Gutseriev Family Buys SberBank Ukrainian Filial

Dear Readers:

You may, or may not, have been aware of the situation around SberBank in the Ukraine.  SberBank, which is short for “Savings Bank” is a Russian state-owned bank which has very high ratings and a good reputation.  According to wiki:  “As of 2014 it was the largest bank in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the third largest in Europe, ranked 33rd in the world and first in central and Eastern Europe in The Banker’s Top 1000 World Banks ranking.”  Savings banks became very popular in Soviet times where citizens often had more money than things to spend it on.  The tradition of saving money continued into post-Soviet Russia, where the accumulated savings of Russian citizens adds up to a succulent asset.

One of Sberbank’s main filials is located in the Ukraine where, due to the anti-Russian policies of the post-Maidan government, Russian state-owned businesses, including this bank, are being forced out.  Eventually, given the political pressure and acts of vandalism and the like, SberBank decided that it would be better for everyone to simply unload its Ukrainian filial.  There was much intrigue and speculation as to who the new owner would be.

Said Gutseriev

So, yesterday it was announced that the new majority-share owner of the bank will be Said Mikhailovich Gutseriev, a citizen of Great Britain and a member of the vastly wealthy Gutseriev dynasty.  This sale was approved hastily by a meeting of the consortium of investors.

Well, Ukrainian nationalists will be happy (or not) to learn that their Russian bankers have been replaced by Ingush bankers.  Said is the son of wealthy Ingush businessman Mikhail Gutseriev.  Mikhail owns oil companies, coal companies, and tons of other businesses, especially in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.  His net worth is over $6 billion dollars!

Mikhail’s Russian wiki page gives some fascinating details about this family, which literally rose from rags to riches within three generations.  Said now completes Generation #4 of a successful lineage.

Vladikavkaz

The story begins with Saad Gutseriev, born in 1882 near the city of Vladikavkaz, now the capital of North Ossetia.  In this region of the Russian Empire, speaking simplistically, most people are either Ossetians (ethnically Persian and Orthodox Christians); or Ingush (completely different ethnicity and language; and also Muslim, to boot); and the two groups are traditional enemies.  According to regional stereotypes, Ingush are said to be crafty merchants, and also very good at business.

As a nine-year-old boy Saad left Vladikavkaz and walked barefoot (according to his biography) all the way to Tbilisi, Gruzia.  As he grew up, he served in the Russian imperial army and studied law.  He served as a bailiff in Western Gruzia and Sukhum.  Eventually he moved back to his homeland, Vladikavkaz, where he became a successful businessman, owning Starch and Wine factories.

Safarbek Gutseriev (on the left)

Saad had a son, Safarbek, who was born in 1920.  Safarbek Saadovich graduated from law school in 1941, then went on to a graduate degree in Economics.  At the young age of 23 he was appointed Prosecutor for the region.  Then a horrible thing happened to him and his family:  The Ingush people were deported.  According to this wiki entry (with the caveat that I don’t know how accurate it is, as I am not an expert in Caucasian history):

During the World War II, in 1942 German forces entered the North Caucasus. For three weeks Germans captured over half of the North Caucasus. They were only stopped at two Chechen-Ingush cities: Malgobek and Ordzhonikidze (a.k.a. “Vladikavkaz”) by heroic resistance of natives of Chechen-Ingush ASSR.  Russian propaganda portrayed Chechens and Ingush as “traitors”. On 23 February 1944 Ingush and Chechens were falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis operation code name Lentil starts and the entire Ingush and Chechen populations were deported to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Siberia on the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin while majority of their men were fighting on the front. 

In the case of Safarbek, a loyal Soviet citizen and Communist Party member, he and his family ended up in Kazakhstan.  There, he got a job as a Special Investigator in the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Akmolinsk Region.  But he got into trouble again in 1948, was “unlawfully repressed” and sentenced to 25 years in prison.  Fortunately for him, Stalin died (1953), and in the various amnesties that followed the death of the Leader, Safarbek was freed.  Just as in a fairy tale, he was restored to all his civil rights, reinstated in the Communist Party, fully rehabilitated, and issued an official apology.

Safarbek’s wife, Marem Yakubovna Akhilgova, was a Soviet “Mother-Heroine” who gave birth to nine children, including Mikhail (born 1958).  By the time Mikhail finished grade school, the family was apparently back in the Caucasus, dwelling now in the city of Grozny, the capital of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic.

Mikhail Gutseriev

Even in Soviet socialist times, Mikhail was able to demonstrate his native flair as a businessman.  He worked in various companies, at first as an engineer, and then working his way up into management.  In 1988 he created the first Russian-Italian joint enterprise in the North Caucasus — a furniture company.  Around the same time Mikhail pioneered the concept of private banking, with a cooperative bank called “Kavkaz”.  With his entrepreneurial genius, Mikhail was perfectly positioned to take full advantage when capitalism was restored in Russia.

Since 1992 Mikhail has been operating out of Moscow, whither he was forced to flee when Dudaev (temporarily) took over Chechnya.  His biography goes on to list all his accomplishments in organizing various companies and banks.  He is a true Renaissance man with multiple degrees, he writes poetry; plays the violin; and speaks several languages fluently, including English.  There is a huge list of his poems which have been turned into popular songs.

Mikhail is married, he has a daughter and had two sons, one of whom, Chingiz, died in a car crash in 2007.  Mikhail’s remaining son, Said, follows in his father’s steps as a businessman and banker; and it is Said who now owns the Ukrainian filial of SberBank; which brings us back to our lede.

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