When a strong personality tells his or her success story, the audience develops a false sense of easygoing life. It feels like all things are easily available. Here is a ready-made recipe or method. Just put it down and wait a little, and the result will not be late in coming.
Aras Agalarov, President of Crocus Group, and Emin Agalarov, Vice President of Crocus Group, made it clear how they built their business together and developed their relations so as to have it both ways.
This serious matter was addressed in the atmosphere of lunch or dinner, businesslike but with an easygoing and cheerful family touch. The guests were teasing each other and showing ironic attitude to themselves and each other. They managed to make all matters so clear that left no glimpse for interpretations or specifications, let alone any place for speculations. On the other hand, they made it clear how it was impossible to explain the way intuition worked in business and “father and son” relations. There is no chance to teach anyone to be a successful businessman and a good father. There is no chance to give a clue how to trust your child or whether the child needs tightness and control or there is no need even to look in his or her direction.
Aras Agalarov: My father has never had any issues with me. As a 6-year-old boy, I made friends with a gang of local bullies. Some of them were older than me. My father was director at Water Research Institute and communicated with academics and intellectuals. Once, there was a scene on Bakinsky Boulevard. Our gang was walking along the boulevard, all smoking cigarettes, and met halfway with my father and his friends wearing expensive overcoats and hats. My father looked at me, then turned away and passed by without a word. I felt panic-stricken and rushed home. I was sitting home waiting for him to come in and scold me. My parents have never scolded me before. My father came home and did not mention a word to me about that. I suffered and was lost in doubts, whether or not he had seen me; or if he had seen me, why did he keep silent? I could not wait any longer and asked: “Did you see me, dad?” He said, “I saw you, son, but you were together with some bullies…” And he paused to add: “I was afraid that if I say hallo to you, they would beat me down.”
I was weeping with shame for the whole night. I have never forgotten this story. I have adopted this manner and taken it on board. When a child is always checked, he or she comes to ignore it. I did my best to save my children from that. If I saw Emin going away with friends late at night and they all smoked (although they were older than six at the time), I never stopped him. I could even ask him for a cigarette in the morning. Although, it hardly helped; he smoked until 22. Then he quitted on his own. But the relations of trust – they have a meaning… I know, this really works.
(Emin comes in. – How you are doing? – It’s OK.)
А.А.: Emin went to Switzerland when he turned 13. It was my own arbitrary decision which was very hard to make. But I had no choice, he was mixing together with a “bad company” like the one I made friends with as a six-year-old child.
E.A.: I was deprived of such pleasure (Emin laughs.)
TV: Were you not afraid that a 13-year-old boy would not know what to do, feel bored or miss his mom?
A.A.: He stopped to appeal to his mother at that age. I had no doubts in his moral and psychological commitment as he had been through a good school on Moscow streets. His school played its own role in making him independent and motivated.
E.A.: What a grave picture! It was not that bad. I even did not call home the first three weeks. Father had chosen one of the strictest schools: parents were not allowed to call their children. It was some kind of concentration camp for teens. I stayed there until 15 and studied in the USA from 15 to 21.
A.A.: It’s been a long time. But by 13, Emin had a well-established personality, and when he found himself abroad, he knew very well there was a different lifestyle in which he had grown up and to which he eventually could return. And he did return. My daughter has been raised abroad from the age of six and she does not feel like coming back, no matter how we ask her to do this.
TV: How did you teach your children to deal with money?
A.A.: I did nothing special for this purpose. It just happened that Emin became independent at 13. I was 13 when I lost my father. Emin knew about that and the rest of my story, and refused to take money when he was studying abroad. I realized it was not easy, but supported his attitude at heart.
E.A.: I did not want to sponge.
TV: Did you want to be like your father?
E.A.: Sure, I have been longing to be like him and wear his clothes… But I was luckier than many children. All children love their fathers. Growing up, begin to realize that their father is not so smart, not so strong and not so ideal. I am happy to experience the reverse process. Sure, I sometimes admit that I have more knowledge than Aras Iskenderovich (he smiles). But he keeps me wondering even at my 33. He is the wisest man who has a much deeper vision than most people have.
TV: Did you go in for business to show your business skills to your father?
E.A.: No, the reason is much more trivial; I just wanted to make money. It was my priority during the first 6 years of my grown-up life. I was really bent on that. I longed to buy my own cars and spend my own money without asking my parents. I have been looking for different options, from working as a supermarket assistant to forming my own business. I set up a successful website in the USA to trade matroyshkas and army watches and pursue other projects. I did not want to become part of father’s business; I wanted to create one of my own. I had my own plans and good prospects for success. Anyway, when I plunged into father’s company, I found out it might be interesting. I knew I would make much more money here than in America trading my matryoshkas.
A.A.: I have never thought of my son as a support in my business. I am disposed at looking into bad-case scenarios and overstate the situation to feel happy, if things suddenly go well. Emin did not have to prove his right to join the business. I wanted him to help me with my boutiques after his return to Russia. He did not seem to be very enthusiastic about my proposal.
TV: Did you manage to reason your son into this project and was it his first experience with Crocus Group?
E.A.: He did not reason with me, but only kept instigating me!
