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The Man Who Once Sold Plastic Dolls in Moscow is Among the World’s Richest People Now

P C Vinoj Kumar| 18 Sep 2017, Vol 8 Issue 33

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who is the owner of UK’s Chelsea Football Club, rarely speaks to the media. According to Forbes, Abramovich's current net worth is $ 9.7 billion (approximately Rs 62,080 crore) and he holds stakes in Evraz, a steel and mining company, and Norilsk Nickel, a nickel and palladium company.

Until 2003 when he purchased Chelsea from Ken Bates in a deal reportedly worth £140 million, Abramovich, 50, was little known outside Russia.

Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club in 2003 (Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/ Brian Minkoff-London Pixels published under Creative Commons   Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)


He was born to Jewish parents in Russia and is believed to have made his fortune seizing the opportunity offered by the Russian government’s decision to privatize state-owned assets during the 1990s.

For sure he had humble beginnings, and was into several small businesses, including one where he was selling plastic dolls in Moscow during the 1980s, before he created his wealth in the oil industry, and later ventured into a range of other businesses including meat processing.

Abramovich managed to stay in the good books of Vladimir Putin, who became the Prime Minister in 1999 and took on the oligarchs for interfering in the affairs of the government. Those who rubbed Putin on the wrong side paid a heavy price and their businesses suffered.

But Abramovich had no problem with Putin and he kept selling off his stakes in companies that he owned and investing in new ventures, making more money in the process. In 2005, he sold his stakes in the oil company Sibneft to the state-owned Gazprom for £7.4 billion and it was then speculated that he had become the 11th richest person in the world.

According to Forbes, his net worth stood at $23.5 billion in 2008

In the book ‘Abramovich, The billionaire from nowhere’ authors Dominic Midgley and Chris Hutchins, have told Roman Abramovich’s story by speaking to several people known to him.

Abramovich lost both his parents before he turned three. His mother Irina Abramovich died after a botched back-street abortion on the eve of his first birthday and his father Arkady who was working in a construction company died due to injuries sustained in an accident at a building site a couple of years later.

Abramovich purchased Chelsea from Ken Bates in a deal reportedly worth £140 million (Photo Courtesy; Wikimedia Commons/ John Dobson published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License)


He grew up under the care of his uncle in Moscow, where he finished his schooling, and later served in the army for two years.

Then, he got into business. Initially, he used to buy luxury items like cigarettes and designer jeans and sell them to his friends in faraway Ukhta for profit. Later, he founded a doll-making company and started making around 3,000 to 4,000 roubles a month.

He is believed to have tried his hand in several businesses around this period when market reforms were being introduced in the Russian economy, but his business took off big time only after he got into oil trading.

In the 1990s, Abramovich became friends with President Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, who had by then emerged as a powerful personality at the Kremlin and had her father’s ear.

By the late nineties the media got to know about Abramovich’s connections, but he remained so elusive that the press did not have a photo of him and used to carry only sketches of him until one of the newspapers offered a prize of one million roubles for his photograph and got one.

Between 2000 and 2008, Abramovich served as the governor of Chukotka, a remote Russian province with a tiny population of less than a lakh, where he reportedly spent millions of dollars of his own money in improving infrastructure and building hospitals and schools.

On the personal front, Abramovich has been married three times, and his third marriage with Dasha Zhukova is also reportedly on the verge of a divorce.

This Article is Part of the Series ‘World’s Biggest Entrepreneurs’

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