The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire
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“A operatic tour-de-force.” —Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of The Widow Clicquot
“An impressive feat of research, told swiftly and enthusiastically.” —San Francisco Chronicle
From Vanderbilt and Rockefeller to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, America’s captains of industry are paragons of entrepreneurial success, and books about business history, from The First Tycoon to The Big Short, show exemplars of capitalistic cunning and tenacity…but just as American cocktail connoisseurs can mistake Absolut, Skyy, Grey Goose, or Ketel One for the quintessential clear spirit, so too has America’s vision of business history remained naïve to a truth long recognized in Eastern Europe: since the time of Tsar Nicholas, both vodka and commercial success have been synonymous in Russia with one name—Smirnoff. Linda Himelstein’s critically acclaimed biography of Russian vodka scion Pyotr Smirnov—a finalist for the James Beard Award, winner of the IACP and Saroyan Awards, and a BusinessWeek Best Business Book of 2009—is the sweeping story of entrepreneurship, empire, and epicurean triumph unlike anything the world has ever seen before.
into poverty, isolating herself from the people and world she had once dominated. She lived in a modest retirement home, supported by her daughter and grandchildren who had also emigrated. Eugeniya received assistance from some Russian charities set up by wealthy exiles to help less fortunate refugees. It was a humbling and humiliating experience for the former aristocrat. Vladimir was down, too. His vodka business was sputtering—France was not taken by the taste of the colorless spirit,
entry hall. From there, visitors could head to the portrait hall, which housed portraits of emperors and important members. Or they could go to the drawing room, reserved for card play. Or they could play in the billiards room. The library offered one of the most complete collections of Russian and foreign periodicals dating back to 1813. The rooms seemed to go forever, ending with the dining room, the most majestic room of all. It was expansive, stretching the entire length of the building.
urgent affair. Allow us to speak with you Pyotr Arsenievich,” one of the workers implored. Smirnov jumped up, alarmed. “What’s the matter? Speak.” “They are beating our boys, Pyotr Arsenievich. On the cross, [I swear] we won’t manage without help. The [opposing team] has formed a strong wall while our strong men are working at the factory trying to fulfill an urgent order. There are three times as many of them as us.” “What?” replied Smirnov. “They are beating our boys? This is not to happen.”
Vladimir Vladimirovich Smirnov Smirnov’s grandson born to Vladimir Nikolay Venediktovich Smirnov Smirnov’s cousin and vodka factory director Oleg Smirnov Smirnov’s grandson born to Sergey Boris Smirnov Smirnov’s great-great-grandson, through Aleksey’s line Smirnov’s Vodka Producing Rivals Aleksander Shtriter Kamill Deprés M. A. Popov Nikolay Shustov Emile Rouget Keller & Co. Key Members of the Russian Bureaucracy Tsar Aleksander II Known by some as the Great Reformer Tsar
issue. The majority of the shareholders did not want more time. Nine shareholders wrote their votes on secret ballots, which were placed in a closed envelope. The ballots were counted: seven shareholders favored the dissolution while two, Bakhrushin and Sergey, voted against it. Incensed, both stormed out of the meeting in protest. The remaining shareholders formed a committee to head up the process of winding down Smirnov’s forty-two-year-old empire. It took just two days for a petition on the