Mass walkout in shareholder tussle over Natura Siberica

The Bell

Just seven months after the death of cosmetics tycoon Andrei Trubnikov, his company Natura Siberica has been engulfed by a shareholder conflict that has led to chaos. Employees last week accused new management of unlawfully seizing control and quit in droves. There are also reports that billionaires — including Oleg Deripaska and Vladimir Yevtushenko — are after a piece of the Trubnikov empire.

  • Protests over a perceived attempt to seize control of organic cosmetics giant Natura Siberica last week led to about 60 percent of its central office staff resigning or going on vacation, according to media outlet One employee told The Bell that 57 staff members quit and 101 left for a holiday in just 48 hours. Current company head Sergei Buylov confirmed the reports, calling them attempted sabotage. “We have now stabilised the situation through outsourcing, but I can’t say the issue is resolved,” he said.
  • The conflict began shortly after the death of founder Andrei Trubnikov in January. It remains unclear if the late Andrei Trubnikov left a will, but he likely has four inheritors, people familiar with the matter told The Bell. They are: son Dmitry and daughter Yekaterina from his first marriage; daughter Yelizaveta from his second marriage; and his third wife Anastasia (who he was set to divorce). Immediately after his demise, the CEO of the company became his first wife and Natura Siberica co-founder Irina Trubnikova.
  • But when Trubnikov’s relatives began suing each other, control of the company passed to trustee Grigory Zhdanov, who made personnel changes, including appointing former Natura Siberica top manager Buylov — who was previously fired for incompetence — as the company’s CEO.
  • Natura Siberica employees loyal to Irina Trubnikova published an open letter earlier this month accusing Zhdanov, Buylov and their supporters of trying to seize control — and announced a strike. Then, Trubnikova and her son Dmitry — who together own 55 percent of Natura Siberica — as well as other employees were blocked from entering the company’s office or accessing company databases. Natura Siberica’s Instagram claimed “strong young people” who looked like “fighters” showed up to enforce order. “Thank God my employees haven’t been beaten up, but they were very scared,” Irina Trubnikova told The Bell. Buylov said access to the company’s offices had been restricted for those hindering “lawful activities”.
  • The upheaval at the company may give billionaires looking for a stake in the business their chance. Yevtushenkov was in talks to buy shares owned by Trubnikov’s first wife Irina and her children, The Bell reported earlier this year (although Trubnikova later denied this). And media outlet Forbes reported Yevtushenkov was also trying to acquire shares owned by Trubnikov’s third wife. In addition, there was media speculation that metals tycoon Deripaska was seeking to acquire a stake in Natura Siberica, possibly as a way of settling a 4.2 billion ruble lawsuit related to fire at a factory rented by the company.

Why the world should care: Natura Siberica has stood out both at home and abroad by its focus on Siberia and an ecological spin on cosmetics. The company is “a rare bright spot for a Russian economy that has been languishing,” The New York Times wrote in 2007. “In general, all cosmetics are the same. We invent a fairy tale and sell it to women,” Trubnikov famously said. If the current conflict continues, it could mean the end of this particular fairy tale.


Support The Bell!

The Bell's Newsletter

An inside look at the Russian economy and politics. Exclusively in your inbox every week.