Mariam Koiava: “I Would Advice Beginners to Be Both Modest and Daring…”
“We are supporting various types of business endeavours at the most crucial stages, will it be starting a business, its development, overcoming a crisis or selling. We have rather precise mechanisms that we apply at every stage thus supporting companies and private investors,” states managing partner at business consulting – SavvY, Mariam Koiava, who founded this company at the age of 26 along with her friends. At present, SavvY provides consultations to tens of large companies and plans to expend its business activities outside Georgia, particularly in Great Britain.
“Tornike Chkhaidze, Mikheil Khidureli and I set up SavvY in 2015. We were working at different jobs at that time and founding this company was a hobby to us, a kind of an experiment. The primary nature of our service used to be finances. We dealt with few activities in the beginning but then, in 2016 Georgian government introduced a new law that required companies to adopt international financial reporting standards and disclose their financial information, which is an accompanying process to the Association Agreement with the EU. Hence, it became a pure necessity for every company to have a person who could easily explain something that many found difficult to comprehend and there were we – individuals, who did this with much ease. I accumulated due knowledge in this field while working at international audit company, KPMG and fortunately, I had a chance to make use of it. We were lucky to have introduced SavvY at the market at the same time when the demand on our company’s services increased.
We were also lucky in a sense that the founders of our company had completely different skills. We contributed to each other’s strengths, overcame weaknesses and formed into a strong, united team. As an essential prerequisite for the success of any endeavour, it is vital to have an interesting, effective team that believes in what they do.”
Prior to setting up SavvY, Mariam Koiava had worked at KPMG as a senior auditor and at TBC Bank as a risk manager; she is a member of ACCA, has a BA in Finances from the Caucasus University and is a graduate of the HBx CORe program from the Harvard Business School. Mariam also delivers various types of trainings. Along with her qualifications and work experience, her inquiring mind is key to her success.
“My curiosity grows even more every time I get introduced to a new industry and I like this very much. I am able to plan only 20% of my agenda as the rest consists of unplanned and dynamic events. As soon as I deal with the challenging part of a new case, I enter my comfort zone and from that very moment, I do something to get me out that zone. Hence, all my projects are rather ambitious and require a lot of additional work, but this, of course, is my conscious choice.
For instance, my objective in 2017 was to develop one specific service – let’s say, organizing the finances of companies. After several successful rounds, I delegated this activity and embarked on developing services oriented on bigger clients. Having accomplished this objective as well, I thought to myself why we should not take Georgian consulting services outside the country. Currently, one of the biggest challenges for us is to export our services. Being in such a “discomfort” is crucial for me as I grow and develop at times like this.
I never compared myself to anyone else and this is because every individual has their own circumstances and preconditions. So, I always compare my present day to the previous one and if I notice a slight progress, I can say that I had a productive day. I don’t have a precisely measured maximum that I would like to achieve. It is possible that from a certain age, I won’t engage myself actively in business and decide to develop my career in an academic field. Alternatively, I could work abroad and thus, bring more benefits to my country. I will consider myself fully developed in a professional sense when I have explored all my capabilities.”
Mariam Koiava achieved success thanks to her personal qualities. Nevertheless, there were also some hindering traits in her character. Apparently, Mariam Koiava, who helps the largest companies to manage their finances better and whose important part of life consists of business meetings and negotiations, found it intimidating to meet new people and speak in front of the audience.
“If I could not find an acquaintance at a conference, I would stand in the corner and would sneak out not to be seen by anyone, and such a complex is detrimental for what I do. The entire success of business consultants lies in the contacts they have and if one feels conscious getting to know new people, then there is a real problem. So, I set a goal for myself to meet a new person at each conference for the start. Having achieved this, I went up with the numbers meeting three people, then 10 and finally, I promised myself to get acquainted with at least 10 people at each conference, the more the better. It was a serious accomplishment for me.
The second biggest complex that I had was public speaking. I could make a great impression on the audience that I was familiar with, but with new audiences, I felt that my knees were shaking. So, I started delivering various business trainings to small audiences. I knew beforehand which companies those people worked in and did some very good preparations for each training. In other words, I started training myself in presenting to small unknown audiences. Today, I am a trainer at many large companies, such as TBC, ADB, Bank of Georgia, etc. This gave me a considerable courage and I started presenting freely in front of audiences of 200-300 people.”
Mariam Koiava wishes to have more women as heads of businesses and at the senior management positions. Nevertheless, the fact that she represents minority at the moment does not make her uncomfortable. As she notes, she has never found herself being discriminated or privileged just because of being a woman. But her age, at the beginning, used to cause some distrust.
“My partners and I were just 26 years old when having founded SavvY. Due to our age, people would express some doubt on whether we could teach them something valuable. I would always land a project out of each business meeting; however, I often had to agree on their conditions. Then, I thought to myself whether there was something that I could learn to manage meetings better and undertook a rather comprehensive training in this respect. I was a completely different person before and after the training. I realized that age and sex has nothing to do with it – negotiations are not just about landing projects; they are about liaising with a colleague, a subordinate, your senior and a friend. Negotiations have vast dimensions and the right communication is key to the success of any deal.
I would advise beginners to be both modest and daring. They should not feel bad to ask for help and be brave enough to take initiative. If they make a mistake, they should learn from this mistake and grow professionally. We tend to be ashamed of errors in our culture while in the Western culture, people proudly admit that they had a mishap and now they know what to do not to find themselves in the same situation again. To provide an example, when I told our partner organizations about exporting the services of SavvY to the UK, their reaction was that nobody would require these services in the UK. At my first successful meeting in London, I told this story and they were quite astonished. I was told that the UK is one of the most open and international countries and they could not understand why someone would have such an attitude.
I realized that this initiative was worth going for just because of the discovery that I made – I have learnt that the culture that I belong to and whose many aspects I admire, considers my endeavour to be too bold whereas according to another culture, that is more open and international, sees nothing wrong in my business attempt.”
Mariam Koiava deems overcoming difficulties and challenges as a means to gain more experience and skills. The year of 2020, when about 80% of businesses stopped operating worldwide, gave Mariam a chance to find new opportunities.
“The pandemic first had a negative impact on our business as there was a sort of confusion in Georgia as well as globally while consulting business does not appreciate such uncertainties. Correspondingly, we focused on amending the company’s internal system throughout the first and second quarters of the year. In the third quarter, we noticed increased activities in the business sector, which positively reflected on our services. Despite the fact that 2020 was filled with challenges, I believe that the pandemic taught us a lot and these new skills were essential to make us stronger.”
Mariam enjoys working in a team. She has a leading role in carrying out the majority of projects; however, she is also fine with serving as part of the team at times. Mariam believes that working on one’s own would be boring. To her, success or failure are better when shared as they become more interesting.
“Today, Mikheil Khidureli is no longer actively involved in Savvy’s activities as he is serving as the head of a state program, Enterprise Georgia. Tornike and I are, in fact, the managing partners. However, in order to ensure the company’s growth in the right direction, we have also taken three associate partners on board, who work along with us on further development of SavvY. We meet each other weekly and once in a month and a half we hold a partnership session – all five of us go somewhere for a day and a half and discuss plans for development. We have learnt from practice that we yield the best results by working together. Though, not every type of work requires the involvement of several people – even very successful businesses had to shut down when partners could not manage to clear our their relationships. Truthfulness is key in business liaisons. Even a minor lie affects trust and working without trust is impossible.”