The Unlikely Road to Riches for Russia’s Newest Billionaire

Igor Shilov, who started out selling mink fur hats and other goods in Siberia, has just become a billionaire as his health-care company went public in Russia.

Shilov is worth $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after United Medical Group CY PLC was valued at $1.1 billion in its initial public offering. After the IPO, the 58-year-old entrepreneur owns about 55% of the firm, which operates under the brand European Medical Center.

The health-care provider to wealthy Russians is the latest company to sell shares as the country’s economy recovers after shrinking last year. Stock offerings in Russia are off to the busiest start of any year since 2013.

“This is partly a personal story,” Shilov said by email. “My mother got cancer, and I saw firsthand how difficult it was to provide quality medical care in Russia.”

Abramovich Stake

In its IPO statement last month, the company said that billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns England’s Chelsea Football Club, had a stake of about 6.9% and planned to sell shares in the offering. A spokesperson for Abramovich declined to comment.

Health Care Provider to Rich Russians Mulls Rare Moscow IPO

While Russia is seeing an uptick in IPOs, shares of companies that went public this year have posted declines. Fix Price Group Ltd., a budget retailer, is down 14% since its March offering, while paper manufacturer Segezha Group has fallen 8.5% since it listed in April.

Shilov graduated from university in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk in 1986, and created a company the following year to breed mink and produce goods from their fur.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, he started to import canned goods, drinks and other foods to Siberia from Hungary.

In 1998, Shilov and his partners founded their own juice producer, called OAO Nidan Juices, which was sold to Coca-Cola Co. more than a decade later for an undisclosed sum.

Shilov said he got $250 million from the deal, which he used to buy a controlling stake in the European Medical Center in 2008.

Foreign Embassies

The company, whose clients include foreign embassies and professional athletes, has since seen revenue rise more than 10-fold to 241 million euros ($285 million) last year. In 2012, private equity firm Baring Vostok Capital bought 28% of EMC for $100 million, which it later sold.

EMC’s services are similar to leading foreign clinics, Shilov said, adding that preventive medicine and rehabilitation are important growth areas after the pandemic pushed people to take better care of their health.

From the very beginning, EMC focused on “providing medical services to high-income clients,” NEO Center partner Alexey Volostnov said. His company advised EMC on their IPO prospectus. “They managed to provide high-class services for wealthy people from Moscow and other regions of Russia.”

But some investors doubt that affluent Russians will prefer EMC over Western clinics, especially after Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted.

A key risk is that “now wealthy Russians have the opportunity to get treatment somewhere abroad, while market growth within Russia seems limited,” said Konstantin Asaturov, a manager at Sistema Capital in Moscow who didn’t take part in the deal.

EMC is also expensive, limiting its prospective customer pool. A typical outpatient visit costs 282 euros, the company said in its IPO presentation. That’s almost half the average monthly wage in Russia.

Still, Shilov remains confident about the company’s future, saying he expects the country’s medical industry to develop rapidly.

Asked about becoming a billionaire, he said he was much happier when he earned his first million.

“It’s just a measure of your performance as a businessman, like in sport,” he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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