Roustam Tariko: Russian billionaire setting the Standard for vodka

A Day in the Life: Roustam Tariko visited London to launch his premium vodka brand, while overseeing his other 'babies'
Click to follow


For a businessman, the banks-to-vodka billionaire Roustam Tariko is a late starter. "Wherever I am I start my day it's the same. I'm not an early bird," he says. "I'm not waking up at five o'clock, six o'clock; it's usually seven-thirty, eight o'clock, and I will then read the newspapers, emails from around the world and make phone calls."

During these calls, Mr Tariko says he will oversee his companies' products – "my babies" – which include credit cards, loans, insurance policies and, of course, the all-important vodka. He will make strategic decisions and oversee the performance of his diverse investments around the world.

Right from the first introduction, it is clear that Roustam Tariko is very different from the identikit Western businessman. It starts from his appearance; he eschews a tie, favouring a dark suit and white shirt and wearing his dark hair long, with a wave. There is a thick wad of cash on the coffee table at his suite at the Four Seasons hotel on Park Lane. Dotted around are ice buckets full of champagne and his Russian Standard vodka, while various flunkies fuss around him.

Russian Standard is the premium brand whose ads are beginning to saturate commercial television and which he has brought to Britain with the aim of taking on the big guns of Diageo, the owner of Smirnoff, and Pernod-Ricard, which owns Stolichnaya, outside Russia. Worldwide, he sold 1.4 million cases in 2006, compared to 1 million in 2005, and hopes to push that to 2 million this year.

He also, despite looks of horror from the management consultancy McKinsey when he did it, used the same brand for his bank (Russian Standard Bank). But his notion that Russians trusted the brand enough to borrow from it appears to have worked. While buffeted by the credit squeeze like virtually all banks, it is among the three most profitable in Russia, enjoying the status of (according to the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's, no less), the largest specialised consumer finance bank.


After spending the early part of the day with the papers and emails, Mr Tariko likes to run. Here in London, his exercise will be taken in one of the nearby parks; back in Russia, it will be in the forest outside Rublyovka, the exclusive suburb on the outskirts of Moscow that is favoured by the rich and powerful of Russia's elite.

He then commences a whirlwind of media interviews connected with the launch of Russian Standard in the UK.

It is an unusual day. Typically, Mr Tariko says, after his exertions he will take a salad for lunch, where he will be joined by executives or assistants to talk business. He will follow this with several business meetings between 3pm until around 8pm – what he calls "the public part of my day". Most of his days in London, however, are public because the tycoon is being followed by a French television crew, who plan to run a documentary about him.


The media swarm dealt with, Mr Tariko heads for the City to meet bankers at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank with which he says he has a long association. "They do a lot of work for me, mostly in the investment banking area. They help me to place my bonds and they buy themselves some products from me and they structure some financial deals for myself with other banks," he says.

"We also exchange our points of view on financial markets, where they are going and what particular opportunities are created. Obviously, things have changed and we agree that the costs of borrowing will be higher from now on. We decide this creates opportunities for smart people like ourselves. I very much like and respect this institution," he says.


Mr Tariko must now make an appearance at the party that is being held to celebrate the launch of Russian Standard in the UK. He has high hopes for his vodka, which he says was the first premium brand to be launched at the Russian market.

"In Germany, we built a 10 per cent market share in just six months," he says. "We grew up so quickly in Germany and we are thinking it will be similar in the UK." What distinguishes Russian Standard from the pack? "We buy the most expensive grain available growing on the best part of Russian land called black soil. We also play close attention to the purity of the water – we get it from Lake Ladoga. We store it ourselves to specific conditions. We carefully manage distillation at my distillery in Moscow. It has a natural taste, and you should be able to smell the grain."

But this combined with banking and insurance? "I believe there is not any big difference between any consumer business, whether it's a bank or insurance or vodka or chocolate, whatever it is." He draws a diagram showing four boxes, labelled marketing, distribution, production and financial/administration.

"When you are talking about selling products to consumers, it is always like this, it is more or less the same all the time. What I'm primarily responsible for is products. Everything is developed with my personal involvement. Second is client communication. Everything to do with product and consumer is my primary focus. I also deal with everything which relates to investment and partnership. Distribution, finance, administration, I don't do. I invoke, I sign, I approve, but it is usually handled by other people."


Mr Tariko heads to dinner with people from William Grant & Sons, the whisky company that is handling the distribution and storage of Russian Standard vodka in the UK. He is tickled – the private room in which they dine is laid out like a safe. "It was a good joke, because I am also in banking," he says. "I have visited their distillery, seen their facilities, they are fantastic." He says he likes to deal with like-minded businesses, preferably privately owned rather than public, and that Grant's fits the bill.

After the dinner, they move on to Bungalow 8 in Covent Garden, the UK branch of the New York favourite of the "young, hip, fresh and rich" set up by the mercurial Amy Sacco. It is hoping to replicate the success of its New York sister which is patronised by the likes of George Clooney, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. "I enjoyed it a great deal, a very nice club," says Mr Tariko.


Mr Tariko tends to finish late, and still spends at least an hour going through emails he has missed during the preceding hours before he retires for the night. He has come a long way since he got started in business, running an agency to find rooms for Westerners at the advent of perestroika and importing Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs from Germany for Russian consumers – "my first big success".

If he has his way, Britain is set to hear a lot more from him over the coming months. Football fans fearing, or perhaps hoping, that he will be the next Roman Abramovich can rest assured, though. He professes no interest in the game, his sporting interests extending only to his punishing runs.