Irina Pavlova can often be seen in courtside seats or owner's box at the Prudential Center, the highest profile Russian presence at a Nets game. Mikhail Prokhorov may fly in and out, bringing with him Moscow-based aides like Dmitry Razumov and Sergei Kushchenko but day in, day out, she's responsible for integrating the Nets' American and Russian sides.
Pavlova is president of Onexim Sports & Entertainment, Prokhorov's holding company. She's also been recently elevated to the board of directors of Nets Basketball and the company that will own Barclays Center. What's the 40-year-old Moscow native like? Tatler, the Russian version of the British gossip magazine, interviews her about her job and her qualifications, including a peripatetic past.
Operation: Takeover (Translation provided by New Jersey Nets)
Mikhail Prokhorov has bought the NETS basketball team and charged the delicate but strong financier Irina Pavlova to make champions out of them. Otherwise the threat of marriage looms.
Photographer: Slava Filipov
Article: Nelly Konstantinova
She’s not tall. Not a basketball player. With small diamond earrings and an unflashy Hermes bracelet. Oh, by the way, Irina Pavlova is the president of the Onexim Sports and Entertainment company. The position, and the company at that, came into being after Mikhail Prokhorov became an investor of the new sports arena in Brooklyn, part of the bargain after having bought an eighty percent share in the New Jersey Nets basketball team (the sum was 200 million dollars, despite the fact that the team had 60 million dollars in debts). Part of the spent funds, we hope, will be recouped with the help of 6 “Stoli” bars, which will be installed in the stadium: there’s a sound mind in a sound body.
The National Basketball Association of the United States, which is the umbrella organization of Prokhorov’s acquisition, is known everywhere. Its players are national heroes. And in China, where little people are selflessly drawn to basketball hoops. Basketball isn’t so popular in Russia. We play in other leagues.
The pretexts of Prokhorov’s acquisition quickly acquired two dimensions. One was that the team was necessary in order to boost Russian national basketball through foreign trips, scrimmage exchanges, shared coaches, and other advantages. And the second, somewhat in contradiction to the first: should the Nets not turn out NBA champions, the oligarch would get married. It was scary, scary. Irina is accountable for realizing such ambitious plans.
The daughter of a United Nations interpreter, she breathed air for the first four years of her life in New York, then was in Moscow in a red-brick building near the metro station “Akademicheskaya”. From ages three to five she fit in time in Geneva with its delicious chocolate confections. From ten to fifteen she experienced the diplomatic life in Washington. After that she finished the Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow. She went to the United States once again, with the intention of not staying for long. But she lingered for a few years: She worked as a financial analyst at Prudential and studied at Stanford.
She came to Russia every summer. In 2004 she felt the unexpected delight of the atmosphere in her homeland. The capital seemed “fun” to Irina. And we’re not only talking about nightclubs, but about a “different” energy in Moscow. She decided to return and became the first employee of Google Moscow office. She unexpectedly got the offer in San Francisco; it was probably fate.
Irina thinks that Russians are a warm people. That being said, she’s working overseas. The fact that she has spent half her life in America, that she speaks fluent American English, that she understands perfectly how Americans think and construct business relationships, has brought fruits: people have treated Pavlova warmly in her new workplace. She’s not teaching basketball players how to shoot three-pointers. And they don’t teach her how to sell tickets to games.
She knows how to sell professionally, regardless of whether it’s cement or basketball. Although basketball is interesting, as Pavlova admits, looking at the television screen, which was supposed to show the news of a four-way deal that would bring a big star to Prokhorov’s team.
She’s polite, smiling, and easygoing: with a soft touch it’s possible to solve more problems than with force.
From the moment of the team’s acquisition the Russian owner has switched so many players that Irina will have to get to know the players again this season.
Second page, caption: Silk dress, metallic bracelet with a faux pearl (Dior); metallic leather and chiffon open-toe sandals (Chanel); gold earrings, necklace and Sevilla ring with diamonds (Palacios del Sur, Carrera y Carrera).
