Like any entrepreneur who spots a good opportunity, Alexander Ustraykh decided to set up his own shop.
The only difference is this former Bankers Trust New York Corp. vice president found his potential pot of gold in the former Soviet Union.
Last summer Mr. Ustraykh left the bank and founded his own company, Vega International Capital, to provide financial advisory services on restructuring, privatizations, and investments in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Progress to date has been good, he reports.
Vega, based in London, has already obtained a mandate from Rosneftegas, the state-owned Russian oil and gas company, and has been retained by the State Property Fund of Ukraine to help sell off state companies and property.
Mr. Ustraykh owns a largee stake in Vega. He declines to disclose the exact amount because new shareholders are still being brought in.
The company's main goal is to spot promising investments that will pay off in hard currency. That, says Mr. Ustraykh, means bringing industrial investors who will take a hand in running the business, together with passive investors, mainly institutional ones like insurance companies and pension funds.
Investors Like to Spread Risks
"A lot of industrial companies hesitate to take risks on their own," he says. "But if it's good project and a reputable company is investing, it makes a lot of sense for passive investors to tag along."
Mr. Ustraykh brushes aside concerns about the future stability of Russia, Ukraine, and other countries carved out of the former Soviet Union.
"Nobody denie that the situation is difficult, but people in the West don't really understand what's going on," he says. "Russia is moving in the right direction, and the changes are irreversible."
Leaving a comfortable post as head of project finance for Eastern Europe at Bankers Trust in London wasn't easy. But, then again, the 38-year-old Mr. Ustraykh has been on the move most of his life.
Born in St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad, he grew up in several Russian and Ukrainian cities before graduating with a degree in systemss engineering from the Leningrad Electrical Engineering Institute.
Life in U.S. a Pleasant Surprise
After working for three years at the massive Togliatti auto works that was built with Fiat on the Volga river, Mr. Ustraykh emigrated to Philadelphia with his mother in 1980.
He worked as a computer programmer for three years, then obtained a master's degree in business administration from Wharton in 1986 and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987. He joined Bankers Trust in 1988.
Mr. Ustraykh had little difficulty adjusting to life in the United States.
"Soviet propaganda painted such a scary picture of how bad things were in the U.S., I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by what I found," he said.