The FINANCIAL — Temur Chkonia was born in Bolnisi, a small town in eastern Georgia on 9 September, 1950. He received his education at Tbilisi Polytechnic Institute. He also lived in Russia for a while.
After returning to Georgia, Chkonia was a regular tech worker at Tbilludi brewery, later at Tbilikhilckali, a lemonade producing company.
Today his business includes Coca Cola Bottlers Georgia, McDonald’s restaurant chain in Georgia, factory of carbon dioxide in Aspindza, distribution companies and hotels. He is one of the richest people in Georgia.
Temur Chkonia has a wife, two children and four grandchildren.
Q. You are one of the most successful businessmen in Georgia. Was it your goal to become a millionaire?
A. I grew up during the Soviet Union. If I thought about becoming a millionaire at the time, I would have been jailed. It was forbidden to have such opinions. At the same time, there was a certain image about millionaires. People thought that they were big-bellied, greedy individuals, oppressing employees by imposing unacceptable conditions on them. It’s also interesting to look at the traditional caricatures of millionaires. They were presented with big cigars, big caps and with big bellies as well. According to the times of the Soviet Union people were under the influence of certain ideology and press. Thus I never thought about becoming a millionaire.
This was a time when units achieved success because of their hardwork. It was necessary hypocrisy, to have plural acquaintances, for one to become a successful person. It must be underlined though that I achieved everything purely because of my hard work.
Q. What were you doing before you started your business?
A. In the past a person always had to choose the same profession as his parents. Lawyers wanted their children to become lawyers, doctors wanted the same profession for their children. My mother was a gynaecologist and accordingly I should have become a gynaecologist too. But I didn’t want to, because there was large competition in the entrance exams to the medical institute. It was necessary to have skills in all subjects and I was never a good, all-round pupil. Thus, in spite of my parent’s great desire, I didn’t enter the medical institute. I went to Moscow and I continued studying there. At the age of 17 I began working in a bread factory. My wage was very low, about 70 RUB and that wasn’t enough for me. After a year and half, I was promoted, but I was bored of this job, because I was on duty on certain days, and accordingly I had to miss fun times. At last I decided to give up.
Later, experiments were held at my institute, and I was interested in them. So, at the age of 19 I began working at the laboratory.
After graduation from the institute, I came back to Georgia. Here I began working in the factory of non-alcoholic drinks. At first I was an engineer and finally became general director.
Q. How about when you first got started?
A. The first step in my business was producing the non-alcoholic drink flavour – Tarkhuna (Tarragon). This was recognized as the best drink by the Soviet Union. I achieved it by my hard work. By myself I established relations with different countries.
I went to Baltic countries and offered them our drinks and then began the distribution of non-alcoholic drinks. The result was that I was bringing a great sum to our budget.
At that time, no one besides me was making such drinks, even though the request for non-alcoholic drinks was huge.
So slowly my business developed. After a certain period the drinks made by us were sold very actively in the countries of the Soviet Union.
In the nineties, we began thinking about importing Coca-Cola. I am a specialist in non-alcoholic drinks and accordingly I knew that lemonades would have no perspective. Something new had to be brought to the market and that was Coca Cola. It was a very difficult period at that time, there was no gas, light or water, but fortunately for me, there was request for Coca Cola in society.
My life has been full of lucky opportunities. When I decided to produce Coca-Cola, I sent a written letter to Atlanta, because there was no internet or fax. By chance this letter was accepted directly by the executor of duty of the vice-president Nevil Izdel, who was working on the development of business in Europe. Soon after he became a director of Coca-Cola.
Later, Nevil Izdel visited Georgia and told me that when he accepted a letter from Georgia, he found out that it was small country which reminded him of his mother country – Ireland, and how they had suffered. He was also introduced to the wars of Georgia and so he decided to cooperate with us. They gave me an inventory of instructions and I had to accomplish all of that in a year and a half, but 6 months was enough for me because I was working so hard.
As for the factory of Coca Cola, it was opened by Mukhtar Kent. He is a Turkish businessman. Today Mukhtar Kent is one of the directors of Coca Cola.
