From the Ground Up

Dmitry Lutsenko went from building his own home to helping construct Moskva-City in just two years.

This accelerated career path eventually landed Lutsenko on the board of Mirax Group, one of Russia's leading real estate development firms partly founded by Sergei Polonsky, Russia's youngest billionaire.

In 2000, Lutsenko, then just 29, built a house for his family near St. Petersburg.

"I was developer, contractor, architect and investor all in one," Lutsenko said. "The most difficult thing was bringing all the elements of the house together -- from the plumbing to the electrical fittings to the design."

Now 37, he compared the experience to that of Peter the Great, who learned how to be a great general by playing with toy soldiers.

In some small way, building his own house prepared Lutsenko to work for Mirax, the developer of Moskva-City, which will be home to two of Europe's tallest skyscrapers with the completion of the Federation Tower in 2009 and the Russia Tower in 2012.

Lutsenko was not initially interested in real estate. "I entered real estate because it was a niche to be exploited," Lutsenko said. "This was at the start of the 2000s. Before that I was interested mostly in construction, specifically industrial construction."

He began his working life as a finance specialist with a degree from the St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance.

But Lutsenko's story does not begin in St. Petersburg.

He was born in Arsenyev, a small city near Vladivostok, where his father worked as the head of a local factory. He lived there until eighth grade, when his father became the regional governor and the family moved to Vladivostok.

Arsenyev was named after Vladimir Arsenyev, a famous Russian explorer whose adventures were eventually made into a movie by the great Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa. As a little boy, Lutsenko was an extra in the film, Dersu Uzala.

"The town was two hours from China and a 40-minute flight from Japan," he said.

In the turbulent early 1990s, Lutsenko went to St. Petersburg to begin his studies. For most people, life was full of uncertainty at this time, but Lutsenko had a privileged background and education that allowed him to see opportunity in unexpected places.

"These times gave people the freedom to be creative. Everything was a clean slate," he said. "All of the students had questions about where to go and who to follow at this time. Even so, when the whole country was wondering what to do, the people at my university knew what they were going to do," he said.

After graduating in 1993, Lutsenko returned to Vladivostok, where his parents and older brother, Vladimir, still live. Lutsenko's parents originally came to the Far East because of their involvement in the Komsomol, the Soviet youth organization in which his brother was also active.

Sitting in his office overlooking the Moskva-City project, Lutsenko looks every inch the contemporary Russian businessman.
Eventually, he became an aeronautical engineer, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, "like all Komsomol leaders, he went to work for a bank," Lutsenko said.

Now his brother is retired and runs a scuba diving outfit.

Lutsenko enjoys visiting his brother and taking his wife and 9-year-old son diving.

"Its warm enough three months of the year," he said.

Lutsenko likes to travel, when he has the time.

Although his wife was trained as a specialist on Vietnam, he said his family mostly likes to visit Europe, particularly to go skiing in the Alps.

"I'm ashamed to say it," he said, "but I haven't visited Vietnam. But we [Mirax] are interested in working there."

One of the reasons he likes to travel, he said, is to "see that other people do things better than me, in a better way."

"All my life I have been traveling," Lutsenko said, referring to his moves from Arsenyev, to Vladivostok, to St. Petersburg, home again, back to St. Petersburg in 1997 and finally to Moscow.

In 2002, he came to the capital to become vice president for finance at Mirax. Lutsenko held that position until 2006, when he joined the company's board of directors.

"When I first met him, I was surprised at how young he was, but also how capable he was," said Alex Slesar, a Mirax vice president who has known Lutsenko about five years. "He has a Ph.D., but he's a practitioner. At the same time, he's understated and not flashy."

Tall and solidly built, with dark brown eyes, dark stubble, black hair and a serious demeanor, Lutsenko seemed at home in the swank corporate lounge of the Mirax office.

From his current post, Lutsenko says he realizes that "we [Mirax] operate on a level that requires strategic thinking. On this level, we realize that the world affects us, but that we can also affect the world."

One of the reasons he likes working for Mirax is the idea that it was built from the ground up through hard work. He believes that this experience reflects that of his father, whom he describes as "a self-made man who, in a very short time, reached great heights," and believed very strongly in the importance of hard work.

But Lutsenko admits that luck is also an important element.

"To be a success in Moscow takes the same thing it takes to be a success in any other city of the world: luck and hard work. But luck plays the greater role," he said.

But the firm, and Lutsenko, worry about its image -- especially as the company prepares for an IPO.

"We are not 200 years old. For most companies, 10 is not an age," he said.

Despite all the effort being spent trying to prove to potential investors that Mirax is worth their investment, the company is still on a learning curve.

Mirax's relations with its construction workers are a case in point.

"We didn't really understand how important it was to provide a normal life for our workers until there was a protest from the Chinese. We made the conditions better on our own dime, and productivity increased. We won't forget that lesson," he said.

Even with the weight of work, Lutsenko can be very eloquent when discussing Mirax's current projects.

"Some people say architecture is frozen music. Even though I have no gift for music, I will now be able to say I have created a few pieces in my life," he said. "Their usefulness will be my heritage."

Lutsenko had thought of going to live in the United States, but for the moment seems content in Moscow.

"This is the American Dream," he said.