Nikolay Vassilev, MA ’97 recalls his career in Bulgarian politics with a certain droll pragmatism. Vassilev, who in 2001 was tapped to be the youngest deputy prime minister in the country’s history, oversaw an eight-year period marked by budget surpluses, low taxes, large increases in foreign investment, and a strong bull market.
“Overall I think we did a good job,” said Vassilev, who speaks in spirited, rapid-fire English with traces of an Eastern European accent. “But there is a saying that ‘No man is a prophet in his own country.’ It is true.”
Today Vassilev, 43, is the CEO of Expat Capital, the largest independent investment company in Bulgaria that has $40 million in assets under management. Based in Sofia, Expat manages money for high net worth individuals, but also handles mergers and acquisitions as well as some private equity investments.
As Europe’s debt crisis deepens, with 19 million unemployed and five countries on emergency aid, Vassilev is relieved to be out of the political fray, but worried for the future of the region.
“In the UK, for instance, politicians speak about this being a period of ‘austerity.’ But the country’s national debt has doubled over the past four years. It’s like being on a diet and gaining 10 pounds a week. It’s a big problem, and these situations do not end well.”
Raised in Varna on the Black Sea Coast, Vassilev earned his first undergraduate degree in Budapest, Hungary, and a second one in business and economics from the State University of New York. He wanted to stay in the U.S. and debated a career on Wall Street.
Instead, he pursued his Master of Arts in International Economics and Finance at Brandeis International Business School (IBS)—a “fortuitous decision,” he said. “It was an excellent education. The finance program was stimulating; my professors were very strong; and I had classmates from all over the world.”
After graduating, he worked as an equity analyst at UBS Warburg in Tokyo, New York, and London. In the late 90s, he took a job at Lazard Capital Markets in London where he became known as “the Bulgaria Guy,” responsible for compiling the benchmark index for the Sofia exchange.
“I’m in favor of the development of the private sector, low taxes, and balanced budgets,” said Vassilev. “I owe my professional ideology to Brandeis IBS. It is where my ideas about the world economy were formed.”
Vassilev, the longest-serving member of government in Bulgarian history except for the communist period, held various positions including Minister of Economy, Minister of Transport and Communications, and Minister of State Administration and Administrative Reform. Over that time, he helped spur job creation in sectors such as information technology, cut unemployment, computerize public schools, and pave the way for Buglaria’s NATO and EU integration. Bulgaria went from a nearly bankrupt nation to one of the least indebted countries in Europe today.
His party lost in 2009 and since then Vassilev has written a book (Energy, about the growing importance of human capital) and devoted himself to running Expat Capital. A return to the public sector is still possible. “You have to have new people in government all the time. That’s the good thing about democracy.”