On Monday Bill Browder joined us to speak about his experience as the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, as the largest foreign investor in Russia, as a hunted enemy of Vladimir Putin and as the largest advocate of the Magnitsky Act.
Browder was calm, funny, and his story without parallel. He started off explaining why he had chosen the life path that he had, his grandfather having run on the American communist ticket he had chosen to rebel by being a capitalist. He touched on his Stanford MBA education and on his humble investing beginnings in Eastern Europe before he eventually moved to Russia.
Explaining how he came to notice the disparity in what the Russian government was offering the management of companies to pay for half of their stock and what their stock was actually going to be worth when the rest of the market figured this out. How he attempted to convince those in his prestigious investment firm to invest in a market they had not previously tapped only to be rebuffed until they eventually realized what he had always known: the fall of the Berlin wall and the Soviet Union meant that the business of sector privatization was a gold mine. Browder proved himself to not just have a good comedic timing, “They knew me as the crazy guy who couldn’t stop talking about Russia”, but to be exceptional at his job.
Leaving the firm and branching out on his own to create the Hermitage Fund, a hedge fund that turned millions into billions in the space of a few years and going after oligarchs to open up more of the market to the public; Browder is living proof of the corruption in the current Russian government. This is evident when he explains that his firm was taken from him, his assets moved before they could be taken, simply because, in an effort to end corruption, he had found himself at the source of it all: Putin’s door.
While his failure to receive what was, rightfully, his company back is troubling, Browder took a turn and told the story of his lawyer. A man looking to prove that Browder was innocent of the charges placed against him, who was taken into custody, left in a prison where it was light twenty four hours a day, refused medical treatment and eventually beaten to death, all because he refused to admit that Browder had committed the tax fraud that he was charged with. The lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, knew that it was his own corrupt government that had swindled the Russian people out of the money and refused to lie. The story was an emotional one and explained Browder’s motivation to pass the Magnitsky Act, an act that prevents war criminals like the ones that eventually killed Magnitsky, from entering the United States.
The evening proved to be one of fascinating capitalist success but also humanity and of a lesson on how to fight back when men with power see themselves as bullies on the world’s playground.