Mikhail Fridman: I steered clear of politics because I am Jewish


Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman has revealed how he avoided pursuing a career in politics because of his Jewish identity.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Fridman, who is worth an estimated £10.2 billion, opened up about his family background, his decision to steer clear of politics and how he celebrated business deals with fellow Jewish oligarchs in the Negev.

Ranked in 63rd place on Forbes’ world billionaires list, the 51-year-old made his fortune in the oil, banking and telecom industries.

Now based in London, the Russian citizen was born in the Ukrainian city of Lviv in 1964 before moving to Moscow in the 1980s. In 1998 he set up a successful window washing business by employing fellow university students. He earned Rbs 1,000 a month – seven times his official salary as an engineer at the time.

Mr Fridman said his earnings made his Jewish mother anxious, explaining: “In her mind it was impossible to make Rbs 1,000 legally.

“She said: ‘You must stop this immediately or you will end up in prison’.”

One year later, he went on to form the Alfa Group, which was to become one of Russia’s biggest conglomerates, with interests in the telecoms, banking, retail and oil sectors.

With wealth came power – but Mr Fridman said his mother stepped in again, advising him to not pursue politics as a Jew.

He recalled consciously avoiding power because of his background, explaining: “My mother always said: ‘With your name you shouldn’t be in government.”

Mr Fridman, a father of four, recalled the moment he and his partners sold their 50 per cent stake in oil producer TNK-BP (which he originally bought in 1997 with tycoons Len Blavatnik and Viktor Vekselberg for $800m) to Russia’s state-owned energy group for $28bn in 2013. Joined by fellow Russian Jewish billionaire friends, he celebrated the sale with a three-day pilgrimage through the Israeli desert on camels.

Mr Fridman said: “To be successful in business, you don’t have to be smart, but you do have to be lucky.”

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