The first steps in starting an independent business and building free economic relations in Georgia date back to the 1990s. This was a significant period for Georgia, when the commercialization of various industries began. After the dissolution of the USSR, the social, political, and economic environment was uncertain in Georgia. The country was facing numerous challenges, and everyone was hoping for the best.
From today’s standpoint, it is evident why there aren’t many companies in Georgia with a long history of doing business: Simply because many could not withstand the test of time. Some businesses changed industries, and some even left the country altogether in search of luck abroad. Despite this, thought, there are success stories in Georgia that, without exaggeration, can be taught in the best business schools around the world; success stories made by hard-working and dedicated entrepreneurs who helped to shape the industries we have today.
Entrepreneur would like to share with you a story about a successful business, GAA Holding, which since 1992 has been steadily expanding its operations in Georgia. The local and international experience helped them to introduce completely innovative ways of doing business and applying the highest standards to the operations.
GAA Holding is represented on the Georgian market in several strategic business divisions, among them business consulting, marketing services, advertising services, media communication, printing, and production; new and used cars business, global trading and shipping; and the import of digital and renewable energy products.
For 30 years, all GAA Holding business units have led the market in their segment, and all this has been achieved primarily by providing the best customer service and coming up with creative solutions promptly.
Obviously, behind every successful company with a rather long history stand people who share a common vision, values, and principles. Although they are moving towards one goal, reaching it would be impossible without the founder of GAA Holding, a professional with many years of experience, Gia Alikhanashvili, whose personal story of success goes beyond Georgian borders and includes the whole region and the post-Soviet countries.
Gia Alikhanashvili made a name for himself by implementing innovative projects and successfully investing in businesses. He is actively involved in creating opportunities for his Holding as well as other business operating on the Georgian market. As a business expert, he assisted in the implementation of a number of exciting projects in various fields, which is why he is positioned as one of the most successful independent businessmen in the region.
Entrepreneur talked to GAA Holding founder and CEO Gia Alikhanashvili about his entrepreneurial journey, the history of GAA holding, and it’s current and future projects.
Mr. Alikhanashvili, please tell us a little about yourself. What was your path to starting a business, and what challenges did you have to overcome along the way?
I was born and raised in Tbilisi. I have studied at all educational institutions that existed in Soviet Georgia at that time – from kindergarten to school, training centers, and technical institutes.
I started working early on. My father passed away when I was young, and I took the responsibility of providing for my family. I worked at various places and once even had four jobs at the same time, but I juggled it all and was always on time thanks to my pride and joy – a soviet made car named “Zhiguli”.
In 1984, I started working as a video engineer on the first channel of state television. With about 3,000 people working in television, I gained a lot of good friends and acquaintances. Those years shaped my vision and helped me to form the core of the Holding as we have it now. I can proudly say that 30 years ago, we were the first to start creating an advertising agency, which is now representing an international group McCann Worldwide, specializing in marketing communications on the Georgian and Armenian markets.
Undoubtedly, there were many obstacles and challenges along the way which we had to overcome, but today, GAA Holding is a member of the American Chamber of Commerce – AMCHAM and the Advertising Communications Association ACAG, where we try to contribute to a common goal and serve individual companies, as well as the Georgian economy. We are confident that the Holding continues to develop and find its niche in the international market.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all our employees on the 30th anniversary of GAA Holding and wish them a continuous journey of success and pride. I would also like to thank all our clients and suppliers for their cooperation and wish them a successful 2023.
30 years of successful operation on the Georgian market is quite impressive in itself. What is your, as a GAA Holding founder, secret to success?
Becoming successful and maintaining that success did not come easy. There were times when just surviving the market volatilities was deemed a success.
Our story began a little earlier, but as soon as it became possible to legally register the business, we opened a small office, registered the name, and started officially operating – all that in 1992. Since then, we have shown up and worked every day; at times, we have worked 24 hours a day, and I will always be grateful to the people who stood by me, some of whom continue to work alongside me to this day.
Life and business are very much like riding a bicycle. If you don’t keep your balance, you will definitely fall off. Well, we tried not to fall and maintained political neutrality at all times, which is vital in the Georgian business environment.
We managed to retain and increase our client base. Our friends, who know and remember how we started our business from scratch 30 years ago, are confident that GAA Holding (gaaholding.com) is still managed by a team of professionals and always successfully implements the given projects.
Today, we have open and transparent relations with all our clients and suppliers, just like 30 years ago. We value our longstanding relationship and expect our partnerships to last many more years to come.
I think it is a great achievement for the industry as well as Georgia’s business environment for companies like us to come this far, cooperate, learn, and help to develop the market we have now.
How would you assess the 30-year development of GAA holding? It combines several business divisions. What are they, and what type of product/service do you offer customers?
The development and growth rate of any business depends on investments, especially local ones. You can imagine how many multinational companies we have negotiated with over the past 30 years to enter the Georgian market. Rest assured, every investor cautiously evaluates the economic indicators and political status quo before investing in new markets, especially in small countries, where political and economic processes are closely intertwined, and even more with Georgia having a history of nearly continual political or economic disruptions.
In these circumstances, we and KEDI TV managed to partner with the American advertising agency McCann Worldwide to serve the Georgian and Armenian markets for the first time in our country. At that time, we established a client base and experienced team ready to take up any challenges. Since 1998, this partnership has brought us immense changes. Our company grew rapidly by working with other multinational clients, like two more agencies of the McCann Worldwide group – media agency “UM Georgia” and event and production agency “Momentum Georgia,” which have been added to our advertising group.
