With assets of $600m Alexey Isaikin ranks number 164 in the current Forbes list of the 200 richest Russians. The boss of freight carrier Volga-Dnepr must have made a fortune last year because it is the first time his named appears in the country’s Forbes issue.
´Richard Branson is proven partially wrong. When once asked how to become a millionaire the Virgin Atlantic founder replied: “by being a billionaire and founding an airline.”
At least in Russia this statement has now been disproved, as the latest Forbes list illustrates. There, Volga-Dnepr owner Alexey Isaikin is ranked the country’s 164th richest man. Which shows that being a big shot in aviation can sometimes pay off financially, at least when running a Russian airline. Or how else could the chief of the Volga-Dnepr group have entered the illustrious circle of the country’s rich and mega-rich?
Beneficiary of Russia’s transition from command to market economy
The 1952-born belongs to the group of Russians that greatly benefitted from the end of the Soviet era that came at the right time, enabling the newly emerging financial elite to acquire state property to often little prices and start their bonanzas as oligarchs within a politically-backed market framework.
Like many other meanwhile wealthy compatriots Isaikin’s career began in the Soviet army. There he served as Colonel, being ordered to Ulyanovsk in 1984 to oversee the organization and finances of the giant military industrial complex the Red Army had set up. That’s where he got acquainted with the An-124 program knowing that each of the freighters planned by Ukraine’s Antonov engineers and assembled in Ulyanovsk had cost the State 70 million rubles.
“All payments were supervised by me as all as such came through my desk,” he recalls.
Volga-Dnepr as door opener
When in 1989 the Berlin Wall crumbled, followed by the collapse of the entire Soviet Empire Isaikin was aware that there would be no more military use for the mammoth freight planes and no interest by neither national nor foreign investors to purchase the giant aircraft. So he came up with the sparkling idea to use these military war machines for commercial purposes since there is always demand for transporting large, heavy, and oversized items by air.
Getting the planes licensed by European, U.S. and Asian aviation authorities to operate intercontinental charter flights was the next task standing on Isaikin’s agenda. Then in 1991 Moscow’s newly established government came up with plans to establish a cargo airline for ensuring services to remote places in Siberia and to the country’s Far East. Hence, the idea of Volga-Dnepr was born, with Alexey Isaikin being appointed the Chairman of the Board.
Next, he was offered by the government to purchase the majority of the company’s stakes – an opportunity he didn’t miss. So in June of 1991 the first Ruslan, sidelined since the fall of the Iron Curtain, took to the air on a commercial charter mission. Many more followed in the years to come, making the Moscow-based capacity provider Volga-Dnepr an indispensible tool for the global transport industry.
Cargo charter missions are still the number one financial contributor
In the meantime Isaikin is commanding a vast aviation conglomerate encompassing line-haul carrier AirBridge Cargo and its affiliate Atran Airlines, Volga-Dnepr Technics, Volga-Dnepr UK or joint ventures like Leipzig-based Ruslan Salis International. Obviously extremely successful run enterprises, or else the name Alexey Isaikin wouldn’t have been made it on the Forbes list of Russia’s richest people. However, compared to Forbes’ number one, oligarch Alisher Usmanov who manages assets totaling €13.5bn, Mr Isaikin still has quite a way to go to enter the inner circle of Russia’s financial elite.