5 Things You Didn't Know About Mikhail Prokhorov

It looks like Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has reached a deal to buy the floundering New Jersey Nets. What's Prokhorov's story, though? We did some digging, and here are five things you probably don't know about the man who could become the NBA's next owner.

1. He Got His Start in the Jeans Business

Buying an 80% stake in the Nets for an alleged $200 million would put a crunch in most peoples' budgets, but earlier this year Forbes reported that Prokhorov's cash holdings alone might be worth upwards of $5 billion. Unlike many fabulously wealthy men, though, he didn't get any financial help from his family. In fact, he got his start in the jeans business.

Although Prokhorov's parents weren't particularly rich, they were sharp. His mother was the head of a polymer research department at the Moscow Chemicals Institute, and his father also ran a lab. Their son excelled in his studies and attended Moscow State Institute of Finance. After he graduated from college, he got a job at the International Bank for Economic Cooperation in 1989. Prokhorov put his money in an investment vehicle that would only have thrived in the late 80's: an acid-washed jeans company. With the profits from his denim venture, Prokhorov continued to rise up the financial ladder.

2. He Knows His Metals

Although Prokhorov first grew to prominence in the financial sector, he made his serious loot in the mining industry. In 1993 he purchased Norilsk Nickel during the wave of post-Communism privatization and built the Siberian mining company into a natural resources titan. One of his major coups involved investing in specialized Finnish freighters that could move metals around the Arctic without needing icebreakers.

Just how big did Norilsk Nickel get under Prokhorov? In 2005 he spun off all of the company's gold mining assets into a separate company, Polyus Gold. Polyus Gold alone is now worth around $8 billion, and Prokhorov is still chairman of the company's board. He resigned as CEO of Norilsk Nickel in early 2007 and sold his shares in the company for $7.5 billion.

3. He Knows How to Throw a Party

Prokhorov ran afoul of French authorities in 2007 when he hosted a two-week Christmas party for his fellow Russian plutocrats at his chalet in the ski resort Courchevel. This wasn't the normal sort of "Turn down your loud music!" complaint for the cops, though. Police arrested Prokhorov on suspicion of flying prostitutes in from Moscow to service his guests.

A raid on the hotel where many guests were staying resulted in 26 arrests, including Prokhorov and seven beautiful 20-something Russian women. Prokhorov contended that his companions were just friends he had met at Moscow nightclubs. According to Prokhorov, he flew them in for the party and covered all of their expenses, but he didn't expect anything in return other than their company. The billionaire told the police he liked the company of intelligent women and that "to stay young, you have to be surrounded with youth and beauty." When the cops ascertained that none of the women were actually professional call girls or prostitutes, they released everyone without filing charges.

Perhaps the best quote on the whole debacle came from Nicolas Sarkozy, who was a presidential candidate at the time. When told of the charges, Sarkozy quipped, "There's a man who wants to please."

4. He Likes to Win a Bet

A good-looking 44-year-old with a net worth estimated at $9 billion? How could this guy not be Russia's most eligible bachelor? The Russian press hangs on each of Prokhorov's adventures with the young ladies, and he's apparently had quite a few, including reportedly dating supermodel Naomi Campbell.

russiaphA truly bizarre story about Prokhorov's love life broke in the spring of 2007. The oligarch was supposedly planning a $10-million wedding on Maldives in which he would marry an unknown woman. This wasn't going to be a storybook wedding, though; Prokhorov was allegedly marrying the woman only to divorce her one week later. Why would he act so erratically? To win a childhood bet. According to the Russian press, Prokhorov had made a bet with a childhood friend—both the stakes of the wager and the friend were unknown—that he would be married before his 42nd birthday. Russian reality TV host and socialite Ksenia Sobchak (pictured), also known as "Russia's Paris Hilton," even claimed that she would be the mysterious bride.

Despite all the fuss in the European press, Prokhorov's birthday passed without a wedding, and the real secret behind Prokhorov's love life remains a mystery.

5. He's a Sports Nut

cskaProkhorov may see the Nets as a good investment, but he's also the sort of sports fanatic who might be Russia's equivalent of Mark Cuban. Prokhorov is extremely tall—estimates range from 6'6" to 6'9"—and played basketball in his youth. He already owns a piece of CSKA Moscow, one of the top hoops teams in Europe.

He's not just a basketball fan, though. Earlier this summer there were rumors that Prokhorov might try to buy the Italian soccer team AS Roma, and although the team has denied any sale, there are still whispers that Prokhorov may end up in the soccer business as well. Forbes also notes that the oligarch "loves kickboxing."

