“Major League” Businessman
Raimbek Batalov – is one of the youngest of our heroes, and perhaps the most famous one. In general, the epithet «the best» defines everything about him. He is among very few people who represent a Kazakh businessman image in the eyes of the public and the world. There are opinions that Raimbek simply got lucky at the dawn of the independence, being a part of entrepreneurs’ cohort that enjoyed support and patronage of the President himself. No doubt, fate and luck did play their role in fantastic success of Batalov in the ‘90s, however the most significant part was the personality of the businessman, his incredible thirst for entrepreneurship and remarkable business acumen.
The founder of the Raimbek Group holding is known for his big scale thinking and breadth of interests, but his most outstanding quality is his wisdom, ability to accept support and advice from any party, and (as he himself admits in an interview for Tengrinews portal) talent "to create opportunities out of chaos". Not everyone was ready to accept the “gifts” of life, that ’90s were offering. Some could not take the tension (more money – more danger), others lost their easy money in a blink of an eye in dubious transactions and operations; some would make money for the sake of making money. Batalov, who was then a little over 20, was able to digest his success and whatever came with it, and to make the most out of the amazing opportunities of those times, preserve and multiply fruits, that fate had generously offered him.
Made his first money in 5th grade…
In the course of 46 years Raimbek Batalov had worked in so many different spheres. He worked as janitor at a kindergarten, as a postman, traded Finnish boots and jeans, was trading wholesale fruits and was selling vegetables at “Strela” market, was engaged in fertilizers production, was a restaurateur, manager in field of energy and industry - the list goes on and on ...
It is interesting that as a child Raimbek dreamed of becoming a border guard, wanted to go to military school, but then changed his mind, opting to his sports career. Batalov, who was actively engaged in diving, was even a member of two national teams: adult and youth team (he played for the DOSAAF and Sports Army Club). Unfortunately, because of the problems, resulting from grueling workouts, he had to say goodbye to big sport. In the end, following his father’s advice, the young man made the decision to enter the field of construction. Raimbek studied at the Architecture and Construction Institute, majoring in one of the most difficult fields - industrial and civil construction, and was studying the basics of entrepreneurship at the same time. In 1991, he took an “academic leave”, since his business required his full attention, 100 percent involvement. With graduation ahead of him, he made a choice and it was not in favor of education. He will graduate from AACI little later, but the groundwork the young businessman had laid during this "time-out" is going to help him throughout his life.
His private enterprise (small trading firm "Raimbek", which was selling electronics from Singapore, Japan, Italy, Switzerland and Hong Kong - wholesale and through retail), Raimbek registered on February 4, 1992. By that time the company’s turnover began to grow and it became inconvenient to use others peoples’ bank details. No changes were made, considering the name of the legal entity, confesses Batalov, just the form of organization - SP, LLP, JSC, the name remained the same at all times . And not once in 25 years, did the company seize operations or wind down - in this respect, the business of Raimbek Anvarovich can be considered unique.
"The first time I seriously got into business was in 1987, when I, accompanied by experienced harvesters, drove a truck with apples, peaches and apricots to Siberia” - says Batalov. “It was the first step of co-operation. I was more of a helper, I wasn’t doing anything on my own really. Later, I started renting the vegetable aisle at the store, selling vegetables. Then – a restaurant at the hippodrome. After that there were trading deals – I would get the clearing obligations from companies, cash them out and use the cash to buy electronics (it was cheaper than the non-cash transactions) and resell them. By the way, I was one of the first people to divert from this scheme of cashing of the ‘90s to a civilized money converting through VneshEconomBank. At that time Berlin Irishev was the chairman of VEB. A group of now well-known bankers were working there at the time, such as Raushan Sagdiyeva, Kairat Satylganov, and many more. They helped me to convert rubles and send them abroad. I remember the shock of foreigners (Singaporeans and Italians used to wait for payments for months before the collapse of the Union), when our payments cleared in 3 days”. “Raimbek” firm was selling electronics for non-cash payments in Almaty, therefore, the price was higher. Considering hyperinflation and conversion rates costs were covered with significant profits.
The same year, 1992, the businessman opened an electronics store “Dostyk” in the southern capital. A year later he launched "Raimbek" shopping center with an unprecedented for that time range of electronics and office equipment from international manufacturers. The next year the entrepreneur tested himself in a new field of business: in 1993, the company opens its own furniture salon and started selling European furniture.
"In the ‘90s we were getting an experience"
At different times Raimbek Anvarovich was dealing with building materials, metals, building a petroleum storage depot in Burundai, a poultry farm. The support of the President also helped him to be ahead of others: "Businessmen are thankful to the President, because from the first years of independence, he included us in official delegations and opened up the world for us. In fact, he introduced us – young entrepreneurs – to the "major league" of business, and we were absorbing everything, just like sponges. Now I understand how patient and lenient “business sharks”, like CEO of Shell, for example, were towards us. Americans, Europeans have shared their visions with us, it was an invaluable experience, and for this I am grateful to the President. He showed us the limitation that should be overcome. It would have taken us decades to achieve such heights on our own,” – says the businessman.
The pace of growth of Batalov’s business is truly impressive. In 1996 he founded a Raimbek Grain company - processing and exporting Kazakhstani grain. This was the first step of the entrepreneur into the field of food industry of Kazakhstan. Today it is a strategic direction of the «Raimbek Group» Holding. Juice production in Kazakhstan was launched in 1998. Batalov created Raimbek Bottlers company on the basis of Almaty fruit cannery. These days it produces such juice brands as Juicy, Junior, Frutta Mix, Palma and Fantan.
