At Harvard, the foundation also supports the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator to identify promising early stage technologies, paving the way toward licensing and commercial development, and the Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship, which offers HBS alumni the opportunity to create new ventures around promising life-science technologies while developing their leadership skills.
Blavatnik said his father was a chemistry professor and head of his department at the same university where his mother, trained as an electrical engineer, was an associate professor. Because he grew up in a family of scientists, Blavatnik said, he derives particular satisfaction from supporting the work of promising researchers.
“I would like at least one of them to be a Nobel Prize winner. It hasn’t happened yet, but a couple have come close,” he said.
In his rare, hour-long interview at HMS, Blavatnik said his family was originally from Odessa, in Ukraine. They were part of a Jewish immigration to the U.S. in 1978.
His first job in the U.S., he recalled, was as a computer programmer in the biostatistics department at what was then the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He earned enough money there to begin studying computer science at Columbia University part-time, he said, and then eventually full-time, graduating in 1981. He then worked at the Arthur Andersen accounting firm and at Macy’s before deciding to go to graduate school to earn his M.B.A.
“I was pretty naïve, so I applied only to Harvard Business School,” he said.
At HBS, Blavatnik said, he learned how to make and invest money, eventually parlaying his own investments into a global business enterprise. His net worth is now estimated at more than $ 17 billion.In addition to the satisfaction he derives from his business accomplishments, Blavatnik said he is very proud of his philanthropic work and grateful for his ability to be able “to give back in many different ways, in many countries, as well as being able to change the world.” A dual citizen of both the U.S. and the U.K., he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 for services to philanthropy.
Because of his interest in changing the world, Blavatnik said his support for HMS is particularly gratifying.
“I think, over many years … the speed of discovery, the process of translation from basic research to medical applications, will move faster, and many people will be cured,” he said.