Polina Deripaska isn't quite what you would expect from the wife of Russia's richest man. Shedding any image of a mink-clad idler, Polina has instead shone as a shrewd and highly successful businesswoman. She has delivered results ahead of ambitious business plans, expanding a magazine publishing concern and launching innovative social network sites. Today, her company's combined reader exposure stands at 1.5m
In 2006, Russian aluminum king Oleg Deripaska bought Ova-Press, a little-known publisher of glossy magazines. Soon after the company was renamed Forward Media Group, and the oligarch's young wife Polina was appointed head of the board of directors.
Though few raised eyebrows at the news - it is not unusual for Russian oligarchs to reward spouses with business interests - it was widely anticipated that Polina would turn in a loss-making business. Instead, she confounded the business world by aggressively expanding the business in both print and electronic publishing. Today, the company enjoys pride of place as a daughter company of Oleg's vast Base Element holding.
Those who described her appointment as little more than an expensive birthday present would also appear a little unfair. "What people don't understand is that I was actually central to the negotiations concerning the original takeover," Polina explains. She had also long intended to start a publishing business: "When I was studying in the UK, I thought about publishing a celebrity magazine. So when I eventually got the chance, I was pleased to get it right."
Polina herself comes from a family with a strong journalistic tradition. Before heading Boris Yeltsin's executive office, her father, Valentin Yumashev, worked at the Komsomolskaya Pravda popular daily youth newspaper, and was deputy editor-in-chief of Ogonyok, a prestigious current affairs magazine. Her mother, Irina Vedeneyeva, was a correspondent in another publication. Their influence was undeniable, Polina recalls: "When I was a kid, my dream job was a sports correspondent."
Polina started playing tennis at four. By all accounts she was highly gifted and was at one point included in the national youth team. A back injury, however, curtailed a career in sports. So at 16 she was sent to the UK to study at Millfield School. From there she graduated from Moscow State University and its Higher School of Business with a degree in management.
Russian business is tough, and Oleg is said to be one of the toughest businessmen around. "I'm much milder, naturally," comments Polina. "Authoritarian methods simply don't work in the publishing business - we're much more... hmm... democratic."
Asked if it is easy for a woman to do business in Russia, she says male chauvinism is, unfortunately, widespread.
"It is difficult to battle against the stereotype that women are in the best instance financial directors or accountants. Those who are better informed know that, in fact, a confident businesswoman is no less creative, organised or able to start and manage their own business."
Polina is reserved when answering questions about her husband. She insists he is only minimally involved in the running of her business.
"From time to time my husband asks how things are going at the publishing house, but I don't ask him for advice and I take my decisions absolutely independently," says Polina. It's the same with their family life. "He is very busy at work. If he had more time, he would probably try to go into every detail himself. He likes to get to the bottom of everything, it's the secret of his success in business."
Polina has no plans to sell Forward Media Group, at least not in the next 10 years. In the meantime, she plans to turn it into a major international media holding company. But this is not her only priority.
"Whatever happens in my business, my family, parents and children will always come first. Although I'm very pressed for time, such priorities become more obvious with age." -
RBTH dossier - Forward Media Group
Forward Media Group (FMG) was born as Ova-Press in 1993. In July 2006, the business was bought by Oleg Deripaska's RAINKO investment group. In the nearly two years that have followed, FMG has forged several key positions in the magazine publishing market, and is now rated among the top-10 publishers in Russia in terms of readership and advertising revenues. Today, FMG's titles include HELLO!, Interior and Design, 100% Furniture, My Baby and Me and Empire. FMG's titles have a combined print-run of more than 1.5m copies per month, producing a turnover of more than $24m.
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