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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Golden Chief Puts 20 Years' Experience to Work

For MTAlexander Vinogradov helped build a network for the 1980 Olympics.
After more than two decades in the communications industry, Alexander Vinogradov has gone from a Soviet engineer to the head of one of Russia's telecommunications giants.

Appointed president and chief executive officer at Golden Telecom in October, Vinogradov, 48, was given a difficult task: incorporating a previously separate company, Sovintel, as a fully owned subsidiary.

"We have to form a company that will be able to react to all new trends in technology," he says. "The first task is to make a united company and restructure -- find ways of cutting costs, make optimal prices and structures and not lose clients."

Vinogradov's career started in 1980, when he joined the long-distance communications department of the Soviet Communications Ministry. His first project was to help construct a fiber-optic network for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow together with engineers from Finland.

Vinogradov had only one college course in fiber optics at the Moscow Communications Institute.

"It was very interesting -- new team, new equipment and new approach," Vinogradov says. "I was lucky to start working not in the routine, but when things were on the rise."

Over the next 10 years, his career progressed along with the dynamic industry. He was put in charge of transmitting TV signals from Moscow to Kiev, and later became the head of the Communications Ministry's department tasked with laying the Soviet Union's long-distance telephone network.

In 1991, Vinogradov joined Sovintel, a new company building an alternative fixed-line network in Moscow.

Sovintel was 50 percent owned by state long-distance monopoly Rostelecom, with Golden Telecom holding the other 50 percent.

"When I moved to Sovintel, the most interesting stuff began -- learning about the market economy and how relationships are built with other [foreign] companies," he says. "It was a different culture and a different attitude toward business."

Vinogradov had to get used to a whole new way of doing things.

"In Soviet times, telephony was a different thing. You needed to stay on a waiting list to get a telephone. You needed to go to the telephone station and write a letter asking for a telephone line," he says. "Then it turned the other way around: It wasn't the client who was coming to us, it was we who approached the client."

That was Vinogradov's job -- attracting customers. From 1991 to 1993 he was responsible for development and marketing at Sovintel.

"We were learning how to do it as a company," he recalls. "We became students again, we were learning from our American partners, from our clients, from reading. We were finding ourselves in this world."

In 1994, Vinogradov became the head of sales and marketing at Sovientel, and a year later he was promoted to commercial director. Months later, he was appointed general director.

In November, Golden agreed to buy Rostelecom's 50 percent stake in Sovintel for $52 million. Rostelecom is also to receive a 15 percent stake in Golden.

Vinogradov was chosen to head Golden, and the restructuring began. But even after 20 years working in the sector, the first few months in charge of Golden have been a new experience.

"I wouldn't say I understand everything. There are still questions that as a president of a company listed on Nasdaq I have to answer," Vinogradov says. "This is a new part of the business that I am learning and asking about and watching.

"There is not much time to get into the swing of things."

But he is confident in his ability to deal with any problems that arise.

"I am a lucky man. I went through all the steps at the company and I tried everything on myself," Vinogradov says. "My career has made it possible for me to speak to the specialists who are responsible for different things in their language."

He appreciates the importance of the team he is heading.

"I have always been surrounded by people as professional as I am. A professional for me is a person who understands what he is doing and is properly responsible for what he's doing."

Vinogradov says he holds his employees to high standards, but it's important not to be too severe.

"I say to my directors: 'Don't be afraid to put the right person in the wrong place. If a professional feels he is in the wrong place, we will find him a right place,'" he says. "The most scary thing is to lose a professional and thus present a gift to our competitors."

Since taking over at Golden, Vinogradov has had only two weeks of vacation a year and has had to give up some his favorite activities.

"It's work and then home, work and then home ... a boring life," Vinogradov says with a smile. "When I manage to find some, it's a holiday," he says, describing his trips to Finland to go fishing.

As a painter, he hasn't picked up his brushes since starting his new job.

"The last painting was of the place where I fish -- nostalgia about the water," he says with a laugh.

Vinogradov has enough time to occasionally strum his guitar, a birthday present from his family.

"This is a good way to relax, so every now and then I sit down, lock the door and strum around a bit," he says.

And, of course, there's always time for his two sons, 19 and 23 years old.

"I still bring them up as an old and caring father," he says with a warm smile. "They still sometimes come to me with their questions: It means they still have some trust in me."