In addition to the above, we helped establish several local companies currently working as our suppliers. This year, we have combined some of our businesses and created a new portal – Advertising.ge based on a single window principle; the client receives full advertising and communication services or chooses the specific agency based on their interest. As I mentioned, this service is available in all regions, and manufacturers exporting their products can use it as well.
The second division is Senaauto.ge, which we started in 2006, and today we continue to work with major brands like Cadilac , Honda, JAC Motors, CMC Motors, Subaru, SsangYong, ENOC, and Kuba/RKS. This company operates as an agency and fulfills orders for any vehicle services.
The past three years have been extremely challenging for the automotive industry. Many manufacturers faced operational and supply chain issues. Consequently, this business is struggling to stay afloat, and GAA Holding is fully committed to keeping it stable.
The commercial division of JAC Motors proved to be quite successful, and now, together with the German car-maker Volkswagen, it produces two types of passenger cars – one that runs on gasoline and one fully electric.
We have been keeping up with time and implementing the latest trends in the industry by creating new brand Ecodrive.ge, which is a corporate social responsibility project of GAA Holding and works as an online store. The product range varies from Honda and JAC Motors electric cars to solar products and solar panels supplied by Senaauto brands.
Since 2004, GAA Holding has owned popular radio station STARFM 93.9, and in 2015 we added lifestyle channel “Starvision” (STV), a News and TV broadcasting service www.starvision.ge , to the group. Recently we integrated both into the Starvision.ge and created a comprehensive multimedia platform. On this portal, you can watch live any TV channel, listen to our radio, and read the news. In the near future, we plan to turn this startup into a mobile application, thus making it more attractive and accessible for our customers in Georgia and abroad.
GAA Holding successfully cooperates with government institutions and participates in various tenders. Since our inception, many projects of different companies have been implemented, and a lot of interesting ideas have been realized.
In 2023, we formed a procurement and shipping company – Gaatrading.org, which will combine the existing trade and logistics divisions in GAA Holding, as we anticipate managing worldwide orders. A unique selling proposition for this division would be the ability to order and deliver any product to any part of the world.
We plan to use our extensive experience in this field and open a logistics center with our company representatives worldwide. We have been represented in the free economic zone of Dubai for over ten years now, as well as in China, India, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, Japan, and post-Soviet countries.
How has the organization transformed challenges into opportunities during its 30-year history, and how has this affected the holding’s corporate culture?
For the past 30 years, the country has been through both political and economic turmoils. And obviously, the pandemic had a devastating impact on the market, so we had to start all over again. However, we also learned a thing or two during that time, and now with a completely different mindset, fully digitalized and more flexible with our choices, we continue to serve our clients and manage our brands.
GAA Holding has transformed its brand image and undergone significant restructuring to meet the latest digital requirements. Working remotely opened up many opportunities for us; we are no longer limited to the four countries’ markets we used to work for; we now offer our services worldwide.
Even though we have always been focused on attracting young people, the search intensified this year. As we face a labor shortage in nearly every industry, we would like to have on board students who are taught and allowed to test their abilities in various fields of work.
Today, we have over 250 employees working in GAA Holding. Should our projects expand, we would look into growing our team too. We have excellent long-term plans for the future.
What are the skills and knowledge you have gained from 30 years of independent work? Based on your extensive entrepreneurial experience, how would you assess the local market?
Thirty years of experience with local companies, as well as a partnership with international companies, have taught us a lot. We acquired many professional skills that are unique to this market, and we are ready to use these skills and knowledge while working with government institutions and contributing to the development of local businesses.
The Georgian market does not exist independently from the rest of the world: It develops with the region and progresses the way all developing markets do. Of course, we are moving forward, but the question is how swiftly and dynamically it all happens. What matters is how macroeconomic indicators change over a certain period of time and how the market responds to them.
We are driven by a clear vision. We would like to be pioneers in implementing the latest innovations and technological advances within our projects. We had cases when a particular project was deemed too innovative or did not fit the market demand, so we had to postpone it, but as the famous saying goes, if you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.
My and my team’s main achievement is that there is a decent and stable advertising market in Georgia. We are proud to have overcome shifts in the market and the partial monopoly that might occur from time to time. But as a pure monopoly is practically impossible in this industry, we are confident things will go well for us.
I would like to emphasize the importance of high sales turnover for the growth of medium-sized businesses. One of the proven methods to increase sales turnover is “promotional campaigns,” which is little seen today. The legal framework should be modified to facilitate such events and “sales promotions.” We are ready to assist and participate in these processes.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give entrepreneurs who are just starting out, or who are already top-level managers?
I would advise young entrepreneurs to choose a business or field they want to master and become proficient in early on. Changing professions or companies often is not efficient in the long run. Consider studying a field of interest here or abroad, and definitely come back home. With the current labor shortage, Georgia can use your knowledge and experience for good! Otherwise, the country will not be able to develop like other European and other Western countries, where so many of our fellow citizens live. I strongly advise them to try and return to take advantage of Georgia’s business opportunities and implement their entrepreneurial ideas here – on the Georgian market.
By Archil Gelashvili for Entrepreneur