After a 90 year hiatus, we were only the second Russian company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and the first one in Russia’s new era.
For the first time there was the Russian flag on Wall Street, along with the flag of Bee Line. Tears in our eyes…
In the second photo you see a solemn moment before the start of trade. From left to right: Valery Goldin, myself, William (Billy) Johnston – the president and CEO of the Exchange, and Augie Fabela.
Valery Pavlovich Goldin. A member of the intelligentsia in the highest sense of the word. He and I got interested in cellular telecommunications at the same time, back in 1991, when we had some contacts with the American cell phone company Cellular. Remember? – I wrote about it in a previous chapter. He was working in the Technical Information Department at RTI, and at first he came to work as an interpreter. He’s been at VympelCom from its very inception, and probably will soon be named the company veteran with most years of service. All this time he served as vice-president of International Investors Relations (his title would change slightly over the years). Here he is in this picture, in the first row, overlooking the biggest arena of investors in the world. He is a long-time friend and, simply out of habit, he also served as my interpreter – the only one I trust fully. I always had confidence in the correctness and precision of his translations, and I also could count on his leaving out or paraphrasing any of my slips of the tongue.
He is the only one out of hundreds of colleagues in our company who is IDEAL for his position. He was made for the position of vice-president of International Investors Relations at VympelCom – by the Almighty. There is no rational explanation for such a perfect fit. And I have trouble imagining Valery doing any other job. Having known him for years, I often come up blank trying to brainstorm ideas for work at business meals. He probably is no angel (although, who knows), but he doesn’t have any shortcomings that I can think of. Goldin would have to be tested at some other job for any shortcomings to become apparent. But that’s impossible.
Gradually Valery somehow became my closest friend in the company; I kept almost no secrets from him and often sought his advice. With Valery’s help I also developed a close and confidential relationship with Augie Fabela. This appears surprising at first glance, given our age difference and everything else.
Augie is the president of the VympelCom Board of Directors, the inspiration and the driving force behind putting the company on the Stock Exchange. Augie and I are holding our gifts – the famous symbols of the stock exchange, the little statues of a bull and a bear fighting each other.
In the background of one of the upper photos, the one with me and the president of the Stock Exchange, you can see the gift we brought: a Gzhel tea service with a samovar. This is only the second such Russian souvenir presented to the Stock Exchange in its entire history. The first one – a large Faberge vase – was presented by the czar Nicholas II at the turn of the 20th century on the occasion of the listing of the first Russian company on the Exchange. That company helped build the Trans-Siberian railroad.
It’s hard not having your picture taken in front of such an important memento. In the photo, from left to right are: Valery Pavlovich Goldin, my wife Maya Pavlovna and yours truly.
Fabela discussed the idea of listing the company on the exchange with Valery Goldin and me for the first time in January, 1996 at dinner in the pizzeria on Tverskaya, an occasion we have since branded “historic.” In order to pull it off, it was first necessary to merge into a single company – VympelCom – the many cellular telecom businesses scattered among several companies under my control (KB Impulse, Sota, MoCom, MacroCom, etc. I might have missed some). The separate companies came about partly due to happenstance, and partly due to my recent inclination to not put all my eggs in one basket, in an effort to protect the businesses from the ill-advised actions of certain shareholders I may have made the mistake of inviting into the company.
The suggestion to bring the businesses under one umbrella and take them to the stock exchange appealed to all the shareholders in each of the companies, since the value of their shares would grow considerably. I would continue to hold a controlling interest.
By the way, one of the companies VympelCom absorbed – Macrocom – so named as a way to neutralize a competitor at the time, Millicom. Millicom, jointly held by eye doctor Svyatoslav Fyodorov and someone else, owned MSS, the biggest carrier at the time. In 1993, RTI, our former dear home, attempted to sell its share in the newborn VympelCom to Millicom. The sale went through, but not to Millicom; it went to AFK System – that is, to V.P. Yevtushenkov. It didn’t even go for a very high price: about 1% of half of what the shares were worth two years later, when V.P. Yevtushenkov sold it to Fabela. At the same time we were blocking a deal with Millicom, we were encouraging a deal with AFK; the management of our dear RTI turned out to be quite inadequate shareholders.
I kept a photo in my archive of a session of the Board of Directors after the deal went through when the position of the president of the Board of Directors was passed from the director of RTI, Victor Sloka, (he’s the one beaming) to the AFK System representative Georgy Vasilyev (he’s in the middle). Georgy would soon play a positive role in the fate of the company.
This session took place in a cozy mansion on Ulitsa Ryleeva, now know by its old name, Gagarinsky Pereulok. The mansion belonged to a company called Rosiko; Georgy was its Director at the time. Of course, both the mansion and the company belonged to System. Soon enough the headquarters of Rosiko moved to RTI, under a new director, Lyonia Shekhtman. A curious personality – it’s hard to tell everyone’s tale, however. But Rosiko might yet come up in our story…
About ten years later I happened upon this little mansion again. It was for sale, and I was in the market for a home or office in this part of Moscow because it appealed to me so much. For some reason the mansion seemed less cozy to me this time around, and I didn’t buy it.
In the winter of 1995, AFK sold a half of its shares to Fabela, – for a respectable sum. By that time Fabela had figured out that his Euronet wouldn’t be able to function as an independent business in Russia. Euronet was founded virtually at the same time as VympelCom. As I’ve already mentioned, initially VympelCom was meant to deal only with the engineering, and Euronet with the service side. This never came to pass, nor could it have. The liquidation of Euronet and the purchase of VympelCom’s share from V.P. were very brave steps for Fabela. He and I and the company were in luck. After that, Fabela became president of the Board of Directors of VympelCom and lead the way, turning the company into an open and publicly traded venture.
So, during the almost ten years I was president of VympelCom, from the moment it was founded until my resignation in 2001, the company had three presidents of the Board of Directors: Sloka, Vasilyev and Fabela. Augie Fabela upon his resignation was nominated “Co-founder and Honorary President of the Board of Directors,” and deservedly so.