In Normandy in northwestern France, 10 minutes away from the famous Château Gabriel, there is a 19th century Neo-gothic house decorated with wooden logs brought from Siberia. The vintage windows are yellow, blue and white, The floor and low tables are covered with blankets and carpets of colors matching with the windows. Kitchen shelves and ceramic tiles on the walls also have a multi-color design.
Prominent French designer Yves Saint Laurent spent his last years in this house together with his partner Pierre Bergé. After his partner’s death, Bergé sold the house and kept part of the surrounding garden, where he still walks with his dog.
The 800 m² house was acquired by Russian businessman Siman Povarenkin in 2013 through the France-based company SCI Le Schateau for 9.6 million euros. Later he transferred the house ownership to another of his companies – Far Eastern Shipping Company (FESCO), which advertises international sea shipping services for any kind of cargo).
A chemistry department graduate of Omsk State University, Siman Povarenkin took his first steps in mining business in Georgia with local businessman Koba Nakopia. Povarenkin is currently listed in the 500 richest people of Russia.
“Siman Povarenkin? I think we wrote something about him around seven years ago,” is a typical response from business press editors in Omsk. The first steps of the Omsk billionaire can be tracked only in the libraries since most newspapers published in the 1990s have not yet been digitalized.
“He was one of the brightest bankers of those times, a high flier,” says Marat Isingazyn, the editor in chief of Omsk business-edition Коммерческие вести.
Коммерческие вести made up a list of the most influential businessmen of the Omsk region in the 90s. Povarenkin was never included in the list. How did the city’s journalists overlook the soon-to-be billionaire? Omsk is not the only city where the media is silent about him. They don’t write about Povarenkin in Moscow or in London – where he currently resides.
“Always on Top”
It’s not accidental that the coat of arms for Omsk, a city with a population of 1.1 million built at the confluence of two rivers in 1716, includes an image of a kerosene-filled flask. Oil production has always been the major occupation for the locals and everyone tried to get an education in a related field. Povarenkin applied to the faculty of Organic Chemistry. He studied at Omsk University 1987-1992. University mates still call him “Sima”.
We can notice the footprints of Sima’s influential father in his choice of profession – Victor Povarenkin was a well-off man in Omsk. Beginning his career as a stoker at the tire factory in Omsk, Victor Povarenkin became CEO by the age of 34. In 1994 the factory was privatized and reorganized as Omskshina OJSC. The son worked at the company for two years after graduation.
Siman Povarenkin immediately made himself memorable for university mates.
“It was the very first autumn of our studies. We were sent out to collect potatoes,” recalls one of them. “I remember how Sima climbed up on a pile of potatoes, held up a red flag, and commanded us with a broad smile on his face: ‘Come on, come on!’ He was standing on the pile and shouting, and we were carrying buckets of potatoes.”
Energetic and pro-active, Povarenkin always tried to charm everyone.
“I remember him as very communicative. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even notice him,” says another woman who studied with him. “He used to wear a blue coat and a silly pair of checked trousers,” says another female classmate.
After finishing his first year at the university, Povarenkin went into the military service and missed a year. But despite that break, Siman managed to graduate on time with his mates – Omsk State University accommodated his request.
Anna Medvedovskaya, who taught Povarenkin in a course on colloid chemistry, remembers him as having a “sharp mind, wonderful sense of humor and the ability to gather up and organize other students”. Professor of non-organic chemistry Valery Munikh can still remember that Povarenkin was a remarkable DJ at the university and would “rock it real hard as a DJ at student parties” on weekends.
His sense of humor and sociability didn’t help that much in establishing friendships. His mates blame this on the hungry 1990s. ‘We lived in constant need of money; there was little time for student parties,” one girl explained. Povarenkin, who came from a wealthy family, was different. An apartment in the centre of the city, good quality clothes and other signs of wealth alienated his peers.
Povarenkin did not attend his graduation ceremony. Everyone believes that it was because his graduation paper received a B grade. “We thought he didn’t show up because he didn’t agree with the grade,” says one of his university mates.
Later, when Siman Povarenkin became the head of the Omsk branch of Incombank his connection with his university mates was entirely lost. “He never showed up at any of the graduates’ meetings,” recalls one of them. “Moreover, I heard that someone from his chemistry faculty asked for a loan from “Incombank” but the application was rejected.”
“I remember him when he was 17 years old. He was a kind but a complicated boy,” one woman says. “Actually, I always thought that his openness and sociability were only a playful act.”
