Russian tycoon Mikhail Fridman warns rapid passage of gas is “irresponsible”
Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman has warned that too rapid a switch from gas to renewables would be “dangerous and irresponsible”, arguing that the recent energy crisis can be partly blamed on the industry’s undervaluation.
Fridman said he would invest more in alternative energy to reduce the carbon impact of his oil and gas empire.
But he warned of cutting gas supplies too quickly, saying the recent price spike reflected a lack of business investment given “huge public pressure for decarbonization”, and a signal that this gave investors and banks “to cut off relations with the oil and gas company”.
He expected gas to be important to the energy mix for âdecadesâ.
âThe transition is a very complicated and very difficult process,â he told the Financial Times in an interview at his Mayfair headquarters. âAt the moment, we don’t have a viable alternative to life without gas.
Fridman is one of the richest businessmen in Russia, but spends half of his time in the UK. LetterOne, its holding company, has more than $ 10 billion to invest and will announce its latest deal with a UK-based recycling company next week.
The company’s pre-tax profit for 2021 is expected to exceed $ 5 billion.
Fridman has large stakes in Russia through Alfa Group, which he co-founded in 1991, but created LetterOne with his partners in London in 2013 using $ 14 billion raised from the sale of a stake in the company. TNK-BP oil company in Rosneft.
LetterOne’s biggest business is its energy division, which was chaired by former BP boss John Browne, whom the FT can reveal left Fridman’s group last month after serving nearly seven years. Outside of energy, the investor has a sprawling portfolio spanning telecommunications, financial services and retail.
Fridman’s long-term strategy puts his company at odds with other investors in the industry.
He signaled an upcoming feud over the future of Wintershall Dea, Europe’s largest independent oil and gas company, of which LetterOne owns a third, alongside majority shareholder BASF. Lord Browne has also stepped down as chairman of the company’s supervisory board.
Fridman pointed to the pressure the German company had been under from investors and activists over its stake in the gas producer, and said there was “a distinction in approach” between LetterOne and BASF . BASF wants to sell its stake in the 127-year-old German company through an IPO, but LetterOne wants to “build a long-term strategy”.
“For us, it’s a [long-term] mission to keep the business in the right direction. For BASF, it’s a little different, âhe added.
LetterOne is unlikely to sell on an IPO at this point and will not block the process, but could support the sale of part of the company to a private equity buyer.
Fridman wants to support the company’s highly profitable gas activities, while investing in renewable companies and technologies that âreduce negative environmental damageâ.
He said, âLet’s try to combine these two approaches.
In the UK, LetterOne is investing up to Â£ 1 billion in fiber broadband at a regional infrastructure company called Upp, and in the healthcare sector it owns retailer Holland & Barrett, which Fridman says , would have a new business model oriented towards services and products.
He said the general environment in the UK for the oligarchs had “deteriorated because of the standoff between Russia and the West”, but added that “on a personal level it has become a little friendlier, because people made a distinction between the Russian oligarchs label and us personally â.
Despite this, he said there was a “kind of competitive disadvantage as a Russian” which required “extra effort to convince people that we are doing things right”.
The UK government, he added, had âa lot of information to distinguish between good and bad people. . . It will be important to find a way to distinguish between politics and those like me who want to become a normal business citizen. . . We try to be as transparent as possible.
The billionaire said he has no plans to give his five children any of his wealth, describing it as “dangerous” to inherit so much money and important that they make their own way .
Unlike other Russian oligarchs, he is not a “glamorous person” with the “talent” to spend money. âI don’t have a yacht. I don’t have planes. I have a house in London. I have a house in Moscow.
Additional reporting by David Sheppard in London and Max Seddon in Moscow