The banker who came in from the cold

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The Independent Culture
Dmitry Lyubinin, who at the age of 24 won fame when he became chairman of one of Russia's fastest-growing banks, knows that all work and no play will make him a dull boy. His job is demanding, but he gets out on to the football field as often as possible, and claims to enjoy socialising when he's wrapped up business for the night.

"I work long hours, and I work too much, but I know people in New York work even more," says Lyubinin, who is from Moscow and originally thought banking "drab". He planned to follow in his parents' footsteps as a teacher, until he got into economics at the city's Lomonosov State University.

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices," said the 18th-century economist Adam Smith. In Lyubinin's case, raising prices is the name of the game, but those he meets in the trade are likely to be his close peers, and he sees them regularly. While his British compatriots dream of such responsibility, it is all too real for Lyubinin and chums.

Now 27, and with three years of executive experience under his belt as chairman of the Rossiyskiy Kredit Bank, he explains: "It has been a very, very rapid growth. All Russian bankers are rather young and energetic, and I feel comfortable around those people - they have the same experience. For older people, it was not so easy to change their approach to business and find their place. They cannot grow."

Which is partly why bright young things such as Lyubinin, schooled in up-to-date technology, practice and jargon, are taking their place with ease in the evolving scene. He describes his progress: "I didn't expect any banking opportunities, and after I graduated in 1993, I worked for one of the largest auditors. I joined the bank as a specialist in the audit department, and I grew step by step."

It was just six months later that he became deputy chairman, and a year later, chairman. The shortage of well-trained managers with the requisite progressive mindset helped him get on. "I was growing with the economy, with the new commercial sector. Even a few years ago in Russia, everything was underground, and people had no opportunity to use their initiative and practical experience. I understood the importance of human incentive and professionalism - that one person can do a lot. It was impossible under socialism. I had energy, and I could formulate strategy: we had to extend our branch network and our retail activities and use an international approach to banking." His strategic but enthusiastic approach has paid huge dividends: starting out with just 100 employees, the bank now has 43 branches and some 7,200 staff, a sevenfold increase since Lyubinin took over. Meanwhile, competition is stiff; more than 1,000 smaller banks have closed within the last two years.

Lyubinin, who is clear-sighted and extremely focused, recites his newly- forged creed. "Banks are institutions which should not be under the control of their owners. Management should follow special rules, but not orders. They should take into account any market conditions of clients, but not orders from above. It's not such a problem for big banks, but very important for small and medium-sized banks, where there is no transparency and no international auditors. Bigger banks understand that managers should be independent."

Growth lies in the international dimension, he believes, but he admits that his bank still has a policy of employing only native Russians. "We are looking forward [to taking others on] although our idea is that people should understand the strategy and team spirit. It's not easy and it needs a lot of time."

Indeed, time is on Lyubinin's side, not just in terms of his youth but in terms of the economy. Too-rapid growth can be dangerous, he concedes.

"It's good now, because Russian bankers have time to stop and look round and check everything that they can do. My main advantage is that I was growing with the system and the bank, and I know all its activities." His ambitions are to expand his dealings with Russian enterprises; steel and aluminium production and oil businesses, for example. "I'm comfortable with my present job," he adds, "but I want to develop the Russian banking system and make it stronger."

Rachelle Thackrey