Bulat Utemuratov is leading the list of the 50 most influential people in the Republic of Kazakhstan. His assets, according to Forbes, are estimated at 2.2 billion US dollars. Bloomberg gives a more sizable figure – 3.4 billion. The businessman owns assets of enterprises in the banking, construction, raw material sectors, in the sectors of real estate and telecommunications. The role of the businessman of such a level in Kazakhstan is under the spotlight of the media and the society. But hardly anybody gives a thought to the fact that the economy of the young state started from Bulat Utemuratov and such strong, ambitious people like him.
In the beginning of the nineties the leadership of the country faced serious economic problems: unavailability of hard currency and banking system, lifeless industry, lack of legislative and new cadre base. Citizens of the country which just gained its independence had yet to learn living in the new reality. At that time Bulat Utemuratov had graduated from the Economy Department of the Almaty Institute of National Economy (Narxoz) and moved up the career ladder fast from a lecturer in his alma mater up to a head of section at the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations. The pivotal point in the future of the young businessman came as the government decided to open the Kazakhstani Trading House in Austria.
This new appointment was perceived by the 34-old head of the trading house as an “exile”. But it turned out to be a chance which changed the life and worldview of a young trade functionary that Bulat Utemuratov was in 1992. He got a unique opportunity to support his country and at the same time to make good contacts: the Kazakhstani official had now doors of trade, governmental and financial institutions open for him. The first step in trade and economic relations between Austria and the Republic of Kazakhstan was made and the first investments in the country’s economy were received.
The European trip gave a lot to young diplomat Utemuratov. He returned to Kazakhstan as an independent-minded, unfettered man. And a businessman with his own funds too. He returned but soon left the country again. This time – to Geneva as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Switzerland.
Diplomatic service came in very useful for Bulat Utemuratov during two crises: one – in his motherland, and the second – in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. November 2004 started with a serious confrontation between the power and the new-born hot opposition forces. The National Commission for Democracy and Civil Society was set up under Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Commission was headed by Bulat Utemuratov who turned it into an open platform for the dialogue between the ruling power and opposition that determined a vector of development of democratic processes in the country.
The diplomat soon used his Commission experience in Kyrgyzstan hit by opposition riots, in the capacity of the Special Envoy of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Birth of the business empire
The true story of his business can be told only by Bulat Utemuratov himself. He knows how he earned his first capital in the environment of complete absence of entrepreneurship rules and laws. The pivotal moment in the businessman’s life was the story of establishing and selling the first bank in his life.
In mid-90s Bulat Utemuratov, jointly with the Dutch company Mees Person, set up a small financial enterprise – the CJSC Almatinsky Trade and Finance Bank. It was one of the first banks of free Kazakhstan. It grew into a strong multi-product inter-regional group and was sold to one of the European banking groups for 2.2 billion US dollars. It was the brightest transaction in the history of the young state’s banking system. It laid the foundation both for investments and development in the non-financial sector and for establishment of new financial institutions – ForteBank and Kassa Nova. The successful sale of the ATF Bank and the subsequent crisis of the European banking system changed Bulat Utemuratov’s attitude to the ways of doing business: transparency and good corporate governance principles. The businessman became one of the key shareholders of the Verny Capital investment group.
Well-defined business of Verny
Verny Capital buys out in the secondary market those enterprises which other investors got clobbered with, and reorganises and modernises them.
This happened to the Vasilkovsky Mining and Processing Plant, where Verny, together with the Kazzinc Holding, turned the loss-making enterprise into the flagship of the gold-mining sector.
This was also the case with the 31 Channel, where Verny Capital is the majority shareholder, and which was, jointly with the CTC Media company, made one of the leading TV channels in the country.
The same happened with the Kartel telecom operator – supplier of 4G internet in Kazakhstan, and with Sky Mobile in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
Whatever Verny (as the group is called in short in Kazakhstan) sets out to – whether it’s the Burger King fast food network opening restaurants all over the country or the South Kyrgyz Cement Plant – everywhere one can feel the style of businessman Bulat Utemuratov and his team. Verny Capital buys controlling interests in companies and actively participates in operational and strategic management. Risk, push, powerful investments of efforts and funds – and the country gets a brilliantly restored or newly created facility. As it happened in the end of 2017, when the Talan Towers complex including the first luxury hotel The Ritz-Carlton Astana, apartments, the boutique gallery and the business centre opened in the capital city.
Verny Capital has dozens of successful projects to its name within Kazakhstan and neighbouring countries.
Life outside business and simply life
The Kazakhstani media calls Bulat Utemuratov unsocial because he does not give interviews. But this cannot be true judging by the scope of his charitable activity and the number of friends. Philanthropic projects of Mr Utemuratov and Verny Capital are as large-scale as entrepreneurial. Sponsor Bulat Zhamitovich is as active as the businessman. Therefore he invests only to the development: to education, healthcare and health of children, domestic sports.
- Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation sponsored opening of four “Assyl Miras” centres for autistic children.
- Every year an international conference “Autism. The world of opportunities” is held.
- In 2017 the Foundation expanded its work: it renders financial assistance to the victims of natural disasters.
- The Foundation also funds the early intervention rehabilitation work for children with cerebral palsy.
- The special page in the charitable work of the Verny Capital Foundation is restoration and development of the Narxoz University and establishment of the network of British Haileybury Schools – educational institutions of the European level.
The special place in Bulat Utemuratov’s life belongs to the sports, namely – tennis.
For 10 years now Bulat Zhamitovich has been heading the national Tennis Federation and is the member of the Board of Directors of the International Tennis Federation. He brought this sport to the international arena not only due to the skillful management, Mr Utemuratov also invests much of his own funds to its development: builds courts, finances competitions, organises young reserve schools and children clubs “Tennis before 10”.
Bulat Utemuratov has been married to his wife Azhar for forty years with two sons and a daughter.
The circle of friends of the Utemuratovs is wide and impressive. It includes influential people of Kazakhstan: Timur Kulibayev, Sauat Mynbayev, Berik Imashev, Yerbolat Dossayev, Nurzhan Subkhanberdin, Nurlan Smagulov, Serzhan Zhumashov, Arman Baitassov, Rustem Bekturov. The philanthropist’s friends are Francesco Ricci-Bitti (President of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations) and Shamil Tarpischev (President of Russia Tennis Federation), tennis players Rafael Nadal and Martina Hingis, Ivan Glazenberg (Glencore International), Mikhail Fridman (Alfa-Group), Alisher Usmanov (USM Group), Herve Humler (Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company), Lakshmi Mittal (Mittal Steel Company N.V.).
The life and success of Bulat Utemuratov is inextricably bound up with the development of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the European and world business arenas.