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|Alma mater||Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (MBA)|
Moscow State University
|Occupation||Businessman: venture capitalist, founder of Digital Sky Technologies and DST Global|
|Net worth||US$3.5 billion (November 2019)|
Yuri Borisovich (Bentsionovich) Milner (Russian: Ю́рий Бори́сович Бенцио́нович Ми́льнер; born 11 November 1961) is an Israeli-Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist and physicist. Milner is Russia's most influential information technology (tech) investor. He is a cofounder and former chairperson of Internet company Mail.Ru Group (former name Digital Sky Technologies (DST)) and a founder of investment firm DST Global. Through DST Global, Milner is an investor in Byju’s, VKontakte, Facebook, Zynga, Stripe, Twitter, Flipkart, Practo, Spotify, Zocdoc, Groupon, JD.com, Xiaomi, OlaCabs, Alibaba, Airbnb, WhatsApp, Nubank, Wish, and many others.
Milner's personal investments also include a stake in 23andMe, Habito, Planet Labs, minority stake in a real estate investments startup, Cadre, founded by Jared Kushner (son-in-law of 45th President Donald Trump), and others.
Born into a Jewish family on 11 November 1961 in Moscow, Yuri Milner was the second child of Russian intellectuals. His father, Bentsion Zakharovitch Milner, was active in the sphere of management and organization. He was Chief Deputy Director at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Betty Iosifovna Milner, Yuri's mother, worked at the capital's state-run virological laboratory for disease control. His older sister, eight years his senior, is an architect.
Milner studied theoretical physics at Moscow State University, graduating in 1985. He went on to work at Lebedev Physical Institute, one of the institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences. As a doctoral candidate in particle physics, Milner befriended Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov's forward thinking would later influence Milner's venture investment strategy.
In 1990, Milner became the first non-émigré from the Soviet Union to travel to the United States to receive an Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The press quoted him as saying that he made this decision after "being disappointed in myself as a physicist." Milner was a commencement speaker for the Wharton Business School's 2017 class. In September 2020 the Friends of Israel, the non-profit foundation co-founded by Milner, established an MBA fellowship at the Wharton School. This $10 million fellowship will support more than 60 Israeli students at Wharton over 10 years.
Milner started his business career selling gray market DOS computers in the Soviet Union, which displeased his father. When the USSR collapsed, he stopped selling computers in order to enroll at the Wharton School to earn an MBA.
After graduating, Milner spent the first half of the 1990s at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as a Russian banking specialist focused on the development of private sector banking. He has described his time at the World Bank as his "lost years", due to watching from afar the privatization of government holdings during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. In the spring of 1995, Milner was appointed CEO of Alliance-Menatep, a stock brokerage company belonging to then oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
In December 1996, Milner worked as Vice President and Head of Investment Management of Menatep Bank. In February 1997 Milner was appointed the deputy chairperson and the head of the investment division of Menatep Bank but left this position in early 1998. At the time, the market makers described him as "a well-known professional, who will bring the bank valuable experience in international financial institutions and transactions in the Russian investment market".
Russian Internet Investments
In 1999, after reading a review by Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker on the prospects for online businesses, Milner decided to create an Internet company. He sought funding from his friend from Menatep days Gregory Finger, who at the time led the Russian branch of the US investment fund New Century Holding. The fund agreed to invest $4.5 million with the proviso that Milner and Finger each personally invest $750,000. Milner, Finger, and NCH created a new company, NetBridge. In 2000, Milner became the president of Netbridge Services Ltd. (netBridge) – the company that was, "created as an Internet incubator and investment fund". Netbridge succeeded in transferring a variety of U.S.-pioneered Internet business models to Russia, creating companies including the portal List.ru, online auction site Molotok.ru (based on eBay), free web-hosting Boom.ru (based on GeoCities), and online shop 24×7, using the formula of Amazon.com.
In February 2001, netBridge and Port.ru (which owned Mail.ru) announced a merger. Milner became CEO of the new company named Mail.Ru (though the legal name Port.ru was also retained).
In 2005, NCH shifted its focus from Russian Internet projects and Milner founded the investment fund Digital Sky Technologies (DST), becoming its chairperson in 2006. A meeting through mutual friends resulted in Alisher Usmanov becoming a shareholder of Mail.ru Group in 2008.
