Booming Kazakhstan: opportunities for European companies and interim managers

In the current economic climate, Kazakhstan is one of the lucky countries experiencing sustainable development. The leading sector is clearly that of oil and gas. More than 80% of Kazakh oil is exported to Europe and represents about 10% of needs there. The country offers great opportunities for exploration activities for which the support of European companies is badly needed.

Another strong market: transport and infrastructure. At the recent Global Gateway Investors Forum for the European Union – Central Asia Transport Connectivity, European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis announced that Europe and the financial institutions present at the Forum will guarantee €10 billion for sustainable transport in Central Asia. EU foreign chief Josep Borrell underlined how close partnerships in a world of increasing uncertainty are necessary to meet global challenges: in this sense, Central Asia has become a crucial partner for the EU with its great potential in security, connectivity, energy and resources.

To be better prepared, Europe and Central Asia need to strengthen their resilience and diversify political and economic relations. All this has led to the numerical growth of European companies’ representative offices in the country and the consequent growing demand for interim managers with global experience capable of bringing international best practices to local companies. Interim managers are preferred to expat managers on permanent contracts, as Kazakhstan is a country with strong traditions, where local management teams are the real decision-makers.

In terms of origin, European companies usually prefer interim managers from Europe or the Middle East, due to their obvious familiarity with culture and business processes. However, Kazakh interim managers are chosen when knowledge of local markets is necessary for certain functions: Government Relations (usually involving access to markets, lobbying activities in the area, contacts with authorities, management of state contracts), sales and business development, finance, legal area. Roles that require a broad network of contacts, knowledge of local laws, access to government and knowledge of national traditions and mentalities.

There are sectors that need temporary management more than others. In particular:

  • Energy – the country has large oil and gas reserves, as well as great potential in renewable energy sources. European temporary managers bring experience and technological know-how in the extraction and management of energy resource processes
  • Infrastructure – particularly sought-after are figures who can manage projects to manage logistics and transport infrastructure, including the construction of roads, ports and airports. For example, the country’s two largest airports have been privatized and require expertise for strategic changes, improvement of operational processes and alignment with international standards
  • Tourism – the country has great potential, especially in environmental and adventure tourism. Temporary managers are particularly in demand for ski resort management, high-level hotel management, catering and entertainment
  • Science and education – temporary managers with experience in managing R&D projects in different fields are needed for joint projects in innovative technologies
  • Agriculture – technologies and methodologies are needed to increase productivity and reduce costs: there are great opportunities for managers with experience in the agricultural sector, animal husbandry, crop management and processing of agricultural products
  • Finance and investment – European banks and investment funds can provide funds and resources to implement local projects. Local banks are looking for temporary managers with experience in banking, funds, insurance and asset management who are able to build partnerships with European counterparts
  • Consulting – the Big4 are already present in the country, but local entities are also growing in need of temporary staff with international experience and innovative approaches.

So not just oil and gas as many think…

What is the profile of an interim manager for Kazakhstan? Certainly, if the manager works at the headquarters of a European group, the profile will be more or less in line with that of the more advanced European countries. However, if the manager will be working with local companies, there are some crucial skills to consider:

  • Adaptability and willingness to change – the key competency! Business in the country is going through major transformations and key managers need to adapt quickly to new challenges and new circumstances. Cultural change, like the growth of national identity, is a major challenge for locals and expatriates
  • Strategic thinking – the geopolitical situation is evolving rapidly and Kazakh companies need to adjust their strategy, taking into account the war between Russia and Ukraine and the resulting sanctions, tensions in the Middle East and other factors. All this requires management to be short-sighted, with a focus on short-term and long-term strategies, but with constant adjustment of the latter
  • Leadership – interim management is a new service for Kazakhstan and many managers and shareholders do not yet fully understand its value and potential. It is therefore essential to know how to be an effective leader and how to engage people to give their best, especially in the implementation phase
  • Results orientation – most shareholders of large Kazakh companies are ambitious, driven and expect to achieve their goals. They are not patient, they need very dynamic managers
  • Digitalization – is already present in all companies: ERP systems, process automation, digital channels for sales and marketing for almost all products, extensive use of AI. This is an absolutely essential skill for an interim manager.

In summary, despite being a new country for interim management, Kazakhstan is capable of offering European companies, as well as European managers, great development potential.

by Yulia Zabazarnykh (Kontakt | Kazakhstan) with support of Maurizio Quarta (Temporary Management & Capital Advisors | Italy)

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