Third page: The first game of the season was an event corresponding to all expectations. There were fourteen thousand spectators. Evening dresses are not on the order of the day; we’re talking about America, and basketball. “Thank God,” says Irina, “that there aren’t any evening dresses.”
In October the Nets arrived in Russia to play and to share experience. Irina’s task: increase the number of outdoor basketball courts in Russia and the number of viewers. The fact that Mikhail Prokhorov bought the team has already elevated basketball’s status in the eyes of Russians. But it’s only the start of a long path.
Having boosted Russian Google, she didn’t work for two years, instead traveling the world. Her beloved Italy received detailed attention, then came Butan, Nepal, Tibet, Latin America, Montenegro, Croatia, and Great Britain. By herself or with friends, for three days or for months, as in Argentina (“I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the place”).
She’s always loved Moscow, despite the most horrible traffic in the world. “Friends’ recommendations mean a lot more here than work experience or education. Responsibility and loyalty are very valued in Russia. “I don’t have any conflicts with anyone, so this job turned up,” Irina says modestly about her current position.
She’s absolutely free of any Moscow tendencies in behavior, such as name-dropping, boasting, not being forthcoming, putting people in hierarchies, and other savage things. She’s polite, smiley, and easygoing and asserts that a soft touch can solve more problems than force. She says she’s peppery but holds herself together. She says that the best impulse in dialog is self-confidence.
“How do you talk with people of Mikhail Prokhorov’s tier?” “I don’t know if I could have done this work at 20 years old, because I wasn’t very confident in myself,” she explains. She’s forty now, and with regards to the age question, she, unmarried and without children, answers without mincing her words, in distinction to other people.
She now lives in New York but once every two months comes to Moscow for a week for meetings and consultations. All joking aside, Prokhorov doesn’t have an e-mail address, and Irina thinks it’s a great way to guard oneself from a lot of garbage. But the boss always returns phone calls and is unbelievably punctual. “He’s a very pleasant person to interact with: I think neither money nor power has corrupted him.”
She knows how to sell professionally, regardless of whether it’s cement or basketball.
A propos Prokhorov’s plans to marry she answers properly that the alternative – making the Nets NBA champions or lose a bachelor’s freedom – is a serious stimulus to put in work in the team, but in general Prokhorov is a superior, and she doesn’t talk about personal life with her.
Inside the team, in the broad sense of the word, everyone loves Prokhorov. He has brought new energy and has vitalized the game and competition. Everything has become more interesting with him, a young, charismatic, and tall man. Basketball is an exciting game, fast-paced, interesting. “It’s not baseball,” says Irina.
Pavlova does not consider herself a workaholic, but it sometimes happens that she’ll work 14-hour days in Moscow. She doesn’t keep to a diet. “You’re offered enough to eat here, but the prices are shocking: I don’t feel right paying 30 dollars for a tomato salad.” She plays tennis on “Petrovka”. She reads e-books (great on the plane), methodically moving away from paper ones. She’s renting an apartment on the “Svetny Bulvar”, not far from downtown, but also not noisy. She doesn’t cook at home, and even for coffee she uses a simple French press.
In New York she lives on the sunny boulevard there, at the corner of 57th and 8th Ave. on Columbus Circle, with Al Pacino as a neighbor, in an apartment without furniture, but with a panoramic view of Central Park. Big windows, on the one hand, are nice, but on the other – it’s hard to even put up a television. “I have a mental image of the ideal set-up, but I haven’t gotten around to realizing it”, says Irina. “Mental” is the only Anglicism that I have heard so far in her impeccable Russian speech. The mental picture means a modern style, light tones, with Asian motifs. “I won’t say I’m a minimalist because I have a lot of things and they have to be jammed somewhere. My mom laughs that even the ottoman opens so that I could put something inside it.
Nonetheless I asked her if the “Irina habit of modesty” embarrassed her Russian business partners. A different standard is accepted in Russia, because if a person smiles and talks freely then everybody thinks it’s weakness. “I don’t know. It’s for the time being,” Irina answers. And quietly adds: “And they probably think, that Prokhorov wouldn’t hire whoever fell from the sky”.