Interview with Evgeny Lebedev, Owner of the Independent and Evening Standard

Where do you live and spend most of your time?

I live in London throughout the year. This is where I’ve lived since I was 8, and though I travel a huge amount, and have a place in Italy, there’s no doubt that I’m a Londoner first and foremost.

How important is philanthropy to you? If at all, and are you involved with any charities or foundations?

Philanthropy is vital. I think it immoral for people with material comfort not to be involved in philanthropic or charitable work, and I have made it central to the journalism my newspapers undertake too. Luckily, a little bit of exposure to some of the inspirational work done by philanthropists and charities is enough to persuade most people to get involved. I saw at first hand, and then helped to steer, the extraordinary work of the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, named after the wife of former Soviet President Mikhail, a family friend and truly great man. Under my ownership, the Evening Standard has raised millions through its Dispossessed Fund and other campaigns on literacy, apprenticeships and gangs. Through the Independent titles, we’ve raised record amounts for child soldiers in Africa (with Unicef), elephants in Africa (with Space for Giants, of which I’m now Patron) and homeless veterans (with ABF The Soldiers Charity and Veterans Aid). We’ve got plenty more in the pipeline too.

Why did you decide to purchase the Evening Standard? What about it made you think it would be a good investment going forward?

I decided to purchase it after an enjoyable meal with Lord Rothermere (now co-owner) and Geordie Greig (who we made Editor) in 2009. I wasn’t certain that it would be a great investment. After all, it was losing around £30m. But I love journalism and love London, so this seemed a natural fit. And I had the sense that if we dared to be radical, we could make sure the paper didn’t just survive, but thrived. With a circulation of 900,000 after going free, and a forecast profit this year, the Standard is a journalistic powerhouse in our City – and I’m hugely proud of what the team have achieved.

I-MAGAZINE focuses on business and politics and brings them together, in what ways can business affect politics to see through global and local change in a way you would be happy with?

Businesses can lobby politics, of course, and politicians care deeply about businesses because they both employ millions of voters and generate the economic growth that gives governments money to spend on our behalf. I think the task for business is to show politics both which way the world is going – in short: ever more inter-connected through travel and technology – and that business is above all a force for good. Politicians can get on the right side of history, and make an ally of the future, by looking at the business that are generating profit and demand, and working with them.

What are your views on Vladimir Putin?

Putin is notoriously and repeatedly misunderstood by the West. In Britain, for example, we have a multi-party system where power is diffused: that is what we think of as effective democracy. In Russia, power is more concentrated, and people are happy for it to be exercised by a strongman. That is what Putin is: a hugely intelligent and, yes, ruthless strongman who believes in Russian greatness and wishes to restore pride to a people wounded by defeat in the Cold War. That’s not to say that he is intent on starting a new Cold War, as some in the West would see it. Rather, he plays by different rules to the West, and rightly sees that the 21st Century belongs to the East. That’s why he’s striking up such a strong partnership with China and India. 

Do you think Russia will one day join the European Union?

Unlikely in the near future. I am a great believer in bringing Russia and its European neighbours closer together, not least through culture. But right now there is a great deal of hostility, and it will take time for that to pass.

What do you think the fundamentals of leadership are?

Having a vision of where you want to get to, and motivating people to get there. Obviously you need to have real authority; communicate effectively; make decisions swiftly; back your instinct and intuition; and reward people for hard work and loyalty.

What is your leadership style?

Warren Buffett’s maxim, “Hire well and manage little” is very attractive – but there are times when you need to get involved personally, with great attention to detail. I do have a close circle of advisers on whom I rely, and they are the people who tell me things I don’t want to hear. I try to motivate people by getting a clear picture of where they want to be in one, three and ten years. I think people who work for me would say I am tough but fair.

How important is social media i.e. Twitter to you personally and in modern business?

It’s essential. In ‘Why I Write’, Orwell said “my initial concern is to get a hearing”. Every writer and most businesses want to get a hearing. Social media allows you to reach millions instantly. I use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and have made social media absolutely at the heart of what my media do.

This interview was originally published in July 2016 and will be republished in full at a later date.