The success story of Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev is almost unbelievable. He became an entrepreneur at the age of 51, and built his business not on the sale of gas, oil or metals, but on the production of industrial lasers and the implementation of his own patents. About the life and achievements of this extraordinary person - our article.
Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev was born on February 23, 1939 in Moscow. However, his childhood and youth were spent in Ukrainian Lvov. There he graduated from high school and the Polytechnic Institute. In 1961, he got a job at the Lvov Design Bureau of the Ministry of Radio Industry. He was an engineer, participated in the development of telemetry and electronic systems of the lunar cabin for Soviet cosmonauts. Such activity seemed to Valentin Pavlovich everyday and routine, and in 1964 he went to Moscow. Entered the graduate school of the Physico-Technical Institute with a degree in laser physics. In 1967, a young graduate student got a job as a junior researcher at the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Here he subsequently worked for more than thirty-five years, became the head of the laboratory and a scientist with worldname.
In the process of work, Gapontsev became disillusioned with the Academy of Sciences. According to him, it has turned into an unproductive institution with a bloated staff, implementing imaginary super projects. It was this frustration that brought the scientist into the business.
Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev's talent as a businessman manifested itself even at the time when he worked as a junior researcher. The physicist understood that foreign scientists conduct more experiments because they do not spend years manually assembling laboratory installations, but use modern equipment. Gapontsev was able to convince the management to allocate money for technical equipment and began to make purchases at international exhibitions. In total, he bought equipment for various laboratories worth fifteen million dollars. At the same time, he developed his own laboratory, in which by 1985 he had accumulated eight thousand tested samples.
First steps in business
When socialism was collapsing in 1990, Valentin Pavlovich decided, together with several students, to create a small NTO "IRE-Polyus", which produces fiber lasers. The emphasis was placed on such lasers, since they are more economical and compact than gas and crystal lasers, have a longer service life, and do not require expensive tuning and adjustment. The path from an idea to the introduction of such developments in the USSR could take up to ten years, and Gapontsev managed in a matter of months. IRE-Polyus created fiber lasers with a power of more than 10 watts anddesigned for use in the rapidly growing fiber optic telecommunications industry. However, in the 1990s in Russia, no one was interested in high-tech devices. And Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev went to Germany.
Technologies not for Russia
Abroad, a scientist at the age of fifty-three for the first time sat behind the wheel of a car: it was more convenient to look for orders. Thanks to old scientific connections, the newly minted businessman contacted the Italian telecommunications firm It altel, which became interested in his technology and wanted to buy it. Valentin Pavlovich refused to sell a promising development, but agreed to supply equipment for its implementation. The order amount was $750,000. The Italians put forward the condition that the equipment must be manufactured in Europe. Then Gapontsev founded the production company IPG Laser GmbH in Burbach, Germany. It functions to this day and today has a staff of about five hundred people.
On top of success
For 1995-2000 IPG Laser GmbH and IRE-Polyus have jointly developed and launched on the world market over two hundred laser devices, many of which still have no analogues. IPG Laser GmbH has become a world renowned innovation centre. In 1997, Valentin Pavlovich opened a similar company, IPG Fibertech S.r.l. in Milan, and in 1998, IPG Photonics Corporation in Oxford. The latter was the headquarters of the entire project. There are also subsidiaries in Russia, Japan, India and Korea.
Gapontsev nottakes government orders and grants, and is engaged exclusively in commercial activities. In many states, such developments are financed by national programs. Valentin Pavlovich did not have large financial and human resources in his arsenal, but this did not prevent him from getting ahead of all his competitors.
Conquest of America
In the US market, the new company quickly attracted the attention of outside investors and received the capital needed for industrial production. Major investment banks and firms such as Merrill Lynch, Robertson Stephens, TA Associates have invested in it.
And yet it was not easy for Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev to conquer a new market. In 2000, he had a conflict with JDSU, a large American company that produces reliable laser diodes. IPG Photonics signed her to a $70 million instrumentation contract. But due to the crisis that broke out on the market of technology companies, Gapontsev could not fulfill his obligations. JDSU sued and sought $35 million in damages, while IPG Photonics had an annual revenue of $22 million at the time. The lawsuit lasted three years, and in the end, Valentin Pavlovich managed to significantly reduce the amount of the claim and avoid bankruptcy. From this story, the businessman concluded that you need to produce everything yourself, so as not to depend on anyone. He sold part of the company's shares to private investors and launched his own production of laser diodes with the proceeds.
Now Gapontsev's enterprises are 95 percent self-sufficient. The main production sites are located in Germany, the USA and the Russian science city of Fryazino. The scientist is less and less engaged in operational management, now his function is to solve strategic problems and control new scientific developments.
Valentin Pavlovich not only conducts entrepreneurial activities, but also heads departments at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He says that he prefers to educate students from scratch, rather than retraining already formed specialists in the field of laser physics to his own standards. The entrepreneur teaches students the ability to work in a team and focus on the task. He invites the most promising guys to his business.
Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev independently developed the concept of creating quantum optical generators, which were based on a fundamentally new technological platform. Based on this concept, he opened his company in the 1990s. Already the first scientific results have confirmed the efficiency of the system and the reliability of the high-tech devices being implemented.
The scientist was directly involved in the creation of high-power fiber amplifiers and lasers, the development and production of fixed fiber-optic communication systems in Russia, the introduction of high-performance phosphate laser glasses into mass production. Today atValentin Pavlovich's piggy bank has more than five hundred monographs, scientific publications and patents in the field of laser materials. He is a recognized laureate of the Optical Society of the United States and the winner of the "England Entrepreneur of the Year" award.
Despite the existing achievements, Gapontsev's scientific activity was appreciated rather late in his homeland. Only in 2010, when the businessman's fortune was already estimated at billions, and his companies became world market leaders, Valentin Pavlovich was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation. In the same year, JSC Rusnano bought a part of the shares of its production center in Fryazino, which was subsequently visited by V. Putin and D. Medvedev.
At the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the laser, the name of the scientist was named in the SPIE list, which included 28 outstanding world experts in the field of laser technology and physics.
According to Forbes magazine, Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev is one of the richest people in Russia. He currently controls a 35 percent stake in IPG Photonics, a $3.5 billion firm.
In 2013, the businessman's fortune was estimated at $1.3 billion. In the ranking of Russian oligarchs, he took 81st place, and in the world list of billionaires he was based on the 1107th line. In 2017, Gapontsev's fortune grew to 1.6 billion, and he rose to 53rd place in the ranking of Russia's richest entrepreneurs.
A 79-year-old laser scientist with dual citizenship now lives with his wife inAmerican city of Worcester, Massachusetts. Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev prefers not to talk about his family. The fact is that he has a difficult relationship with his son. Denis Gapontsev followed in his father's footsteps, graduated from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1999, and then went to the United States to help Valentin Pavlovich in business. He served as President of Development at IPG Photonics for eight years. Then the views of father and son diverged, and Denis returned to Russia, where he took up real estate activities. Over the past ten years, Valentin Pavlovich and Denis have not been able to find a common language and hardly see each other.
Gapontsev Sr. sadly notes that he cannot yet find a successor to whom he could pass on his offspring. He dreams that his business, created from scratch, would not be absorbed, but would develop even when the scientist is gone.
Valentin Pavlovich Gapontsev is a unique person. In the conditions of the collapse of socialism and the crisis in the market of technology companies, he was able not only to develop and maintain entrepreneurial activity, but created a fundamentally new production base, independently developed a number of the latest technologies and significantly expanded the range of their use. His small engineering business from the Soviet Union has grown into a large corporation that controls 80 percent of the world's high-power fiber lasers.