TBY talks to Anar Mammadov, Chairman of Zqan Holding, on the company’s areas of activity, the Azeri economy, and the business environment.
TBY What is the background of Zqan Holding and what was at the idea behind forming a holding company for your activities?
ANAR MAMMADOV Zqan Holding started 11 years ago, and was first developed in London as an idea. While I was studying there, I had the idea to create a holding company in Azerbaijan with a global reach. Zqan Holding’s group companies are in the finance, hotel and leisure, construction, and transportation sectors. Our main aim is to be a company that supports Azerbaijan in different markets, to show how the country is developing, and prove that in the business world, Azerbaijan deserves a prime position. Azerbaijan has got a lot of potential and we are aiming to show it to the world. Good businessmen should do business outside the country, but support their country at the same time through promotion mechanisms.
What is your assessment of human capital in Azerbaijan when it comes to finding the right person for the job?
It is always hard to find skilled and educated people, but through training workers with the necessary skills the right workforce can be developed. We have to be confident that we are attracting the right people. Therefore we have developed an effective selection system. We find the right people for our companies based on our internal HR strategy, procedures, and policies, which are very effective. Zqan Holding has it own internal culture, values, and traditions. I personally believe that the values, beliefs, and objectives of each individual should correspond to the companies within the holding. We currently have approximately 7,000 employees. The best investment is investment in people. That is my approach to human resources in Azerbaijan, and it has worked to create a holding company with many different aspects and one, united synergy. In addition to running training sessions myself, we sponsor people to study in different countries, who then come back with the knowledge they have gained.
The holding is deeply involved in the construction sector. What is your evaluation of the industry in Azerbaijan currently?
We have won many contracts in the construction sector, and our projects have mainly involved the development of residential buildings. In Guba, around 150 kilometers from Baku, we are also developing one of the biggest hotels in Azerbaijan—the Rixos. The construction sector is booming right now, and people are in the right position to buy houses.
As the operator of Le Meridien Hotel, what impact do you expect the development of five-star hotels to have on the sector in general?
We are not worried, as new developments are only rising to fill a huge boom in demand. The location of Le Meridien is good, and it has a fixed clientele. I do not expect there to be any visible impact.
What challenges remain to improve Azerbaijan as a tourist destination?
Lots of things need to be done in this area, especially on the food and beverages side. There is a strong culture of dining in Azerbaijan, and this needs to be played on when it comes to the tourist industry. I believe this is the primary concern right now. To do that, of course, there is a need to educate and train people in how to serve customers. In that respect, four months ago, we sent a few colleagues from our hotels and leisure centers to Los Angeles to study the art of waiting for three months. They have now returned and are passing those skills onto others.
What has your contribution to the insurance sector been?
There are a lot of insurance companies in the market, but that doesn’t mean business is hard to come by. Azerbaijanis like to shop around and compare prices and deals. In that climate, we are focusing on applying fair pricing policies and providing the best customer service.
Zqan Holding counts the Bank of Azerbaijan among its group companies. What are you doing to further its development?
Service is the first and most important feature in both the banking and the insurance market. Customers should be happy with the services they receive. They have to have peace of mind, and to trust that their money is safe. It is still a small bank, but we are seeing it develop quickly and our outlook is more than positive.
How did you see the global economic crisis as the head of a large holding company?
The overall effect only constituted a downturn of around 2% to 3% for us. The banking sector was affected more so, but we took the right steps and invested our money in the right places, and therefore we averted any major blows. The construction sector also saw a downturn, but activity is now resuming again. One benefit of running a holding company is that all of your eggs are never in one basket, and that helped us through the difficult years.
Are you looking to expand your international ties?
Yes, we are. The principal aim of Zqan Holding is to be known globally as an Azerbaijani company. We are trying right now to open factories and sell our manufactured goods worldwide. We have already begun such operations on a small scale, and we export cement to Georgia and Russia.
What challenges remain in Azerbaijan to improve the business environment, especially for the construction industry?
There aren’t any barriers in front of us right now as businessmen. The President has created a superb environment for business to flourish. The economy is open, and the opportunities are endless. It is people who start businesses, and so in order to develop the business environment the government has implemented generous incentives to encourage people to get into the world of business. All kinds of opportunity exist, including tax exemptions on exported agricultural products and others.
What would you advise possible foreign investors who are interested in coming to Azerbaijan?
Everything the investor needs is here: political stability and trustworthy partners. The economic situation is currently improving tremendously, and wages are also on the up. This is also an indicator that Azerbaijan is on the right track.
© The Business Year