Start of the career
In the beginning of the nineties the leadership of Kazakhstan faced serious economic problems: unavailability of hard currency and a 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, who graduated from the Economy Department of the Almaty Institute of National Economy (Narxoz), was fast moving up the career ladder from a lecturer in his alma mater up to a head of section at the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations. The pivotal point in destiny of the future businessman came as the government decided to open the Kazakhstan 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 attracted. The European posting gave a lot to young diplomat Utemuratov. He returned to Kazakhstan as an independent-minded, unfettered man. In 1996 Utemuratov got a new appointment, 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 the 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 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 the Italian group UniCredit for 2.2 billion US dollars. It was the brightest transaction in the history of the young state’s banking system.
The entrepreneur decided to use the funds gained for development of business, becoming the key investor in projects under management of Verny Capital Kazakh investment company. At present, Verny Capital is one of the largest groups in Kazakhstan specialising in direct investments. The group’s portfolio of projects includes assets that work in the sectors of transport and logistics, real estate, telecommunications, finance and natural resources.
It’s worth noting that all projects of the Verny Capital Group, where leading international companies are partnering, are distinguished by transparency and high standards of corporate management.
Life outside business
Being focused on the systemic solution of social issues, Utemuratov studied international experience of rendering social assistance. In 2014 the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation was established. Its first project was opening of autism centres in large cities of the country where families having children with autistic spectrum disorder can get professional assistance and support. About 74% of children with autistic spectrum disorders are already covered by the centre programmes and this figure will be permanently increasing.
The philanthropist allocated one million dollars for opening a rehabilitation centre for children with cerebral palsy in Almaty.
One more important direction of the Foundation activities is Balameken Project for construction of housing for multi-child and low-income families and for people affected by natural and man-made disasters. The Foundation also cooperates with the International Red Crescent to render material assistance to people affected by natural disasters.
In 2019, within Balameken Project, the Foundation allocated 3.4 million US dollars for construction of housing for 100 multi-child and low-income families in Kyzylorda, and for 100 families affected by the man-made disaster in Arys town. In May 2020, Bulat Utemuratov allocated 6 million US dollars to build 150 houses for the flood victims in Maktaaral district of the Turkestan Oblast. In 2021 the Foundation jointly with the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan rendered assistance to residents of the Kostanay and North Kazakhstan Oblasts who were affected by spring floods.
In 2020, the Foundation completed the large-scale reconstruction of the Central Botanical Garden in Almaty. The cost of this project was 15 million US dollars.
Bulat Utemuratov pays considerable attention to the development of education in Kazakhstan. It is on the philanthropist’s funds that the Narxoz University is being reformed. The British Haileybury Schools function in Almaty and Nur-Sultan where principally new for Kazakhstan approaches to the secondary education are practiced. The University and the schools are non-commercial institutions, and the proceeds from their activities are spent on development of the cadre potential, enhancement of infrastructure and improvement of the education process.
A special place in Bulat Utemuratov’s life belongs to tennis. Bulat Utemuratov has been heading the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation since 2007 and is the member of the Board of Directors and the Vice President of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). In 2017 Bulat Utemuratov’s efforts to develop tennis were awarded the prizes of the International Tennis Federation and the Asian Tennis Federation “for outstanding success in the development of tennis in Kazakhstan”.
Bulat Utemuratov invested in the development of tennis over 85 million US dollars. Tennis training programmes for children were launched, Team Kazakhstan Academy was set up, national teams were formed. Tennis centres of the Federation are opened in all large cities of the country.
One of the milestone events in the world of tennis was the charity match of Novak Jokovic and Rafael Nadal in Nur-Sultan in October 2019. In October 2020 Nur-Sultan hosted the first in the history of Kazakhstani tennis international tournament ATP 250 Astana Open. Despite the pandemic restrictions, the Tennis Federation got a high appraisal from the tournament organisers for providing all conditions required for holding an event of such level.
Men’s and women’s national tennis teams of Kazakhstan’s are among the top 20 teams of the world. The philanthropist pays a lot of efforts to promote this sport in Kazakhstan. The monthly cost of lessons for a child in the Federation’s courts is currently equal to the hourly cost of tennis lessons 20 years ago. More and more Kazakhstanis bring their children to courts. All money earned by the Federation’s tennis centres are spent for their development and infrastructure improvement.
Bulat Utemuratov is the chair of the Council of Trustees of the Foundation for Development and Support of Ballet and National Dance, supports the Public Foundation named after Kazakh musician Batyrkhan Shukenov. Regular exhibitions of the Kulanshi Centre of Modern Fine Arts take place under Utemuratov’s patronage in the Forte Bank Kulanshi Art Space. Bulat Utemuratov is an honorary trustee of the Nazarbayev Foundation.