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' usually appears on Friday, but we moved it up this week. Read the previous installments here.

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iStock
The Popcorn Company That's Creating Jobs for Adults With Autism
iStock
iStock

A New Jersey-based gourmet popcorn company is dedicating its profits to creating new employment “popportunities” for adults on the autism spectrum, A Plus reports.

Popcorn for the People, founded by Rutgers University professor Dr. Barbie Zimmerman-Bier and her husband, radiologist Dr. Steven Bier, is a nonprofit subsidiary of the couple's charitable organization Let’s Work For Good, which focuses on "creating meaningful and lasting employment for adults with autism and developmental disabilities." Recognizing the lack of skilled employment options for adults with developmental disabilities, the Biers decided to create jobs themselves through this popcorn venture, with all of the profits going to their charitable organization. According to the site, every tin of popcorn purchased "provides at least an hour of meaningful employment" to adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, who perform jobs like making popcorn, labeling products, and marketing.

The couple developed the idea for the business and the nonprofit in 2015 when their son, Sam, grew tired of his job at a grocery store. Sam, 27, is on the autism spectrum, and after six years of working as a “cart guy,” he decided he was ready to try something new. Employment opportunities were scarce, though. Jobs that provided enough resources for someone on the spectrum tended to consist of menial work, and more skilled positions involved a tough interview process.

“Some companies mean well, but they are limited in what they can offer,” Steven Bier told TAP Into East Brunswick in 2015.

Unemployment rates are especially high among adults with autism. Last year, Drexel University reported that only 14 percent of autistic adults who use state-funded disability services are employed in paid work positions. And while high-functioning autistic adults are often perfectly capable of working in technical careers, the actual process of getting hired can be challenging. People with autism tend to struggle with understanding nuance and social conventions, which makes the interviewing process particularly difficult.

Enter the Biers' popcorn business. What began in 2015 as the Pop-In Cafe (which still sells popcorn and deli items at its New Jersey location) now distributes flavored popcorn all over the world. In three years, the organization has gone from a staff of four, with one employee on the autism spectrum, to a staff of 50, nearly half of whom are on the spectrum. In July, the organization plans to expand to a larger production facility in order to keep up with demand.

The company provides an environment for employees to learn both hard skills, like food preparation and money management, and what the company describes as “watercooler life skills.”

"There just aren't many programs that teach these sorts of things in a real-world environment, with all that entails," Bier told My Central Jersey. "These are skills that the kids can use here, and elsewhere."

According to A Plus, you can now buy Popcorn for the People in person at locations like the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and the Lyric Theatre in Times Square. The organization sells 12 flavors of popcorn (including cookies and cream, Buffalo wing, and French toast), all created by Agnes Cushing-Ruby, a chef who donates 40 hours a week to the company.

“I never thought that the little pop-up shop would grow into this,” Sam told A Plus. “It makes me so happy to see we have helped so many people.”

[h/t A Plus]

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IHOb Restaurants
10 Strange Publicity Stunts by Major Food Brands
IHOb Restaurants
IHOb Restaurants

Celebrities have always loved doing crazy things for press—but these days, even corporations will go to extreme lengths to get the word out about their products. Case in point: IHOP's recent attempt to create a little mystery, and sell some burgers, as IHOb. Below you’ll find 10 of the weirdest stunts done to promote mass-produced food items.

1. COLONEL SANDERS RAPPELS DOWN A HIGH-RISE

It’s hard to imagine KFC’s elderly Colonel Sanders doing much outside of eating and talking about his “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken. But in 2011, a man dressed as the Colonel strapped on a harness and rappelled down Chicago’s River Bend building. The Colonel didn't stop at rappelling down the 40-story building; he also handed out $5 everyday meals to window washers. What was KFC’s concept behind this dangerous promotion? They wanted to show the world they were taking lunch to “new heights.”

2. THE WORLD'S LARGEST POPSICLE

Sometimes being the biggest doesn’t mean you’re the best. In 2005, Snapple wanted to make the world’s largest Popsicle to promote their new line of frozen treats. Their plan was to display a 25-foot-tall, 17.5-ton treat of frozen Snapple juice in New York City’s Union Square. However, their plan ended in a sticky disaster. The day Snapple tried to present the Popsicle, New York was experiencing warmer than expected temperatures. The pop melted so quickly that a river of sticky sludge took over several streets. In a city already congested by traffic and tourists, this made Snapple enemy No. 1 that day to the people of New York City.

