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21 Feb, 2019 11:52

Former teacher & mother of 4 becomes Russia’s 2nd female billionaire

Former teacher & mother of 4 becomes Russia’s 2nd female billionaire

The owner of Russia’s biggest web retailer, Tatyana Bakalchuk, has entered the list of Russian billionaires. She managed to build her company, Wildberries, from scratch into a US$1.2 billion firm.

This year, Wildberries – the leader of Russian online retailing, where you can find hundreds of thousands of items from clothing to electronics – has made it into the top 5 most valuable companies in the country, according to Forbes. The company Bakalchuk owns is now in fourth place in the Forbes rating, with a net value of $1.2 billion.

As Wildberries is not a public company, its valuation was based on the volume of company sales and profits, as well as the financial data of similar projects and investors’ estimates.

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Founded in 2004, Wildberries is sometimes compared to global online retail giant Amazon. In 2018, Forbes said that the company’s value stood at $600 million. However, the founder herself said it could be twice that amount. Last year, it significantly increased the number of pick-up points to 2,799 and started the construction of additional warehouse facilities in the suburbs of Moscow and in the city of Ekaterinburg.

The first woman to be added to Russia’s richest people list was the former Moscow mayor’s wife, Elena Baturina, who heads investment and construction company Inteco Management.

From mum on maternity leave to ‘Russian Jack Ma’

Tatyana Bakalchuk, 43, is one of the most mysterious personalities among Russia’s wealthy – there are not many photos of her on the internet, and some even doubt that she exists. She usually shies away from the public eye, but gave her first video interview last year.

She started her billion-dollar company just one month after her first child was born (she now has four). Back then, Bakalchuk wanted to get back to her job as an English teacher, just like Chinese billionaire Jack Ma. However, the baby required a lot of her attention, and she had to come up with something new.

At the dawn of her business, the woman and her husband Vladislav had around $700 to launch it, and spent around $70 per day on advertising. She ordered clothes from a German mail-order catalog, and posted the scanned pictures of them on her website. She delivered the parcels to her customers instead of making buyers pick up their purchases from her first “office” in her apartment.

Her business eventually started growing, and she began working directly with contractors when the businesswoman faced her first setback. The first person Bakalchuck hired to help her stole all the money set aside for paying the manufacturer, and vanished. The woman struggled to cover the loss, but did not lose faith in people.

From a small office in her apartment, the company grew into a giant with its own depots and 15,000-strong workforce. She says that she does not see any direct rivals to her business on the Russian market, but often tries to learn from others. Honesty and devotion of people to what they do remains one of the main values of Wildberries, according to Bakalchuk.

“You should not be ashamed to look your children and your employees in the eyes… Everything you do, you do according to your conscience,” she said.

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