Arkady Volozh: The founder of Yandex’s legacy is under threat due to the war in Ukraine
It took 20 years for Arkady Volozh to integrate Yandex with Google, Uber, Spotify and Amazon combined in Russia, Wired explains – and just 20 days for “everything to fall apart”. The country’s preeminent tech giant has been so hit by the war in Ukraine that there are doubts about its survival – at least in its current form.
Western sanctions have led to the freezing of Yandex shares on US stock exchanges, leading shareholders to demand repayment of convertible note collateral, reports Radio Free Europe. The company says it doesn’t have the $1.25 billion to cover the sum. The now non-tradable stock has fallen nearly 80% since November, wiping out more than $20 billion in market value. Renowned Western partners are deserting en masse.
A Russian Miracle
Founded as a search engine in 1997, Yandex has spent years cultivating an image far enough away from the Kremlin to be considered a safe investment, according to the Financial Times. It was successful enough to be considered “a Russian miracle” in Western tech circles.
But now Volozh’s hopes of becoming “a major player on the global tech scene” have been shattered. There are also growing concerns about his position at home, says Bloomberg. Russia’s ‘ubiquitous tech company’ is ‘facing looming hardware shortages’ as US sanctions bite. Sources say it could run out of semiconductors to power its servers within a year to 18 months. By all accounts, disaster couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, says Wired. Arkady, as everyone at Yandex calls him, comes across as “the opposite of the stereotypical boastful, knife-wielding political Russian oligarch.” Indeed, he is described as “erased, cerebral, respectful”. American angel investor and former Yandex board member Esther is a business tycoon.” Others consider him a visionary leader. He also clearly has diplomacy skills – mastering the “high-flying act” of running an independent business while remaining on the right side of the Kremlin.
Born in 1964 to a Jewish family in the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan, Volozh’s father was an oil geologist and his mother a music teacher. As a child, he was something of a prodigy and attended a special school for mathematically gifted students, where he formed a close relationship with “an equally precocious youngster,” Ilya Segalovich.
The couple went to Moscow for college and after graduation started a series of small IT businesses in the 1990s, ‘tinkering’ with ‘the possible but unproven business potential of the internet “. Volozh likes to brag that its first search engine was launched in September 1997, almost a year before Google. In 2009, it held 56% of the Russian-speaking market. Two years later, when Yandex floated on the Nasdaq raising $1.3 billion, it was hailed as the start of a new era.
Segalovich, who was openly anti-Kremlin, died in 2013, leaving Volozh to run Yandex on his own in an “increasingly nationalistic” climate. But lately, Volozh had begun to “tiptoe west” in a bid to make the company “less dependent on its activities in Russia – and the whims of Vladimir Putin”.
Yandex formed a joint venture with Uber and launched delivery services in London and Paris. But its most showy project is a Michigan-based self-driving car trial launched in partnership with Grubhub. Volozh lived in Israel for a long time. He could now be subject to a senior executive exodus, according to The Times of Israel.
A Reuters report this week suggests Yandex CEO Elena Bullina has quit and left Russia for Israel. “I cannot work in a country that is at war with its neighbors,” she writes. The fate of the company is now up in the air, former champion Esther Dyson told Radio Free Europe. “The future of Yandex depends on the future of Russia.”