Herman Gref

'Privatization Would Make Russia More Efficient'

A woman walks past the state-run Sberbank headquarters in downtown Moscow, Russia.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Russia’s largest bank and the fourth-largest bank in Europe has fared relatively well in the financial crisis. CEO Herman Gref says Western sanctions hurt the bank at first, but that it has since adapted.

  • Facts


    • The terrorist attacks in Paris and Egypt have brought Russia and the West closer together.
    • Rumors that Sberbank was being disconnected from international financial markets prompted its customers to withdraw €19.4 billion from their accounts.
    • Mr. Gref argues that Russia needs a more modern system of governance.
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The 25th floor of the Sberbank Tower offers a gloomy view on a foggy day over Moscow City, the banking district of Moscow. The buildings housing the competition are hardly visible from the top floor, symbolic since Russia’s largest bank is in decent shape while the competition is licking its wounds, half-hidden in the mist. The Russian central bank owns 50 percent plus one share of Sberbank. It is the largest bank in Eastern Europe and the fourth largest in all of Europe.

In the bank’s library room we meet with CEO Herman Gref. Born in 1964 into a family of ethnic Germans living in what is now Kazakhstan, Mr. Gref is considered Russia’s most outspoken business executive. And he can afford to express critical opinions; Sberbank, which he has headed since November 2007, is still profitable today. A lawyer by profession, he has known President Vladimir Putin since the 1990s, when the two men lived in St. Petersburg. Mr. Gref later authored President Putin’s economic program, and he was the country’s economy minister from 2000 to 2007.

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