Russian Entrepreneur Makes Name Known
Businessman amasses a fortune by selling imported luxury goods and plans shortly to manufacture some products in Russia. PROFILE
MOSCOW — LIKE many successful Russian businessmen, Anis Mukhametshin has four armed bodyguards and a fleet of foreign cars. But unlike most, the 40-year-old Tatar is not amassing his millions by simply importing wholesale goods; he is manufacturing them.
Four years ago, Mr. Mukhametshin decided that the only way to gain a foothold in the competitive Russian market was to make his name known. He founded a private company, modestly dubbed ``Anis,'' and began to import luxury items from Western countries such as France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands - and put his name on them.
Before long, Anis ice-cream bars and Anis Cola began appearing in privately owned shops throughout Russia and 11 other former Soviet republics. Anis aftershave and Lady Anis perfume became common fare in kiosks dotting Moscow's streets. Sleek commercials for Anis chocolates began cropping up regularly on Russian TV.
Mukhametshin now runs more than 200 wholesale outlets in the former Soviet Union that sell his products exclusively. His company saw a $100 million turnover last year, with total profits topping $35 million since 1990. Now that he has achieved adequate name-recognition for his products, he has embarked on the second stage of his plan: building factories to manufacture products himself.
``I have a simple formula,'' grins Mukhametshin, who dresses entirely in black. ``With one hand I earn money. With the other I invest it.''
Speaking from his sleek marble office complex attached to a grimy Soviet motel on the outskirts of Moscow, Mukhametshin says he will have put $100 million back into his company by the end of 1994 - a remarkable sum in a country where few have successfully made the quantum leap from trading to manufacturing. His most advanced project lies not far from his office: a complex of mini-factories that will start manufacturing ice cream, perfume, clothing, and bricks this year.
Other projects include a local telecommunications center to produce his own self-directed TV commercials and a Moscow airport hotel. He is also bidding to build a new airport in his native Tatarstan.
An ethnic Tatar raised in the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, Mukhametshin's first business venture was selling ice cream at age 13. A brief factory stint followed, after which he managed a singing group at a Young Pioneer center and fell in love with show business. With capital from profitable show-business projects, he launched Anis, of which he owns a controlling 51 percent.
Raising capital has been Mukhametshin's most vexing problem. He blames the Yeltsin government's flimsy credit regulations and complicated tax laws, which he says work against private investors. He also blames Russia's fledgling commercial banks, which is why he recently opened the Ruslan Bank, named after his seven-year-old son.
But in a country where wealth is often synonymous with corruption, some people have accused Mukhametshin of supplementing his capital through illegal means, such as weapons dealing.
``That's the first time I've heard that one,'' he chuckles, saying he has been accused of everything from illegally exporting oil and drug-running to having ties with the Uzbek mafia. But he reportedly drives an armored Opel and three months ago he hired private bodyguards.
To stay on the right side of things, Mukhametshin strives to cultivate a fatherly, wholesome image. In a capitalist takeoff of a Soviet collective farm director, he has begun constructing a lavish housing complex for 150 of his workers next to his factories. Each two-story gingerbread house, complete with sauna and swimming pool, will house four families. Among the birch trees stands a completed clubhouse with an employee cafeteria, where workers lunch on Russian fare of kasha (buckwheat) with pork, followed by imported chocolates and coffee.
Mukhametshin recruited technical production manager Jean-Claude Denizot from France. Now in charge of the Moscow perfume manufacturing operation, Mr. Denizot hopes Anis fragrances will become popular enough to spark a line of specialty products for women. ``In France, Dior started with perfume,'' he says. ``Then came clothes and cosmetics.''
Mukhametshin's Lady Anis and Elena perfumes (named after his wife) cost about $2 to produce in France. The neatly packaged bottles are then shipped and sold to Russian wholesalers for about $5, who in turn retail them for up to $20. But the bottles of cheap-smelling fragrances are not up to Western standards, and will be hard put to compete with the well-known French perfumes available on the Russian market.
Mukhametshin says past failures with suppliers have put a damper on export plans. ``It's no problem for me to manufacture my own goods, but when I work with other people I lose clients,'' he says. ``They break laws, they supply me with shoddy packaging, they don't deliver. I don't want to take part in that kind of thing when the goods have my name on them.''
Keeping his name clean - and on everyone's lips - is uppermost in Mukhametshin's mind. He regularly sponsors high-profile business and charity events, and a $300,000 investment recently made him the Golden Sponsor of the Russian Olympic Committee, giving him the right to use the Olympic symbol to market his products until the 1996 Games.