In March 2012, Milner stepped down from the role of chairperson of Mail.ru and from the board of directors. Dmitry Grishin was elected to the board and appointed as chairperson while retaining his CEO position. There were no other changes to management or to the board.
Post Mail.ru Group's IPO, DST is the sole vehicle for further international investments. The company is now fully independent of Mail.ru Group.
Tech and Internet Investments
In January 2009, while in Palo Alto, Milner became acquainted with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The meeting led to an agreement on 26 May 2009 under which DST bought a 1.96% stake in Facebook for $200 million.
On 16 September 2010, Digital Sky Technologies (DST) changed its name to "Mail.ru Group". The group's portfolio included Mail.ru, Odnoklassniki.ru, ICQ, a minority stake in the social network VKontakte (Russian Facebook equivalent), online payments service OSMP.ru, e‑Port, as well as some other Russian assets. Milner's commercial interests in Facebook, Zynga, and Groupon were transferred to DST Global. Milner became the CEO of DST Global and the chairperson of the board of directors of Mail.ru Group. In November 2010, Mail.ru Group held its offering on the London Stock Exchange. In March 2012, Milner stepped down from the role of chairperson of Mail.ru and from the board of directors.
DST Global became one of the world's leading technology investors and its portfolio has included some of the world's most prominent Internet companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Airbnb, Spotify, Alibaba, and others.
On 5 November 2017, The New York Times reported that Milner had strong Kremlin backing for his investments in Facebook and Twitter. Milner denied this allegations in his open letter published in ReCode.
- On 29 January 2011, Milner announced that he would invest $150,000 into each of the start‑up program participants selected by the incubator Y Combinator.
- In February 2014, it was announced that Milner had led a round of funding for cloud-graphics company, Otoy.
- In April 2016, online mortgage broker platform Habito launched with backing from Milner, amongst other fintech investors.
Forbes list controversy
On 29 January 2018, Milner's name was included in the United States Treasury Department's "Report to Congress Pursuant to Section 241 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 Regarding Senior Foreign Political Figures and Oligarchs in the Russian Federation and Russian Parastatal Entities" (CAATSA), a list of 96 individuals of Russian heritage who "have an estimated net worth of $1 billion or more".
Although it was widely reported in the media that those on the list "may be subject to sanctions", the CAATSA Report itself made clear that it "in no way should be interpreted to impose sanctions on those individuals or entities". It also specified that inclusion in the report "does not constitute the determination by any agency that any of those individuals or entities meet the criteria for designation under any sanctions program", and in no way indicates that "the U.S. Government has information about the individual’s involvement in malign activities". Shortly after the list was released, it was reported that the Treasury Department had simply copied it from the Forbes’ 2017 The World's Billionaires list: people on the Forbes list who had Russian heritage and a net worth of $1 billion or more had been indiscriminately included in the CAATSA Report.
In its response to a lawsuit asserting that the compilation of the list was "arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law", the Treasury Department has confirmed that it is "not challenging" the allegation that it had "simply republished" the Forbes billionaires list. In April 2020, in its annual Billionaire List Forbes magazine re-classified Yuri Milner from Russian list to Israeli list of billionaires, confirming his Israeli citizenship and close ties to the country.
In July 2012, Yuri and Julia Milner established the Breakthrough Prize, joined the following year by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki and Mark Zuckerberg. The Prize is a set of international awards recognizing three fields of endeavor: Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, and Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. Laureates receive $3 million each in prize money, making the Breakthrough Prizes the largest scientific awards in the world. There are also New Horizons awards in physics and mathematics for younger researchers who had already shown produced and significant works.
Committees of previous laureates choose the winners from candidates nominated in a process that is online and open to the public. As of March 2017[update], $174.8m in prize-money has been awarded to 70 individual scientists and four large research teams.
The Prizes are presented annually at a gala ceremony featuring celebrity presentations, films, comedy and live music. The last four ceremonies took place at Hangar One (Mountain View, California). The annual celebrations also includes symposiums in the three recognized fields. The program is broadcast live on the web.
