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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Youth Brings Success to Inkombank

ST. PETERSBURG -- When the head of Inkombank's St. Petersburg office left for a rival bank in 1996, the board in Moscow turned to a fresh-faced 26-year-old just five years out of college -- despite their doubts about his hairstyle.

The Moscow-based financial powerhouse set up its sister organization in St. Petersburg in 1993 with the specific aim of recruiting fresh talent untainted by Soviet-style approaches to banking.

But few at that time could have predicted that three years later they would be putting their entire local operation -- a bank that now employs 700 people and has assets of $254 million -- into the hands of someone quite as fresh as Vadim Zingman, now 28.

Zingman's first lessons in finance had come just a few years earlier, flipping burgers at buggy stoves on street corners to put himself through St. Petersburg's University of Economics and Finance.

He graduated from university with distinction in 1991, then joined Inkombank St. Petersburg two years later at the age of 22, working with about 25 people recruited to get the bank up and running.

At Inkombank, his star rose fast, and eventually he took over operations in the vital finance department and became the right arm of the bank's chief, Sergei Bazhanov.

Such youthful success was a sign of the times, said Vladimir Dzhikovich, president of the St. Petersburg Association of Commercial Banks.

"It seems this was a way for the old Soviet banking system to start new market -- and client-oriented operations -- by opening the road for bright and open-minded banking youth, such as Zingman and [Andrei] Bykov [the 35-year-old head of Energomashbank]," Dzhikovich said.

Then, Zingman's boss, Bazhanov, left to head Balt-Uneximbank, the local sister to Uneximbank. Bazhanov took about 10 Inkombank NRC employees with him -- but his right-hand man stayed behind.

A battle between the two has raged ever since, particularly on the waterfront, where each is outdoing the other by forming alliances with shipbuilders.

But the rivalries have also spilled onto the cultural stage: When Uneximbank President Vladimir Potanin promised "millions of dollars" in a sponsorship program with the Hermitage Museum in December, Inkombank NRC followed up with a deal two weeks later with the Russian Museum, under which Zingman promised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next five years.

After Bazhanov's departure, Zingman says the Inkombank board of directors took little notice of his age when considering him for the position.

But there were two issues that Zingman said made the board of directors debate seriously his candidacy -- his bachelor's status, and his ponytail.

The board rolled the dice, though, and soon after his appointment -- he was the youngest head of a St. Petersburg bank at the time -- Zingman married, as he put it, a beautiful linguist.

The ponytail, however, has stayed, and judging by his first year's performance, it hasn't cost Inkombank a kopek. Inkombank NRC under Zingman's stewardship is now the city's seventh largest bank by assets.

In 1996, Zingman's first year, the St. Petersburg operation earned 702.2 billion rubles ($138.4 million) in gross profits -- just under 10 percent of the Inkombank group's total gross profits for that year, which are listed by the Skate information agency as 7.15 trillion rubles.