Billionaire Profile: Len Blavatnik

Len Blavatnik is a Russian-born entrepreneur who has amassed a considerable amount of wealth by having perfect timing and market insight during the years following the fall of the Soviet Union. During the mid to late 1980s, Blavatnik managed to channel the profits made from his global industrial company, Access Industries, into a long series of smart investments throughout Russia and other former Soviet territories just as it was becoming clear that the fall of Soviet Union was inevitable. Since that time, Blavatnik has expanded his holdings to gain sizable stakes in major producers of crude oil, aluminum, plastics and coal, as well some major investments in real estate and the media industry. Here is an inside look at where Blavatnik got his start and how he took advantage of his time and place to become one of the wealthiest men working in the free world today.

Although Blavatnik was raised in the former Soviet Union, he and his family emigrated to the United States in the late 1970s where he began building his empire as he furthered his business education at Columbia University and Harvard Business School. By 1986, he had founded Access Industries, an international industrial concern that focuses on developing long-term holdings in real estate, natural resources and telecommunications. Access Industries would soon become the primary source of revenue that provided Blavatnik with the resources to make the perfect investments in his home country once the time was right.

As Access Industries became more established, Blavatnik soon teamed up with a former classmate from his academic training by the name of Victor Vekselberg to identify the ideal investment opportunities presented by the crumbling of the Soviet Union. With the help of a third investor, Mikhail Fridman, they were able to gain control of a major oil company called TNK just as it was being privatized out of the Soviet government. In the years to come, they restructure TNK to form TNK-BP, arguably the most important Russian oil company in existence today.

Throughout this time, Access Industries and Blavatnik’s investment group, AAR, were busy snatching up other key Russian holdings, including a variety of aluminum producers. Over time, these producers were merged to form UC RUSAL, the largest aluminum producer on the planet. Today, Blavatnik serves as director of both UC RUSAL and TNK-BP, as well as a variety of other key Access Industries holdings.

What we can learn

The story of Blavatnik’s success has a number of lessons that today’s emerging entrepreneurs can learn from. First off, Blavatnik earned his foothold in the business community by earning business degrees from highly respected Western universities at the same time that he was building up his own business. Just as he was becoming established as a major player in his industry, he had the foresight to look outside the box and take advantage of global forces that were opening up once in a lifetime investment opportunities.