The New Billionaire Leader Of Georgia Has A Crazy Rags-To-Riches Story

Bidzina IvanishviliBidzina Ivanishvili

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Georgian billionaire whose coalition just won a majority in the country’s parliamentary election is also its richest man.Bidzina Ivanishvili, ranked No. 153 on Forbes’ billionaires list, will likely become prime minister of Georgia after the country’s extremely tense election Oct. 1. 

Ivanishvili amassed his wealth amid the privatization rush following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He’s got some serious ties to Russia—ties that drew fire from his opponent Mikheil Saakashvili and conservative commentators in the American press

Still there’s a lot more to the man who is about to lead perhaps America’s strongest ally in the former Soviet Union. His $6 billion net worth is half of Georgia’s GDP and from ski resorts to hotels to public parks, he’s touched just about every part of the state. 

The youngest of five, he was born in 1956 in the unpaved village of Chorvila.

His father shoveled coal in a manganese factory and despite walking to school across frozen fields in second-hand boots with no socks, Ivanishvili finished near the top of his class in high school.

Source: Prospect Magazine

When it came time for college he headed to the Georgian capital and worked in a factory to bankroll his studies.

He attended Tbilisi State University where he studied engineering and economics. According to Prospect Magazine's Wendell Stevenson, Ivanishvili supported himself supported himself while in school by working as a cleaner in a metals factory.

In 1982, he went to Moscow where he earned his PhD in economics and met his first business partner.

While studying at Moscow State University of Railway Engineering, Ivanishvili went into business with Vitaly Malkin. They set up shop in a three-bedroom apartment from which they sold imported computers, phones and video recorders during the demand boom that came with perestroika.

By 1990, they made $100,000 and use the money to oven a bank--Rossiky Kredit (RK)--in the corner of a kindergarten.

Source: Prospect Magazine

In 1991, he married the doctor's daughter from the next village over.

He capitalised on his knowledge of precious metals in growing his new bank. Six years after its founding, RK became one of the biggest banks in Russia.

RK cozied up to the state and became the authorised institution for a number of government organisations. Yet the money started really rolling in when RK started buying mines and factories that were being put up for privatization.

Ivanishvili would by shares of, say, the Stolinsky Mining and Processing Plant in 1991 for $150,000 and sell them 15 years later for $500 million.

Source: Forbes

When his brother was taken, he knew paying a ransom would be pointless. Instead he paid the Russian and Georgian security services. His brother was released after a month.

Source: Prospect Magazine

After making his fortune, Ivanishili returned to Georgia and immediately shared his wealth with his hometown.

According to Forbes' Julia Ioffe, Ivanishvili built roads and houses in Chorvila, paid for free healthcare, and bought residents home appliances.

Ivanishili built the village's largest (and quite possibly, only) employer, commissioning the construction of 40 rebuilt schools and a renovated hospital.

In Tbilisi, Ivanishvili built his crown jewel, a $50 million palace designed by Japanese architect Shin Takamatsu.

Here's his house from the front. It has a huge athletic complex and a zoo with ring-tailed lemurs, deer, flamingos, penguins and a kangaroo.

The 10,000 square meter estate has a glass tower that houses a circular swimming pool.

In addition to his estate in Georgia, he has a homes in Paris, London and the Black Sea.

In London, Ivanishvili stores his art collection, which includes works by Frida Kahlo, Damien Hirst, and Roy Lichtenstein.

He paid $95 million for Picasso's 'Dora Mara au Chat' in 2006.

Source: The Irish Times

He has two albino sons—one, Bera, is a rapper.

In fact, the coalition Ivanishvili leads, the Georgian Dream, is named after one of Bera's rap song. The son often performed at his father's political rallies.

Source: Foreign Policy Magazine

His party is a conglomeration of parties that aren't really related. United by Ivanishvili's cash and personality, Georgian Dream includes free-market liberals and nationalistic xenophobes.

When Ivanishili decided to run, he said he was sacrificing his reclusive nature for the greater good of the country.

Due to his international lifestyle, he wasn't technically a Georgian citizen when he won the election.

Ivanishvili was stripped of Georgian citizenship last year because he held a French passport, violating a law against having multiple nationality, but parliament passed a law allowing him to run in the election as a European Union citizen.

Source: Reuters

His fierce opponent, Mikheil Saakashvili, will continue to serve as Georgia's president for the next year.

When Saakashvili conceded defeat, it marked the first peaceful democratic transition of power in any former Soviet Republic. However, Saakhasvili will remain president for another year, serving alongside Ivanishvili (likely, prime minister) in a situation that's already tense.

Source: The New York Times

Saakashvili says he has Western interests at heart.

Aides of American ambassador Richard Norland say their boss confers with Ivanishvili twice a day. Georgia's likely new prime minister has stated that his country will continue to pursue a bid to enter NATO, despite the risk of irritating Russia.

Source: The New York Times

Learn more about other post-Soviet leaders...

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