Raimbek Agro – is another successful branch of Raimbek Holding. It was launched in 2001. Batalov’s firm produces milk under brand names "Aynalaiyn" and "Miloko". He is also importing elite alcohol beverages on exclusive terms, Borjomi mineral water, he is the founder of popular wholesale market "Arzan", as well as the Alma Prodex company, cultivating fruits in Uighur district of Almaty region.
In spite of the developments in various sectors of business, the main specializations of Raimbek Holding today are retail, agriculture and food processing. Experience has taught Raimbek Batalov that is it is not productive to dissipate. There were times when his business followed many different vectors. At the moment it is focused on the food industry.
Teachers, mentors ...
Contemplating about possible preconditions of his success, Raimbek Anvarovich expresses his gratitude to his parents, who "were always supportive and gave advice, set a good example". At the same time he always tried to include experienced people into his team. "Evgeny Fedorovich Bashmakov is one of such people. He is the former secretary of the Central Committee, vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers. He was in charge of industry and construction, I consider him to be my first mentor. He has given me a valuable experience, from the perspective of a global vision of the industry and economy. He was a strong man, who ran businesses and entire industries. He is no longer with us ... Vladimir Fedorovich Shvedyuk - Former Deputy General Prosecutor, the first deputy chairman of state investigative committee. My friend and "freelance adviser", very wise man, his experience and advice are very useful to me"- says Batalov. This desire to learn from the older generation, at times, when the conflict between fathers and children was stronger than ever, is surprising in itself. This synthesis of the experience of the elderly and energy of the youth worked very well – the “Raimbek” firm succeeded, where others have failed.
I am sincere in everything I do ...
Despite the fact that most of the time Raimbek Batalov is engaged in business affairs, he manages to devote some of his time to sport and social activities, as well as family and social initiatives. "Trustworthiness is very important in business, - says businessman - it is very important to me that throughout these 25 years I strictly adhered to certain principles. I try to convey values like integrity to my children, encourage independence, humanity. I cannot say that I have always been right. But I am sincere in everything I do and with people as well."
Apart from diving, which he got into when he was young, the businessman also goes in for cycling, tennis and skiing. Since 2009 he is the president of the Federation of Underwater Sports of Kazakhstan, the first vice president of the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Astana Proteam professional cycling team.
"Business should support education"
Since 2009, Batalov is a member of the Board of Trustees of Almaty Management University (formerly MAB), in which takes an active part. "As an entrepreneur, almost every day I experience problems with personnel that are consequences of poor education. It is obvious that in the course of approximately 15 years there were serious failures in education system. Today it reflects in poor performance of management and staff, of those, who studied in the ‘90s and early 2000s. There are exceptions, no doubt. For example, we eagerly employ graduates of AlmaU. The offer to join the Board of Trustees of the university I accepted with great enthusiasm. I think that business should support high quality education, not necessarily financially, but through sharing the experience. "
Several years ago, the top management of the “Raimbek” company together with back then still MAB carried out joint activities to identify how teaching methods of the university were adapted to the practice. Ongoing plans of Raimbek Anvarovich include initiating a series of elective courses or workshops during which they will discuss cases from Raimbek company practice, share their experiences with students - a sort of dual training within single university.
By the way, one of Batalov’s elder sons had studied in similar manner in England. He graduated from the University of Reading - the best in Europe in the field of FMCG, according to entrepreneur’s opinion. «I understand the true value of practical knowledge; therefore every summer, while still in high school, he would get an internship here with me. For example, I do not need all those Theories of Strength of Materials classes I took in the institute. Moreover, working in a real company, you start to understand that roles of the superintendent or the chief of a site are completely different in practice than in theory. They don’t teach that at a university"- laughs Batalov.
"First of all, every business depends on people it hires, secondly – on systematic approach, - says the businessman - thus vocational education is extremely important matter for the country. It should be led by people with strong ideas, those who are determined for success. Then we’ll have a future. "
Raimbek Batalov’s family takes a special place in his life. His wife and his six children - the eldest is 23 and the youngest is only 8 months old.
- What would you have taken from the ‘90s?
- Every generation has its ‘90s. For me it's the time of my youth, when you have more strength and energy, nothing drags you down. You can’t return the youth; it is crazy and magical time. I got lucky because I was not afraid to borrow money, not frightened to take responsibilities. I was an adventurist, in a good way. It is believed that it was easier to do business in the ‘90s, but in reality, there were tons of problems back then, starting from racketeering, banditry, as well as the lack of knowledge and experience.
- Do you have a dream?
- It may sound a little pathetic, but I wish Kazakhstan to become a very developed country, with high living standards. So that people, who wish to get a high quality education could do so without going abroad. So that we could take our children to better music schools, sports clubs, etc. In my opinion, a society cannot achieve happiness without healthy lifestyle, culture and spiritual pursuits.
Raimbek Batalov - Chairman of the Raimbek Holding Board of Directors talks about his goals and values in personal, business and public life."Бизнес и власть"20/11/2015
The contest “How to Feed Kazakhstan” was established by the Enactus Kazakhstan national office and the Raimbek company. Its goal is to promote the development of the youth’s entrepreneurial initiative in solving the food security problem in Kazakhstan.