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Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Vladimir Lisin tames Russian metal sector

METEORIC Rising from the post of electrician at a Siberian coal mine to second-richest man in Russia, Novolipetsk's Lisin has quietly and calculatedly built himself an empire


For decades Vladimir Lisin has maneuvered his way through the scandal-prone Russian metals sector, building a vast fortune and this month securing a badge of res-pectability increasingly sought by Russian firms: a listing of his Novolipetsk steel firm on the London Stock Exchange.

The 49-year-old "oligarch" -- a term applied to the super-rich who made fortunes amid the ruins of the Soviet Union -- has mostly managed to keep a low profile during his rise from the post of electrician at a coal mine in Siberia's Kuzbass region.

But his naming last March by US magazine Forbes as Russia's second-richest man, with an estimated fortune of about US$7 billion, suggested he was unlikely to stay out of the public eye for long.

It was followed by revelations in Britain's Scotland on Sunday newspaper this month about the 1,600 hectare 16th century Aberuchill Castle and hunting estate he had reportedly bought for ?6.8 million (US$12 million).

Lisin is one of the "good oligarchs," along with Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, who the Kremlin has allowed to increase their wealth in exchange for their staying loyal.

Yulia Latynina, a journalist familiar with Russia's business elite, said Lisin's "extremely prudent" and "extremely loyal to the authorities."

Last week's initial public offering of 7 percent of his 90 percent-stake in Novolipetsk raised US$609 million.

As well as raising capital it would "increase the liquidity of the stock and raise the company's international standing," the company said ahead of the floatation.

Another reason may be for Lisin to cash in some of his personal fortune at a time when the state has increasingly been on the prowl, looking to take over the business empires of Russia's mega-rich.

The "oligarchs" need only look at the sentencing of Yukos oil-company founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky in May for embezzlement and fraud -- a ruling widely seen as politically motivated -- to be reminded of the risks of standing out from the crowd.

Lisin, a native of the industrial town of Ivanovo near Moscow, studied engineering and at the age of 33 became deputy head of the giant Karaganda steel plant in Kazakhstan, which was later to become part of the world's No. 1 producer, Mittal Steel.

He returned to Moscow in 1991 and quickly got ahead in a business environment where the Soviet rule-book had been torn up.

He secured a managerial role at TransWorld Group, a company whose methods prompted regular critical attention from the Russian press.

Gradually, Lisin also built up stock in Novolipetsk, fighting off challenges from former TransWorld colleagues and the Interros holding of rival oligarch Vladimir Potanin.

By 2000 he was the majority shareholder and had almost exclusive control of the company.

While others were buying luxury cars or villas in France, "we thought it was time to buy up shares" in the metals sector, he told the Kompaniya magazine.

Novolipetsk is now Russia's fourth-largest steelmaker, working throughout the production chain, from mineral extraction to port operations in Saint Petersburg and the Black Sea port of Tuapse.

Lisin is married with three children. He lists marksmanship as one of his hobbies and heads a shooting association.

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