For proving that hard work and innovative leadership pays, for taking the initiative to become one of the world's leading oil tycoons last Sunday despite being nothing more than an administrative manager only two days earlier, and for single-handedly defeating Russia's largest company, Gazprom, in an auction dubbed the "sale of the century," Igor Minibayev, the "face of BaikalFinansGroup," is EXILE's 2004 Man of the Year.
By Nancy Hibbs and John F. Dickerdaughter
A new tycoon introduces himself: Igor Minigayev (left), "Mr. BaiFaG" comes out
Take a ride to the headquarters of the hottest new multi-billion dollar company in Russia, BaikalFinansGroup, and you'll be in for a surprise. Instead of the swank, flashy, garish offices that have become common in oil-rich Moscow, offices which by their nature breed imperiousness and a stifling bureaucracy, the headquarters of BaikalFinansGroup is marked by broken windows and a barren, boarded up floor located above a disco and a produkty store, deep in a provincial town called Tver. It's no accident. The low-key aesthetic goes hand in hand with the maverick corporate culture that rules Russia's newest player in the oil and gas industry. Tver is the heart of the real Russia; the company's headquarters, designed to conform to real heartland Russian tastes and realities, is a real Russian office. And the man behind BaikalFinansGroup is the face of the new Russian dynamism.
Igor Minibayev, who boldly represented "BaiFaG" (the trendy new moniker for Russia's hottest new success story) at Sunday's auction, snatched a surprise victory from the jaws of gas -- or rather, gaz. As in Gazprom, the largest and most strategically important company in the Russian Federation.
BaiFaG's successful $9 billion-plus-change bid for Yuganskneftegaz was so remarkable that it shocked even the very Russian government authorities who oversaw the event. Now, BaiFaG looks set to become one of the world's largest players in the oil production business.
So who is Igor Minibayev, the new oil tycoon whom some are already dubbing "Mister BaiFaG"? At the auction where he propelled himself to world fame -- indeed, the last time anyone saw him -- Minibayev was wearing a stylish brown suit with double side pockets tailored in the patriotic style, with a simple white dress shirt and purple striped tie. Like his taste in clothing, Minibayev is officious, serious, low-key and setting a new example for how to do business in the Putin era. His personal style, like his tastes in office design and tailored suits, is so low-key that you might not even know he exists.
In fact, Minibayev is so low-key that it was impossible, literally, to reach him or his associates at the company. EXILE magazine tried several times to reach BaiFaG's corporate headquarters, but no one answered the telephone, except once, when an angry cleaning woman picked up the phone, yelled, and slammed it. There are no hierarchies at BaiFaG, as we were to learn -- decisions are made as in the days of ancient Novgorod, meaning that a cleaning woman might have just as much power over the fate of Yuganskneftegaz as her CEO. And that's the way Mister BaiFaG likes it.
Minibayev has clearly studied the art of shirking and ducking, which his mentor, Vladimir Putin, may have taught him via his Judo expertise. This would explain Minibayev's brilliant post-auction tactic of turning off his cell phones, and telling others connected to him that he had gone on vacation, along with all of the key staff. But he even went the extra mile: he told people to tell other people to tell everyone else, including journalists and analysts, that he was unavailable to take calls or give interviews, and instructed his associates at BaiFaG to do the same.