Julie Tucker
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Orphan to billionnaire: Roman Abramovich

Billionaire businessman Roman Abramovich is best known as the owner of English Premier League club Chelsea FC. The 53-year-old has an estimated net worth of $12.2 billion, after making his fortune in the oil industry.

He has been named by Forbes as the world’s 120th richest person.

The primary owner of Millhouse LLC (a private investment company registered in 2001) has donated more money to charity than any other living Russian. Between 1999 and 2013, he gave more than $2.5 billion to worthy causes.

Billions have been donated to build hospitals, schools and infrastructure in Chukotka, the remote and impoverished region of Russia, where he was governor from 2000 to 2008. A politician from 1999, in 2003 he was awarded the Order of Honour by Russian president Vladimir Putin for his “huge contribution” to the region’s economic development.

Growing up
Abramovich was born in Saratov in the Soviet Union in October 1966. Orphaned after his mother, Irina, a housekeeper, died when he was only 18 months old, and his father, Arkady, a state office manager, died in an accident when the youngster was just four, he was brought up by relatives, spending much of his early life in the Komi Republic.

His paternal uncle, Leib, took Abramovich to the industrial town of Ukhta, where he attended the local public school. He realised the value of money from an early age, probably as a result of his upbringing.

He first entered the business world while attending Ukhta’s technical college, selling used tyres and automobile parts from his apartment to make extra money. Later, he attended the Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas in Moscow, before beginning his compulsory army national service in 1974.

Entrepreneurial spirit
While in the army, he didn’t think a military career was for him, so he used his business acumen to sell gasoline to officers as a side-line. This enabled him to begin saving money for his future ventures, the first of which was the Comfort Co-op, selling imported plastic toys. It was a big success and he used the profits to launch his first oil business, in the Omsk district.

He became friends with entrepreneur Boris Berezovsky, which opened doors for Abramovich. Berezovsky had close links with the former president, Boris Yeltsin, so Abramovich was invited to important networking events and dinners. He even managed to secure an apartment in the Kremlin.

Branching out, he founded several diverse businesses including oil products, pig farms, bodyguard recruitment, sugar, timber and food products. His entrepreneurial spirit enabled him to forge a lucrative career as a businessman, even in a country where it wasn’t easy to make a fortune.

Accumulating wealth
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Abramovich and before becoming one of the richest people on the planet, he faced some tough times. Most notably, his trading firm, Runicom, based in Switzerland, went bankrupt in 2003 and he reportedly had to pay back a loan to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Already a big player in top circles, as a result of his political and business links, he was able to weather the storm, and when the Soviet Union’s industrial assets were carved up, Abramovich had launched himself on the path to making his first billion.

He had acquired the large oil company, Sibneft, as a result of Russia’s controversial loans-for-shares programme. President Yeltsin privatised Sibneft and Abramovich and Berezovsky were able to buy out the business for just $100 million – much cheaper than its market value of $600 million. This was the foundation for his vast wealth, as he went on to sell his Sibneft stakes for an estimated £1.8 billion.

Chelsea FC
He expanded his business empire by buying Chelsea Football Club in June 2003, where he immediately began an ambitious programme of commercial development, aiming to make Chelsea a worldwide brand, like football dynasties Real Madrid and Manchester United. Since he took over, the club has won 13 major trophies, including the Premier League five times, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League twice.

He has set up a charity called the Pole of Hope to continue to help the people of Chukotka. In June 2019, he personally donated $5 million to the non-profit group, the Jewish Agency for Israel, to combat anti-Semitism globally.

The self-made billionaire has bought his own fleet of luxury yachts, nicknamed “Abramovich’s Navy” by the media, including the 162.5-metre Eclipse. He also owns a private Boeing 767-33A/ER aircraft, known as Bandit.

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