It really is true. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction – maybe even dramatically stranger. For evidence of this, one need only look at Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice, a book by William Browder, that I recently completed.
I try to read a lot of books, and this was definitely one of the best I've encountered in recent memory. The book's subtitle certainly is tempting. After all, lots of us love good murder mysteries, and we quite often like to read heroic tales of people fighting for justice. This book has both, and even throws in some high finance intrigue, without delving into "eye glazing" detail that would bore most people to tears.
But the book really does more than simply weave all of these enticing elements together.
One thing that makes it such an interesting true story is three highly unexpected things the reader learns about the author, Bill Browder. The first is that Browder is the grandson of Earl Browder, once the head of the American Communist Party. Browder the author comes from a long and distinguished line of left-wingers.
With such a pedigree, what's the most unexpected thing he might be or do? Go to Stanford Business School, then launch a career as a very successful hedge fund manager. The offspring of a bunch of leftwingers/communists becomes an uber-capitalist!
How Browder became an uber-capitalist is the second truly unexpected thing. As he points out, the logical career path for graduates of Stanford and other top level graduate schools of business is consulting, investment banking, or working for well known Fortune 500 firms such as Procter & Gamble and General Electric. Browder, himself, begins with one such firm, but quickly heads off to do something else.
His "something else" is to begin investing in Eastern Europe and Russia at the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain. He was truly on the "frontier", and largely dismissed by his co-workers and superiors at the time. Through perseverance, plus some timely good fortune, Browder created a very successful hedge fund in Russia. He literally became the "go to" guy when everyone else discovered that Browder was on to something big. Very big! The unexpected outcome of all this was that Browder's Hermitage Capital turned into a billion dollar hedge fund at the turn of the 21st century, and Browder was well on his way to financial mogul-dom.
Until he ran into trouble with the leadership of Russia. I won't go into detail about this, other than to say that Browder was denied entry to Russia, and has been battling the Russian government since 2005, in the past few years fearing for his life.
That battle has set the stage for the third highly unexpected thing about Browder. He has gone from being the uber-capitalist head of a major hedge fund to being a major human rights advocate. Besides his own problems with the Russian government, Browder's "conversion" to humans rights advocate is because of a Russian tax lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky.
You might have heard of something called the Magnitsky Act. The Magnitsky Act, passed by the US Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, places sanctions and travel restrictions on certain Russians deemed to violate a range of laws. The Russian government, beginning with Vladimir Putin, absolutely hates it!
The driving force behind the Magnitsky Act was Bill Browder.
So what turned Browder from uber-capitalist into uber-human rights advocate? The torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky at the hands of the Russian government. Magnitsky's death so impacted Browder that his entire life has been transformed. As such, he's joined the ranks of other ordinary people who have had life-altering, transformative experiences:
Moses, who after an encounter with God (in the form of a burning bush), led the Israelites from captivity;
Rosa Parks, who became a civil rights leader after failing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955;
Candy Lightener, the woman who founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver;
Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager who became a human rights advocate after an unsuccessful attempt on her life.
Yes, Browder's life has totally been transformed by Magnitsky's death. The Russian government is now going after Browder, himself. Russia has asked Interpol, the international police agency, to issue what's called a Red Notice. Browder, if he crosses an international border, runs the risk of being arrested and deported to Russia to stand trial. But he also should be fearful, even if he doesn't cross an international border, when one considers what happened to Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The two were poisoned by Russian agents in Salisbury, England. The evidence suggests that the Russian government will stop at virtually nothing to eliminate its perceived enemies – and Browder is clearly in that elite circle.
But, if anything, the danger merely makes Browder even more determined. His book is his latest effort in his ongoing battle with the Russian government.
Which leads to the final reason Red Notice ought to be of great interest. That's because it touches upon the great question, what causes some people to embrace an idea, or a mission, in such a completely captivating way? Leaders of businesses and other organizations often ponder the question, how do I motivate my people? The conventional answers are more money and perks, and better working conditions. These things are somewhat helpful, but no one develops the motivation of a Bill Browder because of money, perks, and working conditions!
Consider all of the people besides Browder I mentioned earlier – Moses, Rosa Parks, Candy Lightener, Malala Yousafzai. What's motivated each of these people is a cause far greater than themselves. Browder's cause – avenging Magnitsky, as well as exposing human rights abuses – is what animates him.
Which points to an answer to the question, how do you truly motivate people? The answer is, find a truly compelling idea, then enlist yourself and your people in its achievement.
Things like increasing your sales or profits by 20% won't inspire your people. Great motivational talks aren't likely to do it either. Instead, it's finding something truly inspiring, and far greater than any individual, that will provide the seeds for true inspiration, and truly compelling results.
As with Moses, Rosa Parks, Candy Lightener, and Malala Yousafzai, Bill Browder's the truth of Bill Browder's compelling tale, Red Notice, is clearly stranger than fiction.