Herman Gref enjoys unique standing in todays
Russia. An outspoken advocate of economic reform in an
increasingly authoritarian political environment, hes the
market-friendly chair and CEO of the nations largest
financial institution, Sberbank, which remains profitable in
the midst of a two-year economic crisis.
Gref rose to prominence in government and business by
impressing future president Vladimir Putin during the 1990s,
when both were ambitious junior officials in St.
Petersburgs municipal administration. In 2000, Putin, who
had just succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president, appointed Gref
minister of Economic Development and Trade. After presiding
over an eight-year burst of economic growth, Gref took over as
chief executive of Sberbank, then a stodgy Soviet-style savings
bank, and turned it into a modern powerhouse offering the full
range of retail and wholesale services.
Thanks in large part to its 40 percent market share,
Sberbank continues to thrive despite the impact of global
sanctions following Russias intervention in Ukraine and
the price collapse of oil and gas, the countrys main
source of revenue. During a recent visit to meet investors in
New York, Gref, a youthful, gym-fit 52, sat down on a cold
Saturday morning for a breakfast interview with
Can Russias economy grow if oil prices remain
below $35 a barrel?
Last year the economy shrank by 3.7 percent, and this year
our forecast is for another decline of 1.5 to 2 percent, which
is more pessimistic than the consensus of 0.9 percent.
Next year, if oil prices increase to $45, we may grow 0.5 to 1
percent. But we need reforms that lead to a diversification of
the economy away from its dependence on
oil and gas. We have to create a radical change in the
investment climate. The first and most important measure is to
protect property rights and to reform the judicial system
involved with that issue. We also need tax reforms that
encourage more investment. We must eliminate bureaucratic red
tape, beginning at the top federal level. And these reforms
must get under way within the next three years.
Do you convey these views to President
I speak out publicly about these ideas. I do not have
frequent meetings with the president. But whenever I can, I
convey my views to government officials, including the
president. I see this as a first step in gaining acceptance for