A.A.: The beginning was quite simple. I was focused on Crocus Expo, Tvoy Dom and other large-scale projects. I had no time to manage luxury retail area which included 6 or 8 stores. Their management failed to perform their responsibilities, to say the least. It was time to decide whether to get rid of the business or transfer it to any person who is capable to upgrade it
E.A.: Aras Iskenderovich did not push me in the least. He said, come over and we’ll talk about it. We met in the evening and had a talk. And in the morning…
A.A.: That night I saw that Emin agreed to give it a try. In the morning I called a meeting of directors. They all got together at my office table. We came in and I said: Meet your new executive. Both they and Emin were put before the fact.
TV: How old was Emin?
E.A.: I turned 21. The directors were definitely much older. Now I also have many reports who are older than me. I see no problem with that. I do not look down on them, they may well challenge me and they do. Especially the older reports.
A.A.: Respecting seniors is in our blood. Even now, when I see a 50-year-old person, I feel like offering him or her a seat.
TV: How do you supervise the young manager?
E.A.: Father kept ignoring anything I was doing. I kept telling him what was going on, but there was no control. No control is still in place. Sometimes, I think he just does not care. I am free to make any decisions I wish.
At first, I thought if I join my family business, I would have to come to see my father for instructions every morning and he will be telling me what to do. Nothing of the kind happened and I felt very much at ease working with the company.
- Do you follow a let-alone principle? What about your parental instinct and a normal wish to back up?
A.A.: My parental instinct steps in, if any threat to child’s health arises. How can I back them up in business? No, there is no business in this case. Moreover, Emin better knows his part of business than I do. (Today, this includes Vegas network, Crocus City Mall, Crocus City Hall, Sea Breeze Resort at the Caspian Sea, Nobu, Zafferano, Shore House and Edoko restaurants – Editor). He pursues a Western approach in managing his business. If I were in charge of Vegas, there would be no retail center of the kind. I am a man of an old school. I can be influenced by my friends or relatives. Emin is more reasonable and tough. I believe I should let him make his own mistakes.
TV: Even if the price is too high?
E.A.: Even then. For example, Aras Iskenderovich prefers to install dark mirror glasses in all our facilities to keep the buildings from heating in summer. Vegas has huge areas of glass surfaces, so I decided to make them look-though. Moscow is grey, there is not enough sun, and I want to make it feel lighter and more beautiful. Father told me to do what I liked.
A.A. Although I knew for sure we were making a mistake.
E.A. Finally, we had to tint the glass. We faced many problems during the first two summers, failing to cool the cupolas. It was too hot there. Anyway, it was the worst mistake I have ever made. I have admitted it and compensated it in full, no doubt. I worked out all costs tenfold.
A.A. Even more!
TV: It all sounds so smooth! Do you ever have any disputes?
A.A.: We are in dispute all the time. We are very similar in nature. Plus and plus give a short circuit. We, therefore, prefer to avoid any business matters. There is no way we can make a common decision. We have common purposes but take different routes to pursue them. We develop different projects and have offices in different buildings. We have different employees and different accounting. We even never meet at work. We may see each other at home and even talk business for a while.
E.A.: I always remember that I am at Aras Iskenderovich’s place. He let me try my hand here, but it is his company. I am just one of company’s managers. I hate to take his time without purpose.
TV: When your son said he was going to sing, did father make quitting business a precondition?
A.A.: No, he did not. It is not accepted in our family to make any conditions. Nobody is going to meet them, anyway (both laugh).
E.A. Father loves music. When I was a child, we together listened to many singers and enjoyed some songs. I believe, if I wished to become an artist, there might be no support. (He smiles.) I view music as another business project. I am not too crazy to sing for free. My time costs money. If I go out onstage and make no money, my time is wasted. The pleasure of singing passes too fast. It is easy to make a song, which you parents and friends like very much. You need to know and follow the same laws to make people buy tickets to your concerts, to build a retail center and fill it with lessees and buyers. It takes a lot of work, which is hardly creative. When I go to “make music” at six in the evening, I just change one office for the other to settle all kind of matters, including management, technical or accounting. I am simply doing routine work.
TV: What if music “tips the balance”?
E.A.: I like Vegas project no less than my concerts. I work hard in both areas every day. It is hard to prefer one thing to another. I have been keeping the balance of music and business for 15 years so far. Even longer.
A.A.: There is no need to oppose creative work and business. One may be and has to be a businessman in music and a creative person in business. Although, if we were producing chicken legs, it would be far less creative. It is hard to invent a new chicken. The things we are doing now have to be invented first. There has been nothing of the kind before. It is a completely creative process to paint an air castle in your head and it is hard work to make it real and marketable. Work can hardly bring any pleasure. If it does, it is inherent pleasure. Work is only an act of will and a great effort, in whatever area. I am happy that Emin knows that.
TV: Some business dynasties grow into political ones. Do you contemplate this option for your family?
A.A.: No, we find our projects much more interesting than politics.
E.A.: It limits your freedom, anyway.
TV: What do you think of the Western approach when rich people raise “correct” successors by disinheriting them?
A.A.: I would say I embrace this idea. On the one hand, it is so difficult to not go over the line, not to spoil your child, to refrain from giving him or her such opportunities that make him lose interest in life because he “has everything he wishes” and there is nothing left to wish and nothing to bother about. On the other hand, the point “why bother” may occur at any level. Some reach their satisfaction level when they have an apartment, a bottle of vodka and a pack of cigarettes. Others are quite happy with a car, money for fuel and something to keep them from starvation. We all know, however, things may be otherwise. Even with Crocus on hands, we can think of something on a larger scale. It is an opportunity to show children your own progress and tell them they can do much more.
TV: Have you ever had an idea that Emin Arasovich will lead the company?
A.A.: Who else?