The story of how this came to be is as wild as it is extraordinary.
It’s not every day one encounters a modern-day billionaire who embodies the iconic allure of a fictional character, such as Bruce Wayne, combined with the astonishing fortune of a real-life tycoon. Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian magnate with a net worth of $13.5 billion, checks all those boxes and even offers more intrigue.
Prokhorov, best known internationally for his past ownership of the Brooklyn Nets – an NBA franchise he acquired for a paltry $223 million in 2013 alongside rapper Jay-Z before selling it for a staggering $3.5 billion in 2019 – is more than just a successful sports team owner. His diverse portfolio features an array of dreamy assets, including lavish mansions scattered globally, mega-yachts, an ultra-luxurious private jet, and an assortment of supermodel companions.
Adding a dash of political intrigue to his lifestyle, Prokhorov also ventured into the realm of politics, garnering a level of success contributing to his distinct billionaire persona. However, the most remarkable aspect of Prokhorov’s wealth is not the accumulated assets but the liquidity of his fortune. Unlike many of his counterparts, a substantial portion of Prokhorov’s wealth is in cash.
Prokhorov’s trajectory to becoming one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals began after he graduated from the Moscow Finance Institute in 1989. His ascent in finance was meteoric, with his career apex as the President of the United Export-Import Bank, also known as Onexim Bank. During this time, Prokhorov met his future business partner, Vladimir Potanin.
Potanin, having spent a decade cultivating solid relationships within the Kremlin and Moscow during his tenure in the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Foreign Trade, abandoned his governmental role as communism crumbled. Leveraging his government connections and Prokhorov’s financial acumen, the duo was well-placed to amass a considerable fortune in the privatization era.
In 1995, the Russian government announced the auction of one of its most prized assets, Norilsk Nickel, a mining conglomerate responsible for 25% of the world’s nickel production. Despite its revenue of $400 million annually and a theoretical value of $4 billion, the starting auction price was a mere $170 million. Prokhorov’s Onexim Bank was designated to oversee the auction and collect bids.
In an astonishing turn of events, Onexim Bank dismissed the highest bid of $355 million, leaving only Prokhorov and Potanin’s bid at $170.1 million. This fortunate outcome saw the duo acquire one of Russia’s most valuable companies for just a hair above the reserve price.
In the following decade, Norilsk Nickel thrived under Prokhorov’s stewardship, modernizing its equipment, diversifying into new regions, and discarding non-core assets. By 2007, annual revenues had surged to over $10 billion from $400 million, with profits soaring from $60 million to over $1.5 billion.
The company’s initial public offering was a golden goose for Prokhorov and Potanin, transforming them overnight into multi-billionaires. As the commodities market skyrocketed, so did Norilsk Nickel’s value, cementing the duo’s position among Russia’s wealthiest and most influential figures.
However, a scandalous turn of events in 2007 involving a private jet, Russian models, and an extravagant New Year celebration in a posh French resort led to Prokhorov’s arrest, sending shockwaves through the Russian business world. This scandal impeded Potanin from ousting his business partner, leading to Prokhorov’s complete divestiture of his stake in Norilsk Nickel for $10 billion.
This timing proved fortuitous for Prokhorov. The 2008 global economic collapse saw the world’s stock markets and global commodities crash, decimating the fortunes of many, including Potanin and the purchaser of Prokhorov’s Norilsk Nickel shares, Oleg Deripaska.
Fast-forward to the present day, Prokhorov’s distance from the Russian business sphere has shielded him from the sanctions and scrutiny befalling his compatriot oligarchs. While he may not be the wealthiest individual in Russia – a title currently held by Potanin – his liquid $13.5 billion sanction-free fortune arguably positions him as the most contented among his peers.
Intriguingly, none of these circumstances would exist today without the somewhat controversial events that transpired on a private jet during a New Year’s celebration 2007.