Dr Dmitry Zimin

"What might be called “the Zimin effect". Alexander Arkhangelskiy about Dr Zimin

If Dmitry Borisovich Zimin could be summed up in a single word, that word would be happy. Used as a noun rather than an adjective, an artistic licence for just this once. Surely, he suffered immensely at the thought of his country, having realised well in advance where it was headed and being only too aware of the futility of most efforts to fix Russian life. And still, he was happy. Because he did only the inspiring things, and his main inspiration was organising chaos, be it the chaos of mass inanity to be overcome by science, the chaos of mean political instincts to be overcome by institutions, or the chaos of divisions in time and space mastered by mobile communications. Some of his dreams stayed in the realm of phantasies, but some matters really became more organised — at every step of his way, at every turn of his fate.

Just like a fairy tale hero, he had three lives: the first one in strategic military science, the second in peaceful business, and the third one in education. All three were eminently successful. I did not have the chance to meet Zimin, the practising scientist, so I had to turn to memoirs and interviews with old-timers for insights, but he was invariably referred to in the superlative. I was not a part of his early years in business either, and yet I use his achievements on a daily basis just like everybody else. I still recall the proud tenderness with which he used to handle the very first cellulars of the 1990s that he kept in his Moscow office.

My youngest son, who happened to share the table with Zimin at an event in Leo Tolstoy’s museum estate, first gawped wide-eyed at the avuncular Dmitry Borisovich who entertained the public with stories of his Soviet motorcycle races, and felt even more astounded when the “old man in plaid shirt” stopped in mid-sentence to double-check some fact in one of his two smartphones and then — to the quiet delight of my son — walked out of the feast room, grumbling about the abysmal quality of on-site Internet.

What I witnessed with my own eyes though was the way Zimin managed research and education, both at the Dynasty Foundation and afterwards. He advanced on a tightrope between the harshness of a great manager and the unpredictability of a freelancer.

He was tough and unpliant in asserting his visionary insights. During a legendary dinner at the Pushkin restaurant, with vodka and pirozhki, he dismissed the reservations about the prematurity of a Russian pop science award, with book counters of the time being either empty or filled with a mix of translations and Soviet classics. His retort was almost a monosyllable: “They’ll come!” And it was so. Come they did.

But wherever the decision-making of the jury and the Board was concerned, he was flexible to the point of evasiveness: “Choose for yourselves.” His toughness was not unreasonable (“All right, you have me convinced!”), and his evasiveness not unlimited (relinquishing his vote, Zimin endured an almost physical pain when the jury sidestepped his favourites). But only the most improbable mix of building independent institutions and changing the established rules every time to get better results produced what might be called “the Zimin effect.”

What was this effect? The energy of momentaneous brainwaves, the vortex of engaging inspirations based on personal genius and hyperfast calculations that was often mistaken for a total lack thereof. Zimin was a unique leader: a less gifted person would have wrecked every project in a high-handed chaos or a quagmire of qualms and dithering. He was the only one to be able to find the good road. And he led the way while pretending to follow the advice of others.

Just like a fairy tale hero, he had three lives: the first one in strategic military science, the second in peaceful business, and the third one in education. All three were eminently successful

– Alexander Arkhangelskiy, co-founder of the Enlightener Prize

…The last time I met DB was on 21 November, in Cyprus, where he lived of late. The close was already in sight, and he was probably musing about the impending finale. It was dark, late at night. The beachside restaurant table was a glow of light, the air smelling of the sea. That’s when Zimin broke the silence and asked (as a person who knows the answer beforehand but needs it confirmed):

‘I’m in paradise here. And over there’ — he gave a tentative wave of his hand — ‘there are people apparently living in hell. Isn’t it odd that I am in paradise rather than in hell? Or have I earned it?’

Thank you, Dmitry Borisovich. You earned it fair and square.

Alexander Arkhangelskiy – writer, publicist, documentary filmmaker, co-founder of the Enlightener Prize

Dr Zimin's bio
Dmitry Borisovich Zimin was born in 1933 in Moscow. In 1957 Dr Zimin graduated from the Radio-Electronics Department of the Moscow Aviation Institute. Dr Zimin’s first career was in the Soviet defense industry, working as an engineer on long- range missile attack detecting radars. During his 35-year career, he has progressed from a low level manager to a Deputy Chief Engineer at the A.L. Mints Institute of Radio Engineering. Dmitry Zimin is the author of more than a hundred scientific works and inventions. In 1963 he earned a PhD in Technical Sciences, followed by degree in radio-engineering sciences in 1984.

In 1992, in partnership with an American entrepreneur Augie K. Fabela Dr Dmitry Zimin founded VimpelCom (a Russian mobile phone operator, under the “Beeline” brand), the first Russian company listed on New York Stock Exchange through IPO back in 1996, and which since then has become VEON group. From its very beginning, the growth of VimpelCom was supported by foreign investors: initially by equipment vendor financing (from Ericsson and Alcatel), then by syndicated bank loans.

VimpelCom’s commitment to international standards for business transparency, corporate management, and investor rights protection, unusual for a Russian company in the 1990s, made it even more attractive to foreign investors. Accordingly, Telenor Group of Norway partnered with Dr. Zimin to invest in VimpelCom in 1998. Dr. Zimin remained the controlling shareholder and the CEO of the company. VimpelCom has grown to be one of the world’s largest integrated telecommunications services operators.

After his retirement and selling controlling stake in VimpelCom in 2001 Dr Zimin devoted himself to philanthropy. He transferred 90% of his wealth to an endowment. Since 2002 and for more than ten years his philanthropic activities have been focused mainly on Russia and have been facilitated through the Dynasty Foundation. Its mission was to support Russian fundamental science and education and to popularize scientific knowledge.

The Dynasty Foundation was managed by an independent Board, in which the Zimin family was represented by Dr Zimin and his son Boris Zimin. In 2015 the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation labelled the Dynasty Foundation as a “foreign agent”, and the Board and the Zimin family made the difficult decision to wrap up the Foundation’s activities. Since then, the Zimin Foundation has continued the Zimin family’s philanthropic activities.

In 2007, Dmitry Zimin's Illustrated book "From 2 to 72"  was published. The photographs are accompanied by texts that so naturally intertwine with the illustrations that the book's separate episodes create an overall picture of the author's life and thoughts. The book's focus ranges from the intimate moments of family life to the life of society. Here you can read few pieces of this book of memoirs.

Dr Zimin Awards
Dr Zimin was awarded the Popov Award by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1965) as well as the State Award of the Russian Federation (1993)
In 2001, he received the Russian national level “Business Olympus” award in the “Business Reputation” category.
In 2013 The Carnegie Trust recognized the activities of Dr Zimin – he became the first and so far the only Russian philanthropist awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. 
In February 2015 Dmitry Zimin was awarded the Russian national-level prize “For Faithfulness to Science”, in the “For Patronage of Science” category, for significant contributions to popularizing science and supporting the scientific community. This prize was established by the Ministry of Science and Education of the Russian Federation.
In 2018 Dr Zimin got Honorary Doctorate degree of Tel Aviv University

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