Can a Russian billionaire become a digital leader after making his fortune in steel?
“We have several investments related to human needs: education, medicine, traveling and retail. We are thinking of creating an ecosystem based on these assets – a kind of Amazon,” Alexey Mordashov told Bloomberg.
“Each of these areas is on the verge of great change,” the steel magnate believes.
Almost half of his $20 billion-worth assets already comes from outside the steel industry, notes the news agency.
Last year, Mordashov’s SeverGroup acquired a 80% stake in Russian retail network Lenta with plans to accelerate its transition to digital commerce. The group also controls Utkonos, the leader in online grocery, and GetLean, a Moscow-based startup providing courses for healthier food and lifestyle.
In the travel sector, the Mordashov family owns a 25% stake – worth $1.7 billion – in TUI, one of the world’s biggest travel and tourism companies.
“Human desire to travel is as constant as the need for food or communication,” Bloomberg quoted Mordashov as saying.
Deep pockets for e-commerce endeavors
Putting aside philosophical considerations, the steel billionaire will face a whole bunch of challenges to build in Russia anything comparable to Amazon.
The current market leaders have invested hundreds of millions US dollars to build the required logistics and IT infrastructure – but deep pockets are not a guarantee to success in such endeavors.
Launched more than twenty years ago, Ozon has received enough money from its shareholders to develop huge logistics capacities. However, this company’s initial goal of becoming “the Russian Amazon” is yet to be achieved.
Two other giants, Sberbank and Yandex, inked an alliance two years and a half ago to develop “a leading e-commerce ecosystem.” In spite of the $500 million Sberbank injected into the joint venture, one of their marketplaces shut down just one year after launch.
From online education to healthcare
Mordashov’s empire covers other fields. Since 2017, SeverGroup has become a major player on the Russian online education scene, having invested more than $20 million in Netology.
The group is developing a variety of edtech and HR tech solutions under the umbrella of a structure called TalentTech. In 2018, this company acquired FL.ru, the largest marketplace for IT freelancers in Russian speaking countries.
Seeing the current education system as outdated, Mordashov told Bloomberg he is considering starting an online university.
SeverGroup group also has interest in medicine through the St. Petersburg-based AVA-Peter clinic network, acquired in 2017. Mordashov says he wants to expand this network business across Russia and develop online services, from diagnosis to treatment.
Keeping the pulse of industry innovation
Meanwhile, the billionaire continues investing in his sector of origin. Just months ago, his steel and mining company Severstal announced the launch of an innovation portal to cooperate with startups, innovative teams and industry experts from across the world.