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Feature Story December 24, 2004
 
EXILE magazine's Person of the Year
When Mini Means Maximum Success
 
Page 2 of 3
 
Strange behavior, you might think? That's if you don't know Russia. Minibayev is actually rewriting the books on corporate leadership in Russia, and soon, don't be surprised if Wharton and HBS begin teaching seminars on the "BaiFaG Way." Indeed, history shows that whenever new management strategies such as Minibayev's are employed, pundits and entrenched interests always resist.

"You can't just pretend that you're not home, or that you're sick, in order to avoid answering questions," frowned one typical skeptic.

Or can you?

The proof is in the pudding. Black, viscous, sulfur-heavy pudding, that is. For today, Igor Minibayev takes his rightful place beside the global economy's oil heavyweights like British Petroleum's Sir John Brown, ExxonMobil's Lee Raymond, and even Thamir Gadhban, interim head of the Iraqi Oil Ministry. And no matter what people say, in the end, the man responsible for Minibayev's overnight success is none other than Mister BaiFaG himself, Igor Minibayev.

EXILE magazine managed to squeak an exclusive interview with Minibayev, by posing as black market door-to-door salesmen for pricey Swiss watches. Not a man who likes to be taken off-guard, Minibayev was nevertheless visibly thrilled when he learned that he was named our magazine's prestigious "Man of the Year."

"What does that mean?" he asked. "Who put you up to that? Who paid for it?" And with that, a visibly shaken, pale Minibayev stormed out, and the interview was at an end.

Here we caught a rare glimpse of the man at work, asking the tough questions and taking a page out of Andy Grove's "only the paranoid survive" tactic, adopting it to the local conditions -- this is Minibayev's genius at work.

This brief interview was the first one ever given to any Western news organization, but we were left unsatisfied. We wanted to know, what really drove Minibayev to become the overnight oil tycoon? Why is he Mister BaiFaG and not someone else, when there are so many other potential Mister BaiFaGs who populate the murky world of Russian oil business? Could we meet his mother and ask her what his childhood was like? How about his teachers? Was he a good student? Was there a crisis in Minibayev's personal life that led him to strive for the stars?

EXILE managed to procure one more interview with Minibayev, this time at the exclusive "Solyut" sanitarium complex 80 miles southwest of Moscow. We met him in a banya, where he was naked, alone, and wearing a hat made out of an old issue of Argumenti i Fakti. EXILE picked up a birch branch, and began vigorously whipping Mister BaiFaG's back.

So, has he changed much as a person since Sunday night? "I haven't really had a chance to reflect much on that," said Minibayev. "This is my first banya since November, can you imagine that? I've been so busy trying to filter phone calls, working on documents, protocols. I've had to get a stamp, a new stamp, for BaikalFinansGroup. Do you know, it is not so easy procuring a stamp these days." True, but perhaps if you're the new Viktor Chernomyrdin of the Russian oil industry, a stamp could probably be speeded up a bit. "You might be right," he laughed. "I suppose it'll all sink in over the holidays."

As he says this Minibayev faces an uncertain future. His company, like amazon.com, is said to be playing a dangerous financing game, with a deadline due to come up with the $9 billion for Yugansk. Western legal experts and government officials slammed the auctions as grossly rigged, but Minibayev is not afraid. "Sure my tactics have drawn some fire, but that's what happens when you make bold decisions. Besides, many of those critics, those who express their negative opinions in this country, will soon develop large pustules on their faces, so they will have other things to worry about." He did not elaborate.

Indeed, Minibayev's strategy is paying off handsomely. Already there is a tussle in the world of high Russian oil and politics, while Minibayev, like a suitor, awaits the highest bidder. By some estimates, notably Deutsche Bank's, his new acquisition's value is already twice what he paid. Gazprom is already divesting itself of Gazprom-neftegaz; Surgutneftegaz, the company where until a few days ago he was signing papers and organizing important functions, now answers to him as an equal; and even the Kremlin is not sure what to do with BaiFaG, although President Putin did say of Minibayev, "He is private businessman...who has been active in the energy sector for many years." Indeed, for more than 15 years Minibayev has been organizing functions and meetings, arranging protocol, stamping documents and quietly gathering hard-won know-how at Surgut, giving him the kind of expertise in the global oil business that puts him well ahead of the curve where Sir John Brown and other oil tycoons started at.


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