Russia's Richest Man Wants to Plan Your Life at School and Work

(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s richest man, Alexey Mordashov, built his $18.5 billion fortune from the heat and sweat of steelmaking. Now he wants to shape minds and careers from preschool to pension.

The largest shareholder in Severstal PJSC, Russia’s second-largest steelmaker by market capitalization, is moving into online education and recruitment, setting up a unit at the end of last year that’s acquiring startup companies, as he diversifies his investments.

“Our goal is to create a platform, an ecosystem, that will help a person to develop, starting from kindergarten to retirement and beyond,” said Artem Kumpel, who heads the new recruitment and educational hi-tech division at Mordashov’s Severgroup. The billionaire is “personally involved and we are discussing investments and strategy on a monthly basis,” said Kumpel, who moved from software company Abbyy in Russia in December.

Technological advances in automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are speeding up changes in the workforce worldwide, ending some jobs and pushing many to retrain for the so-called knowledge economy. Global spending on education exceeded $5 trillion in 2014, with digital learning accounting for only 2 percent of the market, according to a report last year by EdTechXGlobal and IBIS Capital. Skeptics have pointed out fierce competition, including offerings from nonprofits, among factors that may hold growth in check.

Severgroup seeks to build a portfolio of online educational, human-resources consultancy and recruitment companies to provide training and career development services through a person’s life, Kumpel said.

Online Education

Severgroup’s unit made its first acquisition in February, buying a controlling stake in online handyman referral platform It expanded in July by purchasing recruitment optimization platform, followed by a stake in online training platform Netology Group. Bloomberg Billionaires Index values the internet startups at about $55 million.

Mordashov has set no financial limits for investing in such assets and wants to build annual revenue for the business to several billion dollars in the next five to seven years, according to Kumpel. The unit may add two more companies to its portfolio this year and, while the group has started in Russia, it’s also eyeing projects in Europe and the U.S., he said.

Just as Inc. grew to become an online retailer for practically anything, “we want to become a similar marketplace in HR tech and educational tech,” Kumpel said. “We have a large pipeline for acquisitions.”