Ayat Azimov, owner of the “Global Coffee” chain in Kazakhstan, graduated from LCC International University in 2013 with a degree in Business Administration. Now, an experienced CEO shares the story behind his business, future plans, and how his success connects to his university years.
Initially, the alumnus learned about LCC from his English teacher. Once accepted, he decided just to go ahead to Lithuania without waiting for any results from other universities. “It was my dream to study abroad,” explains Ayat. He started his education at LCC with the Intensive English Program, now called PRIME, and transferred to a regular BA program in a year. To make up for that time, he worked hard and took extra classes to graduate a semester early.
The decision to go to LCC was worthwhile. He enjoyed LCC’s close-knit community and speaks warmly of university friends he is still in touch with these days. Despite the intensive course load, Ayat took any development opportunities and participated in the European Students Forum and the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. His efforts paid off, as, by the end of his studies, Ayat received an Erasmus+ scholarship to complete a business practicum at the pharmaceutical company, Polpharma, in Poland.
“During my student life I could barely afford a cup of coffee,” Ayat smiles before sharing the origins of his business idea. Due to his financial circumstances, he focused on the essentials and received financial aid throughout his years at LCC. He had thought he would connect his future life with the highly profitable oil industry in Kazakhstan. That was before his Comprehensive Examination class in his senior year, where he analyzed the “Starbucks” business model for a group project. “In Nur-Sultan and Almaty there were a lot of coffee shops at that time, but in the south of Kazakhstan the coffee industry was not developed and there was no competition at all.” Coming from the south of the country, the city of Shymkent, Ayat got inspired to start his own coffee business.
Opening a business right after graduation turned out to be challenging, so Ayat took a governmental job and, later, worked for Tengizchevroil, a part of Chevron Corporation. Simultaneously, he made other business attempts with an IT company that failed and with a rather successful advertising agency. In 2015, Ayat turned back to the original idea and took a risk by getting a business loan. Together with two partners, including another LCC graduate Maxat Amanmuradov, they opened the first location of “Global Coffee” in a shopping mall in Shymkent. “People from the whole city started coming to try our coffee and that inspired us to grow.”
“Today we already have 57 coffee shops but that’s not even 5% of what we envision. In Kazakhstan, with 18 million people, we can still open another 100 coffee shops in one or two years.” Even the pandemic couldn’t stand in their way, in the last year, their success only continued to grow. Soon, they plan to expand to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan adding 93 million new people as their potential customers. After that, “Global Coffee” is set on entering the market in Russia and becoming truly growing global.
Ayat’s regular day starts with calls, messages, and budget approvals. He visits coffee shops that are about to open and holds meetings with employees and investors. Once or twice a week, he flies around Kazakhstan to approve new coffee shop locations for the franchise. Yet, he says that real work happens outside of the meetings and his main job is to inspire the employees. “From the very start we chose horizontal management, empowering employees to make decisions on the spot,” tells Ayat. Thus, the most challenging part of managing the business becomes finding valuable human resources. “Always put the right people in the key places,” a management lesson that Ayat lives by, learned from a previous LCC class.
The alumnus recognizes how his LCC education has influenced his life and ways of doing business. “I always tried to get the most out of everything, including each class I took.” Ayat illustrates how almost 10 years ago in an LCC classroom he learned that the future of marketing strategy would be in smartphones. “I knew about it earlier than some competitors.” Now, social media is their key tool for expansion. He credits LCC for leadership development and skills in economics, accounting, statistics, and finance and is especially thankful to his professors: Eric and Rebecca Hinderliters, Dmitrij Katkov, and Femi Odebiyi. All that core knowledge lets him tune into work processes easier and analyze information faster.
Outside the job, Ayat loves spending time with his family and tries to balance his time, despite often working weekends and evenings. He is also passionate about traveling. “During my trips, I always try to gain new knowledge helpful for my business,” adds Ayat, as he talks about visiting original espresso bars in Italy and training to roast coffee in Russia. “I am always on the move and I like that.”
From the standpoint of experience, Ayat shares advice with LCC students, who want to take an entrepreneurial path. “Stay hungry for knowledge because, from every person and professor we meet, we gain something useful - if not for today, then surely, for the future.” He refers to a famous “Connecting the Dots” speech by Steve Jobs and reassures that, in surprising ways, every “dot” and experience will be connected to form a bigger picture, as life carries on.