What were some of your major achievements in 2017?
There were two major achievements throughout 2017; one was the launch of Talan Towers, including the Ritz-Carlton, Astana hotel, while the second involved developments at RG Gold, a gold mining plant that was originally proposed five years ago. Over that five-year period, we conducted exploration, and in 2017, we completed the first phase for development, exploration, and production increase. We have quadrupled our resources and reserves, and doubled our production. Currently, we are considering the second phase of the RG Gold project, which is the development of primary ore, and will need to build a new plant for that. The second phase is large and capital intensive, and a significant project for us.
Verny Capital is present in a variety of sectors. What have been some of the key performances across your portfolio of companies?
In hospitality, we built and launched the Ritz-Carlton, Astana, taking advantage of the 2017 Expo. We hosted distinguished guests in the city during the event, as it is an exquisite hotel in a prime location. In banking, we completed a restructuring phase of Fortebank after the acquisition of Temirbank and Alliance Bank. We are ready for the new phase of development in the banking sector. In mining, we have increased production, resources, and reserves. In education, it has been three years since we started reforming the education process at Narxoz University, and we have achieved excellent results. We have significantly changed nearly all of the programs and added a series of new programs as well. We have also invited new teachers, changed many of the academic staff, and appointed a new rector. In 2018, we will start a new 10-year phase for the further development of the university. In telecommunications, the global industry experience is stabilizing and, at the same time, transforming. All telecom companies are becoming more or less infrastructure based. We will implement new products in the digital sphere. We hope to launch a new product in 2018 and have an entire program to submit to our clients. We have also identified new, bright investment opportunities. We are focused on expanding and improving our current assets and new investments will be announced upon proper analysis and decision making in 2018.
2017 was a strong year for the country as Astana grew its international profile and the economy grew by around 4%. What is your overview of the economy?
Kazakhstan is working in a tough economic environment. Low oil prices and an underdeveloped industrial sector are two factors that affect this. The 2017 Expo helps cities such as Astana attract more tourists. Kazakhstan should continue to develop industries such as logistics, transportation infrastructure, and agriculture. These are sectors where we see a great deal of potential for the country. The government should lead infrastructure projects with the involvements of the private sector. We do business in infrastructure; for example we own and manage a cargo airport. It is performing better due to our management and strategic view. There is great potential in transportation given the geographical positioning of the country.
Looking ahead, what can we expect from Verny Capital in 2018?
2018 promises more than previous years. However, our business cycles are moving faster than ever, making it more difficult to plan. Technology is developing rapidly and we are facing what I call a “certain uncertainty.” Big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning—not to mention blockchain—are all factors to consider. I am all about new digital technologies, new digital realities, and a new digital philosophy. This is a challenge, and no one knows what will happen. We cannot predict how and to what level AI, big data, machine learning, and even blockchain will be developed and implemented. The technology has already entered our lives; it is a reality and we should embrace it.
Hard Talk - Askhat Aimagambetov, Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Hard Talk - Nurlan Smagulov, President of Astana Group