When looking for a way to rebel against his family as a young man, Bill Browder decided to become a capitalist, explaining his choice in his book Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.
Not an unusual career choice but, considering his family’s history, it was unusual for Browder. His grandfather, Earl, was a union organizer who later headed the American Communist Party in the 1930s and even ran for president as a communist in 1936 and 1940. A photo of Earl Browder appeared on the cover of Time magazine under the caption “Comrade Earl Browder.”
Bill Browder did become a capitalist -- and a pretty good one. After graduating from the University of Chicago with an economics degree, he earned his master's degree in business administration from Stanford Business School.
After a stint as a vice president at Salomon Brothers, he looked to the East. Browder thought that Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was uncharted waters with great potential.
At the time, Russia was, and still is in many respects, a combination of the “wild, wild West” and Chicago during the heyday of Al Capone. There were no rules as Russia emerged from communism and started its experiment with capitalism. Browder became the founder and CEO of the Hermitage Capital Management hedge fund in Russia, which eventually became the largest foreign investor in that country with $4.5 billion under its control.
But things started coming apart for Browder and Hermitage.
He writes that some two dozen men, the Russian oligarchs, were robbing the nation blind, stealing 39 percent of the country’s wealth to become some of the world’s richest men.
Browder writes that corruption was as rampant as the oligarchs' thefts were large and brazen.
The book starts out as an interesting autobiography, then morphs into a hard-to-put-down, well-written financial thriller. It serves as a warning to anyone thinking about going to Russia or doing business with Russians, but, finally, because “Russian stories never have happy endings,” it becomes a crusade for justice.
The final straw for the Russians was when Browder, through one of his lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, pointed out that officials there were stealing some $280 million in taxes paid.