Posts Tagged ‘Russian’

Sergey Petrov – Russian Billionaire, Automotive Oligarch and Prisoner of the KGB

January 12th, 2021

I recently had the opportunity to interview Sergey Petrov, Deputy of the State Duma, and member of the “Spravedlivaya Rossiya” (A Just Russia) political party, member of the Russian Budget and Taxes State Duma Committee and the founder of the ROLF Group, the first diversified automotive business in Russia.

Sergey Petrov is an exception to the rule: a Russian billionaire who built his business from nothing as opposed to benefiting from the privatisations in the early 1990′s. An independent straight talker, with a remarkable personal history; he reflects the changes and turbulent times of post and pre Soviet – Russia.

He is a pragmatic and passionate about his country and a vociferous critic of the status quo in Russian politics; and of Russia’s leaders.

Graduating from school in 1971 he entered the Higher Military Aviation School in Orenburg, southern Russia. In 1975 he was commissioned and qualified as a pilot in the elite Soviet Strategic Air Force. Flying Tupolev Tu-16 BADGER aircraft, a twin- engine, strategic nuclear bomber, he often challenged NATO skies.

“I remember these days, flying the big planes and making the (NATO) fighters accompany us” recalled Sergey.

Retraining on fighter aircraft he became an Instructor, won the Soviet TOP GUN at Fighter School, Orenburg and looked set for a meteoric military career as he made Major at 26, a decade earlier than most of his peers. And, like a meteor, his career in the military crashed.

He recalled “It was in 1982 when I finished my military career as I fought against the KGB and the Communist Party.”

Whilst it became possible to challenge authority in the Soviet Union in the early 1990′s the earlier era of Brezhnev and Andropov (1964 to 1985) were a different case entirely. Soviet justice was swift and severe. Andropov, the former KGB leader who led the Soviet Union between 1982 and 1985, was a hard liner whom played a key role in crushing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956; the ring leaders were arrested and executed.

In 1982, if you were not part of the ‘system’, it was an intimidating environment.

“The KGB had been watching us and decided to bring us into custody. Not only me, but 12 colleagues as well, living in different cities as we had now scattered across the Soviet Union”.

Sergey Petrov had started his protest against the ruling Communist Party at the age of 21 and had tried to influence his colleagues and students highlighting the injustice of the system.

“I had many targets and goals. I had to teach the students to fly the aircraft, to hit the targets and to indoctrinate them with Soviet propaganda. No one asked me to fight against the Soviet system. It was not in my job description. It was why they decided to kick me out.”

By 1982 his war of ‘propaganda’ had been noticed and he was dismissed from the Soviet Army and expelled from The Communist Party of the Soviet Union for anti-Soviet propaganda and participation in secret democratic organizations.

Unable to find work in Orenburg, Petrov along with his wife and baby, made their way to Moscow. Petrov’s anti- Soviet activities precluded him from working for any elite organisations like the military, security or diplomatic corps.

Between 1982 and 1989 he worked for the Mosinzhstroy, the Moscow construction company and studied at the Soviet Trade Institute. He graduated in 1987.

“When the market economy became a reality I decided to stop working for nothing and to open my own company. But first, as I had nothing I decided to acquire experience. I got a job in a joint venture with Rosek for a small period of time, maybe a year and a half and gained experience”.

In 1991, as the Soviet Union fell apart, Petrov joined thousands of Russians at the barricades around Bely Dom, the Russian White House, resisting the attempted coup d’état by Soviet hardliners loyal to the crumbling regime.

“On the day of the Coup I spent the night in the crowd outside the White House. It was my dream. I was dedicated to the democratic process, democratic rules and future”.

The coup attempt failed and led to the annulment of the 1922 union treaty that established the Soviet Union, led to the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the beginning of radical Russian economic reforms. The new reality for its citizens was a fight for survival in the new Russia.

“We were in an awful environment in the 1990′s but we had hope. Every year it was getting better and better.”

Sergey Petrov’s first foray into his own business was with a car rental business.

“I decided to set up my own company “Rolf”. The Company was registered on the 5th August 1991 but we had already been working in that year. A successful business, especially if you consider the unfriendly environment we had in Russia. In the beginning we worked for foreign companies. When we expanded into the home market, we immediately lost a lot of cars. People rented the cars and went to Kavkaz (to export them).”

He laughed as he recalled the situation.

“No one could find the cars. The people renting them had a good business!”

The business, sold off by MBO, still flourishes today.

Sergey moved into the automotive retail sector.

“Mitsubishi created a tender for its first car dealership in Russia. We participated and we won. We started the business and we were very successful. We had a very ‘soft’ approach with Mitsubishi, asking them to teach us. We were not arrogant, unlike the other participants in the tender process, who tried to teach the Japanese how to sell cars.

I remember the Japanese, in charge of the tender, losing his cool with the other participants. Leaning forward, he banged his hand on the table.

“Thank you very much! We shall not work with you”.

It was a very successful day for us”.