With his longish hair and casual attire, Roustam Tariko looks more like an artist than a banker. But then Tariko, the chairman of Russian Standard Bank, has always been creative. His first big brainchild, Russian Standard Vodka, earned him a reputation as one of the country's smartest entrepreneurs. Launched in 1998 as the first luxury brand with a Russian, as opposed to a Soviet, identity, it's one of the country's best-selling brands, with sales of $75 million. Many were skeptical when the vodka magnate branched into banking, setting up Russian Standard Bank in 2000. "All the newspapers laughed at the idea of a bank named after a vodka," he says. "And now we are the fifth most profitable bank." Profits in 2003 were $58 million.
Russian Standard is the country's first dedicated consumer-finance bank, working with retailers to deliver in-store loans for products from fur coats to refrigerators. There are no credit bureaus in Russia, so clerks send data on applicants' incomes and age to the bank's computer, which calculates within 15 minutes the size of a loan for which they qualify. The idea has taken the country by storm. Russian Standard has extended $1.1 billion in consumer loans, some 51% of the market. Interest rates are 29% a year and up. Russian Standard also has a 77% share of the fast-growing credit-card market, with $240 million in outstanding credit-card debt.
What's behind Tariko's business flair? It helps that Tariko, a Tatar by birth, was an outsider when he arrived in Moscow as a teenager. He was a curious observer, which fed an interest in consumer psychology, the root of his business success. "Both vodka and banking have one thing in common: They make your dreams come true," he jokes.
Moreover, Tariko, 42, seems a born entrepreneur. While a student in the '80s, he made a good living finding hotel rooms for Italian businessmen. Then he became an importer of candy and later upmarket alcoholic drinks such as Martini. From there it was a small step to Russian Standard Vodka. Tariko is eager to launch his vodka in the U.S. "My dream today is to become a successful international player," he says. Maybe banking and vodka can make dreams come true.