Alexander Mamut was a little-known HMV investor until the end of last year, when the oligarch from Moscow curiously began building his stake in the business. Six months later and he is the most famous Russian in retail, having swooped to the rescue of Waterstone’s, the UK’s last remaining national book chain.
The 51-year-old ended months of speculation, splashing out £53m on the chain, and promptly hiring London independent books chain Daunt Books boss James Daunt to lead the turnaround. After the deal, the publicity shy Russian businessman kept quiet, leaving Daunt to do the talking.
Mamut, thought to be worth about £1bn, has dabbled with books before, although not with any great success - he invested in the now defunct Russian book chain Bookberry with Waterstone’s founder Tim Waterstone.
But he has other business successes managed by his A&NN group, including San Francisco-based social networking site LiveJournal. And with friends including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, he moves in powerful circles.
Some may question the motive in spending £53m on a 300-store high street book chain just as ebooks sales begin to outstrip hardbacks in the UK, but there is no doubting Mamut’s influence on the British high street.