‘A crude raider takeover’ Russian cosmetics company Natura Siberica in chaos eight months after founder’s death

Since the death of Russian businessman Andrey Trubnikov in January, the organic cosmetics brand Natura Siberica has gone into a tailspin. With his relatives caught up in a court battle over how to divide the company’s shares, control passed to a trustee who initiated controversial leadership changes. On Thursday, August 12, the company’s employees — who have sided with Natura Siberica co-founder Irina Trubnikova (Trubnikov’s first wife) — accused the new management of carrying out a raider attack. This came after a number of key employees were denied access to the company’s office and computer databases, and reportedly replaced by “unknown people.” Irina Trubnikova says she’s in shock after being shut out of the company’s operations and is now willing to enter into negotiations to “preserve the brand,” on the condition that her employees get their jobs back.

In January 2021, Russian businessman Andrey Trubnikov — the founder of the organic cosmetics brands Natura Siberica and Grandma Agafia’s Recipes — passed away. According to the business newspaper Kommersant, he didn’t leave a will. Other reports say this hasn’t been confirmed. Either way, his death triggered a corporate conflict as his relatives were unable to agree on how to manage the company moving forward.

As Kommersant writes, there are now several groups vying for control over Natura Siberica. One of them is led by Trubnikov’s first wife, Irina Trubnikova — the co-founder and virtual head of the company after the businessman’s death, — and his two children from this marriage, Dmitry and Ekaterina. 

Competing against them is Trubnikov’s daughter from his second marriage, Elizaveta, as well as the businessman’s third wife, Anastasia. (The latter brought notary Aigul Karnaukhova into the conflict, who was stripped of her status in 2013 for using violence against a government official, but later had it restored).

Natura Siberica co-founder Irina Trubnikova talking to the press on August 13, 2021 

In late May, reports emerged that Trubnikov’s relatives were suing each other and the company for shares in the business. As a result, the Natura Siberica came under the temporary control of trustee Grigory Zhdanov, until its shares could be distributed among Trubnikov’s heirs.

Zhdanov proceeded to make several important personnel changes. He appointed Dmitry Ganzer as CEO, someone who had no previous involvement in the company’s operations. He also created the role of company president, which was taken up by Sergey Buylov — a former top manager of the Natura Siberica holding, who, according to the company’s staff, Trubnikov previously “fired for incompetence.”

Irina Trubnikova and her children opposed Zhdanov’s decisions. Then, on August 12, Natura Siberica’s employees — who have sided with Trubnikova — published an open letter on Instagram and on the brand’s website, accusing the company’s new leadership of carrying out a raider attack and announcing a strike. 

In the letter, the employees explained that the new management had blocked Irina Trubnikova, her son Dmitry, and “leading company employees responsible for key areas” — including the company’s chief accountants, the head of the supply division, the international sales director, the head of security, and the head of the trademark registration department — from entering the office and accessing company databases. Their jobs were taken over by “unknown people,” writes The Bell. Natura Siberica employees noted that “strong young people” who looked like “fighters” also showed up at the company’s office.

In addition, the new management canceled the decision to switch some employees to remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, August 11, these staff members were left without remote access to the company’s network, which, as underscored in the letter, led to the shutdown of several stores connected to the online database.

“The methods of a crude raider takeover of the company are so obvious this time that they can’t be hidden, explained, or justified,” the letter said. The employees added that they refused to work under the leadership of the new president. Natura Siberica’s employees also picketed outside of the company’s office on Friday, August 13. 

In conversation with The Bell, Irina Trubnikova explained that she was still able to get into the office despite the fact that her key card had been disabled. According to her, Sergey Buylov said that a “new team” was starting to work at Natura Siberica. “This is a raider takeover, a real one, you can’t call it anything else. Thank God my employees haven’t been beaten up yet, but they were very scared,” she added. 

Buylov commented on the accusations on Saturday, August 14, saying that management restricted access to the office only for those who hindered his “lawful activities.”

In turn, Irina Trubnikova revealed that Natura Siberica has other problems apart from the ongoing corporate conflict. In 2020, a significant portion of the company’s assets were arrested in connection with a lawsuit over fire at an industrial complex outside Moscow, which leased premises to Natura Siberica (the plaintiff was an enterprise belonging to oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s En+ Group). Trubnikova now claims that all assets belonging to Natura Siberica and its subsidiaries have been arrested. However, she added that the company is continuing to do business, saying “[we’re] able to produce and sell cosmetics.” 

When Trubnikov’s relatives will gain control of their shares in the company remains unknown as of yet. This will take place only after a court decision regarding Trubnikov’s underage children from his relationship with his third wife, Anastasia. The children were born prior to their official marriage, but Anastasia maintains that they can claim shares in the company.

Sources told The Bell that due to the conflict, Natura Siberica co-founder Irina Trubnikova was thinking about selling off her stake in the business (according to expert estimates, the entire company is valued at around $100 million) and was allegedly even in talks with Russian billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov. But Trubnikova denies these reports. 

“It’s difficult for me to talk about plans. For the past 48 hours, we’ve all simply been in shock. We can’t continue our activity as before, we’re suspended, disconnected from the databases. I don’t see what’s happening with our [bank] accounts, no one can tell me about this. I have no idea what these strangers have been doing to our accounts in the last two days, but I don’t assume it’s anything good. The employees don’t want to work with Buylov, we all remember him. And I can’t force them. My main task is to preserve the brand and I’m ready to enter into a dialogue for the sake of this. But my first condition will be to return all my employees to their jobs,” she said in an interview on August 13.

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Story by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Eilish Hart

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