In July 2015, Milner launched Breakthrough Initiatives, a scientific program to investigate the question of life in the Universe. He announced the initiatives at the Royal Society in London, alongside Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake, Geoff Marcy and Ann Druyan.
Three initiatives have been announced so far:
The first, Breakthrough Listen, will invest $100 million over 10 years in a search for evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. Utilizing the Green Bank, Parkes, Lick, and FAST observatories, Listen is searching for radio and laser signals from the nearest million stars, the nearest 100 galaxies, and the plane and center of the Milky Way. The initiative will also use the SETI@home distributed computing project.
The second initiative, Breakthrough Message, will be a $1 million annual prize for digital messages representing Earth and humanity, that could be decoded by another civilization. The messages will not be sent into space until a global discussion on the ethics of such a move has taken place.
The third project, Breakthrough Starshot, was announced 12 April 2016. Starshot is a US$100 million program to develop a proof-of-concept light sail spacecraft fleet able to make the journey to Alpha Centauri at 20% the speed of light (60 million m/s or 215 million km/h) taking about 20 years to get there, and 4.4 years to notify Earth of a successful arrival.
On 20 April 2017, the Breakthrough Discuss conference was held, during which the results of a year worth of data analysis was discussed. According to the researchers, 692 stars were analyzed.
Breakthrough Junior Challenge
In September 2015, the Breakthrough Prize launched the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a science competition for people between thirteen and eighteen years of age, in collaboration with Khan Academy.
Milner believes that the Internet will eventually develop into a "global brain"—which is often described as an intelligent network of individuals and machines—functioning as a nervous system for the planet Earth. He also envisages that the advent of the Internet of things and ever increasing use of social media will increase humans' collective intelligence.
In an interview with Vedomosti in 2010, Milner said:
In the past few years I simply do not have time for hobbies. I am even starting to forget what I was fond of. Such as in the past it was reading of literature not related to work.
Milner is married to former high fashion model and contemporary artist Julia Milner (née Bochkova). She is interested in photography: during the 52nd Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art she produced a contribution entitled Click I Hope.
In 2011, Milner bought a $100 million home in Los Altos Hills, California. The compound spans three plots totaling seven hectares and includes a roughly 25,500-square-foot (2,370 m2) main house and a 5,500-square-foot (510 m2) guest house. The current tax bill is about $304,000 a year. The Wall Street Journal reported the price as $100 million, saying it was the most ever paid for a single-family home in the United States. The property is appraised by the Santa Clara County assessor at $50 million. Milner lives in Silicon Valley with his family. Milner attends synagogue, but is only minimally religiously observant.
Awards and recognitions
In September 2017 Forbes included Milner to the list of 100 greatest living business minds. Milner was named one of the World's Greatest Leaders by Fortune magazine in March 2017, was listed in the "Titans" category of Time magazine's 2016 Time 100. Foreign Policy magazine included Milner on its "Power List" – an inaugural list of the 500 most powerful people on the planet in May 2013. Milner was included in Bloomberg Markets' 2012 50 Most Influential list. In Fortune's 2010 list of the world's fifty most prominent businessmen, Milner was ranked 46th. That same year Russian business magazine Vedomosti recognized him as "Businessman of the Year".
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On March 25, 2020, the Milner Foundation, a non-profit foundation founded by Yuri and Julia Milner, announced $3 million donation to three Israeli institutions: Magen David Adom, the national emergency medical response organization, which is operating an innovative project to reduce the number of people coming to clinics; Tel Aviv University Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, where it will support research efforts aiming to develop treatments for the virus; and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Ichilov Hospital, where it will directly fund the intensive care department that is caring for COVID-19 sufferers.
A few weeks later, Milner Foundation announced a donation of 3 million face masks for people of Israel. Yuri Milner in his open letter published by Calcalist wrote that "a significant fraction of these masks will go to organizations providing essential services, whose frontline workers are still required to do their jobs during the lockdown". The masks arrived to Ben Gurion Airport on April 16, 2020 on board of dedicated charted El Al “Jerusalem of Gold” Dreamliner plane and were distributed by Magen David Adom to its emergency services staff, as well as to a range of hospitals, government offices, and national institutions providing essential services to the public.
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- Magen David Adom