RENAISSANCE MAN

Azerbaijan 2014 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ahadpur Khangah, Chairman of the Az Group of Companies, on its vehicle assembly, education, and sturgeon farming projects in Azerbaijan.

Ahadpur Khangah
BIOGRAPHY
Ahadpur Khangah was born in Tehran in 1952 and graduated from university in the UK specializing in engineering and road construction. Between 1975 and 1986, he worked in road construction for a family-owned business in Iran, and later worked on projects including the modernization of the Iranian Social Club in Dubai. He has lived in Azerbaijan since 1993 and is currently Chairman of the Az Group of Companies.

How is Az Group looking to increase its industrial production in 2014, the Year of Industry, in Azerbaijan?

In 2013, AZFCO, the dairy production enterprise of the group, succeeded in becoming certified by the US Army to supply US soldiers in Afghanistan with dairy products. There are expansion plans for 2014 to add new cheese, butter, and ice cream lines to the plant. Today, the plant produces a diversity of dairy goods, including 67 varieties of yogurt, milk, probiotic yogurts, and ice creams. Our industrial products are even reaching international markets. AZ Plas, the group's packaging factory, exports to Georgia, whereas AZMDF exports MDF and parquet laminate flooring to Georgia, Iran, and Turkmenistan. The expansion plan for AZMDF 2014 is to add a brand new production line for doors, windows, and kitchen cabinets.

Moving to the automotive sector, what led Az Group to commence truck assembly in Azerbaijan?

Az Group was the first exclusive Isuzu dealer in Azerbaijan. After a while, when Isuzu saw our capability with regard to the automotive industry, it suggested building an assembly line in the region. We reached agreement on how this was to be achieved, and currently the plant is under construction and our first prototype will emerge by February 2015. Today, we are the only company in Azerbaijan that will assemble light and heavy trucks locally. Meanwhile, we opted to assemble Isuzu's models because it is the best truck brand in the world.

How will you go about training the workforce for this assembly plant?

We are going to send Azerbaijani technicians to Japan and other assembly lines around the world for training. Meanwhile, Isuzu Japan has suggested that we work with the Isuzu assembly plant in order to train our local technicians.

“ Our target is to release 50 million fingerlings per year into the Caspian Sea by 2020. "

Az Group is also working to build an English language school. What can you tell us about this project?

The school that AzEdu, Az Group's educational arm, is building, will be managed and operated by GEMS International, which is the largest private education company worldwide. It will be advising us on how to set up an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which will encompass the US and UK educational systems. The school will be able to accommodate 2,500 students and will be open to expatriates and Azerbaijanis who wish to enroll their children in an English language school. Azerbaijani students who wish to attend university, college, or boarding school abroad will also benefit from this system. The school will make an international education system that meets global standards available to Azerbaijani parents. Therefore, being able to provide a solid education locally, many parents will be spared the separation of sending their children abroad.

Can you provide some key metrics for AZ Group?

Aztikintiyol manages and runs the production of aggregate and asphalt in the country. It started operations in 2008 with two regional plants, and, since then, we have opened six further plants around the country for these products. Our production capacity has increased, and we can produce 2,400 tons of asphalt per hour, or 57,600 tons of asphalt and 72,000 tons of aggregate per day. By our estimation, this is enough to cover every project in Azerbaijan in 2014. Aztikinti, another company that produces concrete, can produce 1.2 million cubic meters of concrete per year, which would cover 35% of total Azerbaijani demand. AzSole was the first industrial plant of Az Group, and was established in 2006 to provide steel for infrastructure projects. Its initial capacity was 1,000 tons per month, whereas in 2012 it reached a capacity of 3,500 tons per month. We always set ambitious targets that help us to grow.

What have been the developments at Caspian Fish, Az Group's sturgeon farm?

The farm has in excess of 36,000 sturgeon set to start producing caviar this summer. The current total volume of our fish is approximately 96 tons, which will increase to approximately 400 tons by this summer, when temperatures rise. Also in the summer of 2014, we will see our first dispatch of 2 million fingerlings into the sea. We will also be inviting scientists from Geneva to inspect the farm and make their own estimation of the volume of fish there so that we can obtain a quota for caviar exports. The quota given is normally 10% of the weight of the fish at a farm. Hopefully, for 2015, the quota will make available approximately 30 tons to 40 tons of caviar for export and internal use. Our target is to release 50 million fingerlings per year into the Caspian Sea by 2020, so that future generations can also enjoy wild caviar.

Lastly, what are Az Group's social initiatives?

Independently of Az Group, I operate the Azerbaijan Animal Rescue Center (AARC), which was founded in 2008 and situated in the center of the city. Subsequently, having decided that our animals needed a much quieter space, we transformed a six-hectare property that was formerly a hotel into a modern and sophisticated animal shelter. Additionally, AzTexnika, our automotive company, sponsored the G3 City Challenge in Baku in 2012. Due to the success of this event, we also sponsored the G3 World Final in October 2013. In September, we organized the event “Polo Returns Home" to celebrate the sport of polo, which originated in Azerbaijan thousands of years ago and was later adopted by the British.