Sistema holds majority stakes in a number of Russian telecommunications (such as MTS), media and utility businesses.
These investments sit among other newer areas of investment, like retail, with its Detsky Mir group, the largest children’s goods retailer in Russia; pharmaceuticals; agriculture, with assets including Agroholding Steppe; and the pulp and paper business, in its Segezha Group.
Sistema’s CEO Mikhail Shamolin said that industries listed above were the “darlings” of the company’s investment portfolio.
“All of those are darlings. In terms of retail, if you take Detsky (Mir) as an example, we’ve had 37 percent year-on-year growth in this business. In pulp and paper, we had around 40 percent growth, in agriculture, this business did not exist two years ago and this business is going to deliver over $50 million in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and next year we’re planning to double this,” Shamolin said.
“So those are the horses we’re planning to ride in the next few years to really build up our portfolio.”
Sistema has also branched into private healthcare. In 2015, Sistema acquired a 25.2 percent stake in Medsi Group, Russia’s largest national chain of private healthcare clinics and hospitals. With a population of around 143 million people, healthcare in Russia is certainly a potential high-growth business
Speaking to CNBC from one of the company’s newest hospitals in Moscow, Shamolin said growth rates in the private healthcare business would be robust.
“We believe it is double-digit growth potentially and we believe that (it’s possible to build) multiple billions of market capitalization in the private medical healthcare business in Russia,” he said, adding that thousands of Muscovites currently went abroad for private healthcare treatment.
The company says that it acts as a responsible investor that is facilitating the development of the Russian economy – one that has seen a turbulent couple of years due to international sanctions imposed on the country for its annexation of Crimea and role in the pro-Russian uprising in east Ukraine.
With Russia reintegrating itself into the global economic and political community, however, Shamolin beleives the worst was over for the country and that Russia’s problems had been mainly down to the global oil price slump rather than sanctions.
“The sanctions regime is very much overstated. If we look at issues that exist in the Russian economy I think only 5 percent are sanctions related and the rest are non-sanctions related and to do with the reduction of the price of oil and Russia was very much oil-dependent and is now restructuring itself to be less so.”
“Overall, at Sistema, we’re contributing a 20-25 percent return to our shareholders so we can’t say that we’re doing badly even in the current economic circumstances.”
In fact, international sanctions (as well as Russia’s retaliatory sanctions on foreign goods) and the ruble’s subsequent depreciation against the dollar has done Sistema a favor in some ways, Shamolin noted.
“As far as the Russian economy is concerned, we’re actually quite confident that we have a very good growth platform because after the ruble devaluation we have a competitive advantage in most of our producing businesses with good export potential. And we have good growth potential in import substitution here in Russia, including private medical care — because people who used to take dollars and euros abroad (for medical care), now it’s twice as expensive and here we have the facilities which are on a par with any of the ones in the West.”