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    Mikhail Khodorkovsky | 22 Jan 2007

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky was born in Moscow into a working-class family on June 26, 1963. His parents were chemical engineers and spent their whole working lives at the Kalibr factory. Their income was low, so they lived in communal housing until 1971, when they were able to save enough money to buy an apartment of their own.

    From childhood onwards Mikhail showed a flair for chemistry. He graduated from a school specializing in chemistry, and in 1981 he enrolled in the Mendeleev Chemical Engineering Institute. Since family money was tight, and he thought it unacceptable to be supported by his parents, he started moonlighting as a carpenter in a housing cooperative from his first year at university on. This didnt stop him shining at chemistry — throughout his whole student career he always came top. But in spite of his excellence and his work in Komsomol (Communist Youth League), he was disappointed with the job he was offered after he graduated from the university. Because of the notorious fifth point (Mikhail Khodorkovskys father is Jewish), he couldnt get work in a scientific research institute specializing in anything matching his interests.

    Though he realized that his chances of building a scientific career in the USSR were limited, he didnt lose heart. By this time he had married Elena, a fellow-student, and had a small son. So he had to put making a living ahead of personal ambition.

    He became interested in the new opportunities that perestroika had opened up to enterprising and energetic young people; and it occurred to him that use could be made of innovative scientific and technical projects that were being shelved at that time because of red tape. He decided to get involved in gearing new inventions and applications of this sort to production. So in 1987 he set up the Centre for Scientific and Technical Youth while taking courses, characteristically, at the Plekhanov Institute of Agriculture. The Centre fast became an effective and successful organization, a bridge between producers — who badly needed new technologies — and fundamental science.

    In 1989, the Centres earnings became the basis for the foundation of one of the first commercial banks in Russia, Bank Menatep. It was an auspicious time for the banking sector, both state and commercial — loans were in demand. The bank played an active part in a number of state programmes — it was one of the authorized banks, for example, of the state-owned Rosvooruzhenie company. Mikhail Khodorkovsky worked day and night. During this time he met the woman who was to become his second wife — she worked as a currency-trading expert at the bank. In 1991, Inna gave birth to his second child — a daughter, Nastya.

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky soon realized that Russias future depended a great deal more heavily on industry rather than on banks. Russian industry at the time, though, was in a shambolic state. State companies, shorn of investment and without competent management, were being looted. Workers werent being paid their salaries for months on end; and machinery was fast becoming obsolete. The state was desperate to attract private capital to bring loss-making enterprises into profit. But businessmen were loath to take on Soviet industrial giants crippled with enormous debts both to their workers and to the central budget.

    1992 was a watershed year for Mikhail Khodorkovsky. For in October of that year, the board of Bank Menatep decided to change direction, to move from straightforward banking towards the creation of an industrial group. In 1994-1995, then, it actively involved itself in investment tenders and acquired stakes in a number of major industrial enterprises: Apatit, Voskresenskie Fertilizers, Uralelektromed, the Sredneuralsky and Kirovogradsky copper smelters, the Ust-Ilimsky timber factory, Avisma and the Volzhsky Pipe plant. In 1995, the state decided as part of a loans-for-shares deal to auction off a major stake in a state-owned oil company called Yukos. There were two reasons for this: a systemic crisis involving the entire Russian oil industry, and a lack of money in the Russian treasury.

    By 1995 Yukos had become a loss-making company with an enormous amount of debt, constantly plummeting production-rates and outdated equipment. The companys scattered divisions were bracing themselves for threatened strikes in protest at a 6-month hiatus in the payment of wages. The state invited any and all major financial structures to take part in the auction. But apart from Bank Menatep, none of them showed any interest in Yukos — some didnt want to invest in a company that was plainly broke, while others were unable to raise enough money for a loan to the state. As a result, with a bid of $350 million of borrowed money, Menatep took control of 78% of Yukos shares.

    Khodorkovsky was well aware of what a risk he was taking. To get Yukos out of the hole would take not only all Menateps funds but also whatever it could borrow from other banks. The companys plight also called for detailed research into what was going on in every division.

    After the first trip, though, to Nefteyugansk, one of Yukoss main sites, Khodorkovsky understood that hed made the right decision. The ruination, the desperate mood of the workers and the atmosphere of utter despair shocked him. He realized that he had a moral duty to turn the situation around.

    It took him 6 years. Through all these years he dedicated himself to the company full-time, and gave up the banking side. He came to terms with the government on debt restructuring, attracted investment secured on nothing more than his own impeccable reputation, and conducted share offerings to finance the payment of back-wages and back-taxes. By 2003 Yukos had been transformed from a loss-making company into a world-leader in the energy market, with an estimated capitalization of $40 billion.

    At this point his interest began to fade. As a businessman he had already proved everything to himself and others. Mikhail Khodorkovsky began to be more and more absorbed in the problems of ordinary Russians, particularly of young people. As the father of four children (twins Gleb and Ilya had been born in 1999), he well understood how important it was for talented young people in Russias towns and villages to get a chance of higher education. He was also well aware that Russias young people are its most important and valuable resource. In 2001, then, he started the Open Russia foundation, to fund projects in the fields of culture, education and the development of the countrys intellectual potential. He intended in time to hand over the running of Yukos to his colleagues and to dedicate himself entirely to the foundation.

    On October 25 2003, he was arrested in Novosibirsk by masked FSB operatives who stormed his private jet, and was accused of having broken the law in the privatization of Apatit in 1994. After his arrest, Mikhail Khodorkovsky resigned as the CEO of Yukos, not wanting his detention to affect thousands of Yukos employees.

    In March 2004, Vedomosti published an article called The Crisis of Liberalism in Russia, which Khodorkovsky had passed to it via his lawyers. The article caused a considerable stir and started a debate on Russias future social development.

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky press-centre: http://khodorkovsky.info/


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