Rotenberg was born in 1951 in Leningrad, where his Father, Roman, worked in management at the Red Dawn telephone factory, allowing the family to avoid living in a communal apartment. Rotenberg is of Jewish ancestry. In 1963, when he was age twelve, Rotenberg and Vladimir Putin both joined Anatoly Rakhlin's sambo club.
In 1978, Rotenberg graduated from the Lesgaft National State University of Physical Education, Sport and Health and became a judo trainer. After Putin returned to Russia in 1990, Rotenberg trained with him several times a week. During the 1990s, Rotenberg and his brother, Boris, who had moved to Finland, traded in petroleum products. When Putin became vice-mayor, Rotenberg secured funding from Gennady Timchenko to found Yavara-Neva, a professional judo club. Later, after the club won nine European Judo Championships and trained four Olympic champions, it was given a new state-funded $180 million facility, including a thousand-seat arena and a yacht club.
In 2000, Putin, who had become President of Russia, created Rosspirtprom, a state-owned enterprise controlling 30% of Russia's vodka market, and put Rotenberg in control. In 2001, Rotenberg and his brother founded the SMP bank, which operates in 40 Russian cities with over 100 branches, more than half of them in the Moscow area. SMP oversees the operation of more than 900 ATM-machines. SMP bank also became a leading large-diameter gas pipe supplier.
Gazprom often appears to have paid Rotenberg inflated prices. In 2007, Gazprom rejected an earlier plan to build a 350-mile pipeline and instead paid Rotenberg $45 billion, 300% of ordinary costs, to build a 1,500 mile pipeline to the Arctic Circle. In 2008, Rotenberg formed Stroygazmontazh (SGM) with five companies he had purchased from Gazprom for $348 million. The next year the company earned over $2 billion in revenue. Rotenberg then bought Northern Europe Pipe Project, which eventually supplied 90% of Gazprom's large diameter pipes and operated at a 30% profit margin, twice the industry average. In 2013, Gazprom increased Rotenberg’s contract for a Krasnodar pipeline by 45%, then continued payments for a year after the Bulgarian segment was canceled.
In 2013 Rotenberg became the chairman of the Enlightenment Publishing HouseRussian Federation started to make several changes in that sector. In 2013 an internal council was formed by the Ministry of Education to check all textbooks. Many of Enlightenments competitors books did not pass this new evaluation and so Enlightenment won about 70% of the contracts for new textbooks in the Russian Federation in 2014., which had once been the biggest supplier for textbooks in the Soviet Union. After Enlightenment became a private company in 2011, the government of the
As a result of the sanctions, Visa and MasterCard stopped servicing SMP Bank. In September 2014, Italy seized €30 million of Rotenberg's real estate, including four villas in Sardinia and Tarquinia, and a hotel in Rome. The Russian State Duma then passed a bill, known as the Rotenberg Law, allowing sanctioned Russians to get compensated by the state.
He was formerly married to Natalia Rotenburg, who is about 30 years his junior. They were divorced about 2015 in the U.K. While the financial details of the divorce are private, the agreement includes division of the use of a £35 million Surrey mansion and a £8 million apartment in London. The couple's lawyers had obtained a secrecy order preventing media in the U.K. from reporting on the divorce, but the order was overturned on appeal.
Rotenberg's personal wealth has been estimated in 2018 at $3.1 billion.