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Mikhail Prokhorov, the face of new Russia

By Niamh Miller

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The founder of ONEXIM Group and current owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, Mikhail Dmitrievitch Prokhorov began his life on the 3rd of May 1965 as the younger sibling of Tamara and Dmitri Prokhorov.

The family was quite renowned due to the maternal grandmother Anna Belkina who was a microbiologist and the paternal grandparents were wealthy farmers that got persecuted both under the Bolshevik regime and under Stalin, so his father grew up in a very poor environment since the family lost everything.

Dmitri trained as a lawyer working in international relations, as well as the head of the international department for the Soviet Sport Committee, and Tamara was an engineer at the Institute of Chemical Machine-Building. Both parents died from heart disease during their late 50s and Mikhail, who was then in his 20s, stayed in their flat with his sister Irina, who was divorced at the time, and her daughter.

Mikhail remembers that while he was in college he made money by selling acid-washed jeans through a laundry in Moscow, making more than 60 times the income of a Soviet engineer. Mikhail went to study at the Moscow Finance Institute and graduated in 1989, beginning to work as a manager at the International Bank for Economic Cooperation until 1992.

He then moved to the head of the Management Board of the MFK bank and to the United Export-Import Bank which was called Uneximbank or Onexim Bank. Here he worked with college friend Alexander Khloponin and Vladimir Potanin, who became his business partner.

At this time the bank was the largest commercial one in Russia and it began to make loans to the Russian government in exchange for liens on equity in the natural resources companies, a program that was called loans-for-shares.

He and Potanin joined forces in 1992 to run Interros, a holding company through which they purchased Norilsk Nickel in 1995. This was one of the largest nickel and palladium mining companies in the whole country and the privatization of the industries once the USSR collapsed allowed them to acquire shares from workers for a much lower price than their actual worth.

He took leadership of Norilsk Nickel and sold most of its non-mining assets, modernizing the mining operation with icebreakers to allow transport across the Arctic region, bringing a Finnish freighter into the company that improved transports. He invested a lot of money in pollution control but the mining areas are still highly risky and the gold-mining interests of the company were converted into the Polyus Gold Corporation, which became the largest gold producer in Russia, with a worth of $8.5 billion. The first international venture was acquired under his supervision in 2003 which was Stillwater Mining.

He left the company in 2007 and his share of the company was at the time worth $7.5 billion. When he sold the 25 percent stake he had in Norilsk Nickel this was the largest producer of nickel and palladium in the world. Oleg Deripaska got his shares and Mikhail received over $5 billion cash and 17 percent of the United Co. Rusal aluminum producer. This was after a scandal involving his arrest for arranging prostitutes for guests in a hotel in Courchevel but he was never charged and once the affair was over he and Potanin started to divide their assets.

He bought 27.1% stake in Uralkali for $4.9 billion in 2013 which is a potash fertilizer producer and exporter, the largest in Russia.

In May 2011 he announced his plan to become the leader of the Right Cause political party which he managed to accomplish at the Right Cause Party Congress of the same year. During his acceptance speech he criticized the ruling of Medvedev and Putin, presenting his views on how to put Rissia on a more stable development route but soon after he resigned from the Right Cause since he began to see it as a “puppet Kremlin party”. A few months later, in December 2011 he announced that he would run for president against Vladimir Putin as an independent and said at the time that this was “probably the most important decision of my life”.

His view was that Russia should improve its roads, railroad tracks, increase the standard of living to surpass USA, while on a foreign policy he through that closer trade with EU was the way to go, closing the current partnerships with the Central Asia zone since countries like Iran or Syria abuse human rights and are non-democratic. He only managed to get 7.94% of the vote and in June 2012 was elected as the leader of the Civic Platform Party.

Prokhorov has interests in the energy, finance and real estate fields, selling his stake (of 28 percent) in Polyus Gold and in Yo-auto which was developing the Yo-mobile, the first hybrid car made in Russia. He also is very interested in sports, being the president of the Russian Biathlon Union, supporting financially the CSKA Moscow basketball, hockey and football club and being a member in the Supreme Council of the Sport Russia organization.

Since 11 May 2010 he is the majority owner of the NBA Brooklyn Nets which was formerly located in New Jersey but was moved and he is also a minority partner in the Barclays Center. Mikhail is an avid freerider and freestyle jet skier, enjoying kickboxing as well. He sleeps only six hours a night and spends two hours exercising each day. He once said “I am addicted do sport. Without sport, I feel bad.” According to his statement he never drank vodka or cognac and he doesn’t use a mobile phone, two more qualities of the man that was considered the “most handsome billionaire” and “most eligible bachelor in the world” (he was never married).

His charitable actions are of all sorts, and in an interview he remembered that while at a party in Kiev a girl there said she had no money to get a taxi and he gave her a stack of dollars with which she later bought an apartment. He owns two private hospitals in Israel and in March 2004 he founded the Cultural Initiatives Foundation as a part of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation, leaving his sister Irina in charge of it. The purpose of the larger foundation, created in the same year, is to encourage cultural awareness and enhance all aspects of life through culture, operating in the greater Norilsk area.

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About Niamh Miller

Niamh is a professional journalist that has been specializing in the jewelry and watches industry since the early 2000s. He’s been with Luxatic for more than five years now, and before that he worked as a contributor to GQ and Esquire and he’s also done his magic for Watches You Can Afford.

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