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Member Spotlight: Serg Bell

Member Spotlight: Serg Bell

Feb 29, 2024

I think home is an outdated concept, I don’t actually have a home,” starts Serg Bell. “The world is very small. I
live in different places but I’m a citizen of Singapore, so it’s my country.”

He was born in the Soviet Union, but the serial entrepreneur and tech tycoon has spent the last 30 years of his life in Singapore. “A number of accidental events in my life and business meant that I spent more time in Singapore, so I decided to stay here,” he surmises concisely.

Serg’s resistance to stereotypes is upfront as it is obvious. Politely vehement and guarded as he is, his responses are surprisingly detailed and contemplative, and his observations, logical and scientific to a fault. He is someone who would
look at an application form and treat the standard questions of name, home address and destination as existential questions.

Serg has nine children from different marriages and relationships—the oldest is 33 years old and the youngest that he shares with his current wife is three months old. Five of his children are Singaporeans themselves and four are American. His global outlook may be understandable, but how Serg expresses is very individualistic.

The events that led him here were circumstantial, but not everything in his life was against the natural order. Serg was born into a family of physicists, so that became his academic choice. He completed his Master’s in Physics—his thesis was in theoretical physics of nonlinear systems—and closed the loop with a PhD in Computer Science.

However, faced with the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, Serg dipped his toes in a variety of jobs. From a stevedore to barman, security guard and construction worker to even field work in agriculture, Serg tried his hand at many things. He also dabbled in a few business ventures, including a trading company and a centre to train talented
children to excel in science and maths competitions and ace their entrance examinations for prestigious universities in the Soviet Union. It eventually led to him setting up a company that manufactured computers—which would change the course of his life. “This was the first time I felt like I was involved in a business,” admits Serg, recalling his 19-year-old
self up until then going with the flow rather than with a plan.

Today, Serg has his name behind a few tech companies, including cyber security software Acronis, desktop visualisation provider Parallels, and service automation platform Odin. He also started venture capital firm Runa Capital. These are not in the order of initiation nor do they encompass the entire list of companies he has founded so far.

Serg’s latest baby is Constructor Group—a new generation institution invested in science and technology education and research, and which invests in companies that have a similar focus. The company therefore has three entities: Constructor
Knowledge, Constructor Technology and Constructor Capital.

It is headquartered in Switzerland. But they have employees in Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey, Singapore, Switzerland, and Bremen, Germany, which is home to Constructor University’s largest campus with students and professors from over 120 countries. “It is based in this universe,” he explains.

“Today in order to win, you have to have the best people, and best people, they are everywhere. Sometimes, you can’t convince them to move. So you hire them where they are.”

One could put his business acumen and outlook to his educational background, but his sapient approach to life goes further back to his childhood. Serg was a sickly child, and was therefore homebound, so he found refuge in books—he read every kind of book.

“This was the 70s and 80s and there was no Internet, we lived in a small apartment. We didn’t have a television at that time and I could not go out, so I read books,” he explains. “There was simply nothing else to do.”

But reading books is still a big habit. It comes as no surprise that almost every statement would be punctuated with quotes, teachings and ideologies—from scientists, political leaders, musicians, spiritual leaders and more. Genghis Khan’s ideologies pop up as well revealing a unique autonomy in reading and learning.

They are not his role models, he is quick to clarify, adding that it would be simple minded to try to replicate what these leaders from the past did. “For example, Lee Kuan Yew is a great leader, and honestly someone that I think is very respectable, but you cannot do what he did in other contexts,” he stresses. “These people are advanced individuals
because they extracted maximum possibility out of their circumstances, but their circumstances were unique.”

Well-considered and pragmatic concepts, but they have held him in good stead. At the age of 52, Serg has more successful entrepreneurial ventures in his name than some of the biggest names in the business world.

Various factors contributed to that, he admits, from his educational qualifications to his network, and possibly, the fact that he “was not that unlucky”. But what is unarguable is that he persevered—taking mistakes, failures and challenges as part of the package.

“If you have enough imagination, then it is better to have progress, and if you want to progress, then you don’t stop,” he
surmises. “You have to want it—wanting something is a choice, like religion is for some people. My religion
is knowledge and progress.”

Serg works hard for his “religion”, starting his day at 6am and working almost right from the time he gets off his bed. “I would like to start at 7am and finish my day at 9pm, but there is too much to do now, so I finish at 11pm,” he says in earnest.

If you do what you love, it is the best way to relax, they say. “I don’t do relaxation,” says Serg categorically. The reason for that is that he does not consider his work, work. Squashing another stereotype, he continues that he has also always believed in liking what he does, not doing what he likes.

“It’s not that I particularly like cyber security or I liked venture capital before that or the other things that I founded. But when I was doing them I liked them. And I like Constructor now. That’s my focus. I hope that I will like it so much that it’s the last thing I will do, but I don’t know,” he shrugs. “It is one of the most complex projects I have been involved in.”

I should have learnt my lesson by now, but it seemed the right time for a philosophical question: What gets you up every morning? Pat comes the reply, “my alarm”.

The original article was published on the March/ April 24 issue of Longitude, ONE°15 Marina’s Club magazine. Read it here.