chief of Gazeta newspaper. That newspaper was Lisin’s first serious media asset.
According to Shakirov, Lisin invested over $5 million to launch Gazeta in 2001. While the first two years were “a period of absolutely free work,” in the third year Lisin began to visit the editorial office “almost every night,” recalls the ex-CEO: he came after the issue was finished and was up until 2-3 in the morning talking “about life, politics, and the need to develop the economy. He had some free time after the end of the corporate wars, and “nostalgic memories didn’t leave him”, Shakirov reasoned: at one time Lisin used to publish a student newspaper and make up cartoons for it.
Soon his interest in his own media cooled down. According to Shakirov, his hopes of joining the inner circle of the new president did not come true. A source close to Rumedia opposes this point: Lisin saw in Gazeta first of all a business, and the publication “never made it to the big time. Then he switched his son, who worked as an expert in Rumelko’s private equity department, to the newspaper. “Gave him a chance to practice on kittens,” the former Gazeta media manager said ironically.
Dmitry Lisin was primarily interested in the development of the Gazeta website. Like his father, Dmitry was full of ideas, recalls a source close to Rumedia: “But not everyone accepted them. Lisin’s eldest son wanted to turn the site into a ‘digest,’ recalls a former Gazeta media manager: not to produce his own content, but to collect it from all possible resources and reprint it. “The editorial board was skeptical about the idea,” the source notes.
Dmitry behaved “generally politely,” but “it is impossible to change his mind”: he is sure “that he knows everything better than anyone else,” he shares his impressions. Faced with opposition from journalists and media managers, Lisin “quickly lost interest in the project and took an active part in shutting it down,” recalls one eyewitness to those events. In 2010 the printed version of Gazeta stopped being published, and the following year the website was shut down. By that time, Dmitri became involved in another media project.
Radio for the oligarch
In July 2009, Vladimir Lisin was elected president of the European Rifle Confederation. Not the most typical news for business radio, which was aired by Business FM, hardly attracted the attention of the listeners. But the station’s editor-in-chief, Dmitri Solopov, clearly caught the wind of change in the message. A month earlier, it was reported that Vladimir Lisin was buying United Media holding (Business FM is his main asset) from businessman Arkady Gaidamak and top management for $23.5 million. The new owner, without Solopov’s knowledge, appointed him new deputies, who have already begun to change the ideology of the station, he wrote.
Lisin, like any oligarch, wanted his own media company, but he had “an extremely bad experience,” admits one of the people involved in the deal. Everything worked out well with Business FM, says a source close to Rumedia: “It was a very successful format: it fed itself, and it didn’t require any special investment. By buying the radio station, Lisin not only got a profitable media outlet, but also a safe one, says one of the people involved in the deal: “The station is neutral. The way the airwaves are structured, you can’t say it’s on anybody’s side.”
Lisin’s eldest son was actively involved in the negotiations with Gaidamak, according to two of the participants: “The story was given to him.” According to one of the sources, Dmitry was particularly involved in the price discussions. In particular, he insisted on a “security deposit” – a deferred payment of about 15% of the transaction amount in case “the company has problems.”
Dmitry made a good impression on the negotiators. One of the interlocutors of Forbes still remembers that the configuration of his Lexus was simpler than that of one of the founders of Business FM Yegor Altman.
This time, the Lisin’s behaved as tactfully as possible, says a former employee of Business FM: “They were very proud to have this asset. The new owners concentrated on cost optimization and expansion of the broadcasting network. At the same time, “they didn’t change anything at all, not even the design. Such a strategy was “a salvation for the project,” the interlocutor said confidently.
Dmitriy himself says that at Rumedia he supervises “operational, social, and financial issues. Not a single board of directors can do without him, according to a source at the media holding. Lisin Jr. is not only involved in strategic matters, but also gets into details, “down to the way the site looks, how convenient and inconvenient it is”.
Dmitry also keeps an eye on the radio station’s airwaves, notes an acquaintance. In particular, he monitors the quality of the experts he uses for commentary. It can get heated: “This man has a reputation as a clown, and you invite him!”