“It seems that when some people reach success and material wealth, they start to think that people who could just come up to them and they ‘Hi’ shouldn’t exist in their lives any longer,” adds another former university mate.
Povarenkin met his first business partner at a student theatre called “Black Repartition”. It was a group similar to KVN (Club of the Funny and Inventive People, a Russian humor TV show where teams prepare sketches and compete.) Students would produce comedy shows and perform at student camps and rest homes. Povarenkin was the theatre’s leader.
Earlier, Siman created a student association for students from different years and faculties. One of them was Vladimir Shkurenko, currently one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Omsk, who entered the university one year after Povarenkin.
These friends launched their first small business, managing sales for the Omsk tire factory, a government-owned enterprise at the time.
“Siman’s father worked at the factory”, Shkurenko said. “Siman set the company up; my current business partner and I were his co-founders. One year later we left the company after having a dispute. It was more about role allocation rather than profit”.
“Povarenkin managed to put together the best team in the country, took over more than half of the banking market in Omsk, became a vice-president, left for Moscow and then Incombank collapsed,” said Shkurenko.
Young and Aggressive
After the Omsk tire factory was privatized, Povarenkin became head of its export department. At the age of 28, he became the manager of the Omsk branch of Incombank. As one of the very first private banks, Incombank became one of the five biggest in Russia.
Incombank lost its banking license in 1998. The bank was accused of “Law violation, ignoring obligations and dishonest treatment towards the credit owners.”
Clients started to withdraw their money from the bank. It went bankrupt in 2000. The process of liquidation took four years. American investors in the bank accused top management of misappropriation of stockholder money.
Povarenkin worked at the bank until 1998. He was a close acquaintance with bank founder Vadimir Vinogradov, and in 1997 his father Viktor Povarenkin became director of operations for the Omsk branch of the bank.
“It was the time of prosperity for the bank. Siman was 28 years old. He traveled around the city in an armored car with tinted windows. All of Omsk remembers this,” says one Omsk businessman. “I don’t know why he needed those perks.”
In 1998 a criminal case was filed against the former top managers of Incombank. The supervisory board of “Incombank” OJSC accused those managers of illegal transfer of shares. An investigation did not produce any evidence and the case was dropped.
Around that time, Incombank made the bloc trade for shares of the biggest pork producer in Omsk. At the same time, oligarch Roman Abramovich’s corporation Sibneft developed an interest. Sibneft eventually won and ownership of the pork producing company went to Abramovich’s Millhouse Capital.
“Young and aggressive” – that’s how businessmen from Omsk refer to the strategy of “Incombank” management at that time.
“The word ‘aggression’ may carry a bad connotation today, but back then it wasn’t like that. They hadn’t conducted any raids against anyone, they attacked nobody – they just entered the market aggressively,” says Povarenkin’s old business partner Shkurenko.
Shkurenko sees the old conflict with his former friend Povarenkin differently now.
“Now I identify Siman as a teacher,” Shkurenko said. “Even back then, at a very young age, he saw how the economy would develop. He created a team, assigned all the roles. He just requested unconditional leadership.
“We have never talked since. He gave me a very obvious hint that he didn’t want to continue in partnership and terminated our relationship. Twenty years have passed. I think that now we would probably find something in common.”
In 1987, when he was only 18, Povarenkin was elected as president of Young Ethnographist, a hobby group at the local Pioneer Palace, Within 10 years, it turned into one of the first sociological cooperatives of the former USSR. Then it became a commercialized sociological research center named GEPICenter-2 with a team of 20 experts who conduct research all over Russia.
“Siman and I entered this hobby group the same year. I was 13, he was 14,” says Irina Soloveykina, who still works at GEPI Center-2. She says “Sima” definitely had great input into the creation of the company.
“He was the first one from our group to learn how to play a guitar,” she says. “He decided to learn, and after one month, he had it – he met his deadline.”
Before he was elected president, Povarenkin served as the hobby group’s “executioner”. The group practiced symbolical physical punishments for members who were late or broke the group’s rules. Povarenkin was supposed to slap any member of the circle, using sneakers or other shoes. “Slapping a private is quite different from slapping a leader. But his hand would never shake,” recalls Soloveykina.
Povarnkin did not remain in touch with the hobby group members either. “He left us forever without even looking back,” says Soloveykina. “Siman always had very explicit goals. “He would achieve whatever goals he would set. He declared back in the mid-1980s: ‘I am going to have a palace in Europe…’ ”
Siman Povarenkin fulfilled this dream nearly 30 years after announcing it – he acquired the Yves Saint Laurent Château in Normandy.