Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov gave his first interview in more than a decade to the Financial Times. He talked about his relationship with Putin and Abramovich, sanctions and heirs, parting with Arsenal and interest in a new club. Forbes recounts the most interesting part of the interview
The interview with Alisher Usmanov #7 was published in the Lunch with the FT column, in which our journalists talk to businessmen and top managers over lunch (sometimes, as was the case with Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, they order take-away food). Henry Foy, the FT’s Moscow bureau chief, met Usmanov at a hotel on Lake Tegernsee in the Bavarian Alps. The interview was nearly cancelled at the last minute. Usmanov cited a busy day and added: “Honestly, if you want to know everything about my life, we would need at least two bottles of vodka.”
The interview did take place – in a five-star hotel restaurant that mimicked a classic tavern with upholstered wood walls and waitresses in traditional Bavarian dresses, Foy describes. The combined Bavarian meal, which also included Usmanov’s interpreter, cost €288. More than a quarter of that amount (€62) went for vodka.
“Without vodka, what is this conversation?” – Usmanov explained. As Foy writes, the billionaire raised toasts “to friendship,” “to freedom of choice” and “to sports, friends and beautiful women.” Forbes retells the most interesting of the interview.
About Putin and relations with the authorities
When asked by a journalist whether Usmanov is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the billionaire said that he communicates with him, but has never received any personal assignments from him.
“He doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t need oligarchs, only a strong state,” Usmanov said of Putin. “I recognize the leader of the country of which I am a citizen. I respect him. I think he is the number one leader in the world today … But I never had anything to do with these so-called special assignments,” the billionaire stressed.
By special assignments, Usmanov was referring to claims by U.S. authorities that some Russian businessmen were acting on behalf of the Kremlin, the FT specifies. In January 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department submitted to Congress a so-called Kremlin report with a list of “high-ranking Russian officials and businessmen close to the Russian leadership.” This list included, among others, Alisher Usmanov.
Usmanov stresses that he cannot be called an “oligarch” – according to him, he in no way owes his wealth to the state, as he acquired his assets in the market and not in the process of privatization in the 1990s. “All the assets my partners and I bought in Russia, on the secondary market, it was not related to the so-called privatization process. No one ever gave me anything,” he said.
At the same time, the billionaire admits that the state often helped him. “All the time, since I started doing big business, large industrial assets, the authorities, the state have been very helpful and have never denied us anything,” the businessman explained.
Usmanov assured that he is not afraid of the imposition of sanctions against him, because in his life he has seen things worse, but admitted that if it happens, he “will be hurt.” “How can I be afraid of sanctions when I’ve faced much more serious things in my life? I don’t deserve them, so it will hurt if they come…I don’t interfere. I don’t interfere in any political issues,” he assured.
In 2014, after sanctions were imposed against Russia because of the annexation of Crimea, Usmanov reduced his stake in the USM holding, reducing it from 58% to 48%, which should save the company from negative influence in case personal sanctions are imposed on him.
According to the billionaire, it is wrong to apply political and military means to business. “Russia is a big country and in a sense it is a superpower. And it will fight for its place. And the sooner its partners understand this, the easier it will be for them to make a deal. I’m sure millions [of people] think like me,” he said.
On soccer, leaving Arsenal and the new club
In August 2018, the billionaire sold his 30 percent stake in Arsenal Football Club to billionaire Stephen Cronk, with whom he had fought for control of the club for years. “If we had worked together, we probably would have achieved a lot more. But the time will come, you know, for more success, and Arsenal fans will return to the stadium,” Usmanov commented.
According to the billionaire, leaving Arsenal was like saying goodbye to love. “And how to fight the old love? You have to find a new one,” he laughs. Such a new passion, according to the FT, could be for him the English club Everton, in which a controlling stake is owned by a partner and longtime friend of Usmanov, Farhad Moshiri. According to Usmanov, if offered, he would be happy to invest in the club.
“I am thinking about my investment in this club. I can’t give up Arsenal, I won’t leave it as a fan. But if I join Everton, I will wear its jersey because I am a professional,” he added.
Usmanov also does not rule out that he may invest in the construction of Everton’s stadium. According to the Financial Times, Usmanov helped lure Italian coach and former Real Madrid and Juventus coach Carlo Ancelotti to the club.
About the inheritance
The billionaire plans to divide his assets between his family and the executives of his companies. “Life is not eternal,” Usmanov says. – Many people helped me. So I want to help my family and my managers by giving them my shares.” In an interview with Forbes, he also told me that in the future he plans to give his stake to the company’s management rather than his children.
“Fifty percent to the family, fifty percent to the managers who, in my opinion, deserve it,” Usmanov shared his plans. – Everyone who is in a high position today will get theirs. It’s my nature. If fate has given you something, you have to share it.
Usmanov denies that the Kommersant Publishing House, which he owns, fired the paper’s political correspondents last year on the order of a shareholder. “I don’t do that now,” he says, calling the fired journalists “good. – Sometimes I give my opinion [to the editor] about articles or things like that.”
Foy notes that a journalist he knows was fired for an article about Usmanov. “Look, Kommersant often publishes rumors about me,” the billionaire replies. – [To believe them] is definitely not worth it. They are often wrong.