Q. How did you get your first 1,000 USD from your business?
A. I have never worked on such small sums. I was winning considerably bigger sums even from the beginning of my business. My main aim was to expand my business. I was not thinking much about money.
Q. How long did it take you to make 1,000,000 USD?
A. I can’t remember exactly how long it took to make a million. I think that several years after starting my business we had already won a million.
Q. Do you plan the future in advance?
A. It’s very important to plan the future in advance. What I acted emotionally and spontaneously, it was always a mistake. Accordingly, I am always trying to plan everything in my business.
Q. What do you attribute your success to?
A. I attribute my success to being lucky; the cases I have already told you about.
Very often, in difficult situations, I have been lucky. For example: my journey to Chicago. When I wanted to open a MacDonald’s in Georgia, I met Jim Kantalupo. I had lost my suitcases by the time I arrived there and so I had to buy a suit that was too big for me. Jim Cantalupo was interested in why I was looking so and I answered that we had just one suit in the family which we all had to share, one after the other, so it was big for some and small for others. He laughed at this joke very much and liked me the more because of it. The positive impression was also due to the following fact: that I had flown for 18 hours to get to Chicago just for the one day, for that particular meeting.
Soon after that first meeting, 20-25 days later, Jim Kantalupo arrived here and as a result McDonald’s was opened in Georgia.
Thus, my life has been full of chance and that has played an important role in my success.
Q. What does your typical workday look like?
A. I usually get up at 6:20; I do my morning exercises for 45 minutes. Then I go to the office, where I get the necessary information based on the instructions I left the previous evening. I finish my working day at 9 o’clock in the evening.
Q. What have been your greatest challenges and how have you overcome them?
A. I really had such a case in connection with my factory. There is natural gas, carbon dioxide, in Nakalakari, in the district of Aspindza. It’s necessary for the production of carbonated drinks such as Coca-Cola and Borjomi. At that time we were using artificial gas. It was very difficult to buy and import it. I decided to take a license and to make a factory. So I would be able to use this gas for my business. But I found out that I wasn’t ready for it. I met big obstacles in the process. It was necessary to have many technologies in place to start the new business, but we didn’t have time. Soon we found a factory in Singapore and we bought it. Thus a factory situated in Aspindza was bought in Singapore.
It must also be underlined, that the main challenges for me were in connection with money and related possibilities. Serious sums are necessary when I want to expand my business, which is always a great challenge for me.
Q. Can you tell us about an initiation or project that you have started and then failed in?
A. Each initiation or project I have started has become very successful. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, a hotel which we built in Kobuleti, are all very successful. All of them are so developed structurally, that it’s impossible for them to be unsuccessful.
Q. How has your success changed your life?
A. Of course my success has considerably changed my life. Nowadays I have more possibilities than I had earlier. I have changed my opinion on many things. I regret being lazy at times, that I haven’t learned English or Turkish well. But I must underline that my relationship with people and different facts hasn’t changed.
Q. Who is your business idol?
A. Oran Baphet is my business idol. He is one of the richest people in the world, who lives to create wealth and that is a very positive fact for society. I can tell you the following words: “If a person cares for his welfare, it means that he cares for the country’s welfare”. When you build a factory, you employ people. For example, 800 persons are employed in the four McDonald’s restaurants in Georgia. And that is a positive fact for the country as well.
My other business idol is Mukhtar Kent. He has reached the greatest success in business with his hard work and purposefulness.
Q. What advice would you give to people who want to become millionaires?
A. My generation didn’t have the chance; young people now have many more opportunities to be successful. In the past there were no telephones, no internet, and no banks. Nowadays, there aren’t such serious problems as that. That’s why I give the advice to young people that they must use these opportunities and must learn as much as possible. Knowledge is the most solid capital, which will never be lost. There will always be a great request for it. Talent is nothing if you have no knowledge.
Thus young people must learn as much as possible, they must learn the things they are interested in and they must do the things they enjoy.