3. COFFEE CUPS ON CAR ROOFS = FREE COUPONS

A cup of Starbucks coffee
Wikimedia Commons

Starbucks believes in rewarding those who embrace the holiday spirit. In 2005, the Seattle-based coffee giant developed a campaign by which brand ambassadors drove around with replicas of Vente Starbucks cups affixed to their car roofs. If anyone stopped the ambassador to warn them about the coffee cup on their roof, that person received a $5 gift card to Starbucks. Starbucks wanted the world to know being a good samaritan really can pay!

4. MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Imagine walking the beach and finding a sealed bottle of Guinness. But instead of finding beer inside, you find a note from King Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. In 1959, that happened to people along North America’s Atlantic coast. Guinness wanted to build brand awareness in the area, so they dropped 150,000 sealed Guinness bottles into the ocean. The bottle contained Neptune’s scroll announcing the House of Guinness’s Bi-Centenary as well as a document instructing the reader on how to make a Guinness bottle into a table lamp. While no one got a free beer (boo!), they did walk away with an arts and crafts project.

5. EAU DE FLAME-BROILED

Who can resist the smell of flame-broiled burgers? The answer is most people—at least when it comes in the form of a body spray. Burger King’s 2008 campaign promoting the “scent of seduction” may be one of the weirdest ideas on this list. The fast-food company thought they could capture the world’s attention by creating and advertising a meat-scented cologne called FLAME by BK. Though select New York City stores actually sold the scent, all of this was a tongue-in-cheek campaign to make the 18- to 35-year-old male demographic laugh.

6. HERE COMES THE SUN

London commuters experienced an unexpectedly bright morning during January 2012. Tropicana worked with the art collective Greyworld to create a fake sun promoting their “Brighter Morning” campaign. The "sun," made up of more than 60,000 light bulbs, rose over Trafalgar Square at 6:51 a.m. on a particularly chilly morning. The sun set at 7:33 p.m. Tropicana continued to promote their sun day, fun day by having Londoners sit under the sun with branded sunglasses, deck chairs, and blankets. 

7. AIRPORT STEAK DELIVERY

Some of the craziest publicity stunts can’t be planned. We live in a world of 24/7 social media, and when the Twitterverse gave Morton’s Steakhouse an opportunity, they seized upon it. Before flying from Tampa to Newark, Peter Shankman, an entrepreneur and author, jokingly tweeted at Morton's Steakhouse that he wanted a porterhouse steak to be waiting for him when he landed. As Shankman was a frequent diner and social media influencer, Morton's Steakhouse saw the opportunity to start a conversation—and they went for it: When Shankman touched down in Newark, he was greeted by his car service driver and a Morton’s deliveryman. If only all travelers could experience that happiness in an airport.

8. BUYING THE LIBERTY BELL

April Fools Day gags can be great for brands … or an embarrassment. In 1996, Taco Bell took out an ad in The New York Times saying they bought Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. The ad also informed people of the bell’s new name: "Taco Liberty Bell." Back in the mid-1990s, people couldn’t go on Twitter or Facebook to find out the truth. Instead, they wrote the publication voicing their outrage. The hoax may have worked in getting press coverage (650 print publications and 400 broadcast media outlets publicized the joke), but what does that say about your brand when people actually believe you would rename a historic monument for your own gain?

9. CREATING THE LARGEST MAN-MADE FIRE


Wikimedia Commons

In 2011, the Costa-Mesa based chain El Pollo Loco sent out press releases saying they planned to create the world’s largest man-made fire. Why would they create a fire? El Pollo Loco needed to get the word out about their new flame-grilled chicken. Spectators attending the event were shocked to see that this stunt was actually a commercial shoot for the brand. The chain says they really did attempt to break the record. But many publications have stated the whole promotion was a fraud. Note to brands: When trying to pull off a publicity stunt and a commercial simultaneously, tell everyone your plan in advance.

10. KFC IN SPACE

KFC may just be the king of wild publicity stunts. In 2006, the company created an 87,500-square-foot logo at Area 51 in Rachel, Nevada. The company wanted to be the first brand visible from space. And it was no coincidence they picked a spot near “The World’s Only Extraterrestrial Highway.”

“If there are extraterrestrials in outer space, KFC wants to become their restaurant of choice,” said Gregg Dedrick, former president of KFC Corp. The world is not enough for KFC. They need the entire universe hooked on their Original Recipe.

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