Nikolai Tsvetkov, businessperson

It is difficult enough to win an important award or title once. To win it two years running is an achievement indeed. For the past two years, NIKoil has won Russia’s most prestigious business award (in 2000 as “Best Russian Financial Corporation of the Year”; in 2001 as “Best Company in Business Financial Services”).

NIKoil’s success is due to its 41-year-old president, Nikolai Tsvetkov (who himself won the Peter the Great National Prize “For a substantial contribution in the interaction between banking and the industrial sector of economy”). Tsvetkov is not what they call here a “golden boy,” someone who had life served up to him on a silver platter: special schools and jobs made from patronage. Instead, Tsvetkov is a self-made man, Russian-style. As one journalist wrote, “time was, Tsvetkov had the same good feeling for aerial flows as he has now for cash flow.” Before becoming one of the “generals” of Russian banking, Tsvetkov wore a military uniform—and the shoulder straps of a lieutenant colonel of the Russian Air Force.

A graduate of a simple secondary school in Putilkovo village (Moscow region), the young Tsvetkov went on to Tambov Higher Military Aviation and Engineer’s School. He graduated from the school with special honors, and then, in 1988, graduated with special honors and a gold medal from Russia’s prestigious Zhukovsky Air Force Academy. A posting in Afghanistan followed, then transfer to the Far East and an early promotion to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, then work as a lecturer. Tsvetkov was poised to have a brilliant military career, but then everything changed in Russia.

Like many of his former comrades-in-arms, in the aftermath of the break-up of the USSR, Tsvetkov quickly realized that a military paycheck would not allow him to adequately provide for his wife and two daughters. An avid learner from a young age, he was also tempted to take up something new. He turned his eye to business, and, more specifically, to finance.

In 1992, Tsvetkov began working for the investment company Brokinvest. In parallel, he studied at the Plekhanov Economic Academy, specializing in marketing. After just one year, he founded NIKoil (the Russian acronym NIK stands for the “Oil Investment Company”).

Today, the cornerstone of the company is NIKoil IBG Bank, which, by the end of 2000, was one of Russia’s top twenty banks in terms of assets, and which had established good business relations with the largest western investment and financial institutions.

NIKoil’s main areas of business are commercial banking, private banking and investment banking. Yet Tsvetkov has always realized, that “he who can offer the customer the most comprehensive range of services, will have the best positions in the market.” So he has aimed at diversifying NIKoil along the model of financial groups such as Citigroup or Chase Flemings. While the company’s first core clientele came from the oil industry, since 1997 Tsvetkov has expanded the company’s focus to clients in shipping, food services and gold mining. Today, NIKoil combines the resources of an investment house with commercial and private banking, is a major player in the Russian stock market, is the leader in factoring operations and is considered among the ten largest consulting firms in Russia.

Yet, despite this diversification, NIKoil doesn’t forget its “bread and butter”—the oil business, and is a staunch lobbyist for investment in the sector. Speaking at the recent Congress of Oil Producers, Tsvetkov said that, in order for the domestic oil and gas sector to attain its ambitious goals, it will need to attract $650 billion in investment over the next 20 years. And in this need, Tsvetkov sees both an opportunity for NIKoil—in, financing, consultation and advising on investment projects, and an opportunity for economic stimulus that will, in turn, support needed social programs.

Nikolai Tsvetkov the self-made man has worked hard to achieve success in not one, but two careers. Yet he is quick to dispel the thought that he is ready to rest on his laurels: “Life is something in motion, so it always encourages you to do something new. So, I feel it is too early yet to add up the results.”

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