Merwiss Azizi

Founder and Chairman of Azizi InvestmentsFirst, thank you very much. My story is that I left Afghanistan in 1988. At that time there was a war with the Russian army inside Afghanistan.

It’s a pleasure to have you Mr. Azizi. You have one of the most extraordinary stories behind you. You left Afghanistan 20 years ago with $700 in your pocket, yet in 20 years you built one of the most successful regional empires. Can you share your story with us?

First, thank you very much. My story is that I left Afghanistan in 1988. At that time there was a war with the Russian army inside Afghanistan. I left the country with $700. After that I had the idea to go from Uzbekistan to Europe to go stay and find somewhere with open immigration. After that I felt it was time for me to start making some business from this. I started my business from the $700 I had and it was a textile business, and with this textile business I worked for about one year. After that I moved on to the electronics business, then the petroleum business. In 2000 I had wanted to go to Afghanistan because there were some problems and everyday I had information about my country. At the start of 2001 there were big changes in Afghanistan in the government. 2002 was finally my first visit back to Afghanistan in 14 years. What I saw in Afghanistan was difficult; I saw all the universities closed, there was no school and no work. Also, there was a lot of crowding in the country. I understood which way I want to help my country, and I started to invest, to find jobs for the people and not to just make profit in this country. I wanted to do something to help the country. Because my business is the petroleum business, I started one project of $400 million, and it’s the first filter station in the country. This project must be finished by the end of 2010, with 350 filter stations. In the north I built some storage for petroleum. This has the Azizi Group in Afghanistan working with more than 2,000 people. After that I saw there was a difficulty for the people with banking their money because their is no banking system in the country. I started to open a bank there. I opened this bank, the Azizi Bank, but the problem in Afghanistan before was that there were no private banks. I started to open a training center for banking. I invited teachers from India and different countries, from the USA, to teach young Afghan generations about banking. In two to three years we had around 1500 young men and women start training at this training center. Now Azizi Investments is working with more than 1500 people. These 1500 young men and women, once they finish training they will all start working in this bank. Around 40% of the employees of Azizi Bank are women. Now this bank has around 35 branches in different provinces with high technology software and systems. I have lived in Dubai for more than 17 years. Dubai is for me like my second home, because I have stayed here for 17 years and my children have been born and raised in this country, they study in the schools here. Some of them have moved to universities in the United States, another of my sons will leave after one month to go to George Washington University, and another will go to West Virginia. My daughter here is at the American University of Dubai. I like this country; there is so much safety and it is very easy for business and investors. Here it is all law and all system and this is good business. Nine months earlier we decided to open another company with the name Azizi Investments. Azizi Investments started around six months ago officially working in Dubai. The Azizi Investments Management was ready and also started the project for construction of 15 million square feet. The total cost for this is around 15 to 16 billion Dhs. This money is coming from three sources. First, from Azizi Group, which is working with Azizi Investments. Second, already our finance department is making negotiations with around ten to twelve banks to get financing from them. Third, from the public. For the next year the Azizi Investments have a the total 50 million square feet construction which will cost 55 to 60 billion Dhs. For 2010, Azizi Investments has 100 million square feet to be built up at a cost of 100 billion Dhs. The total comes to 165 million square feet of construction and the total cost is 170 to 180 billion Dhs. This is some short information.

Also, can you talk about the University project?

Yes, first I started to find jobs for the people and now Azizi Group and Azizi Bank in Afghanistan are employing a total of more than 3500 people. Also, I push in Afghanistan to make a university. We are starting to build an American University in Kabul. I arranged a meeting in Dubai for the Board of Trustees, and I became the first chairman of this university, and this university started its operations. Now around 600 students are studying at this university in Afghanistan. I think in the future, in the next two years, the number of students will increase to around 2000, 2500.

Al Aizizi also has an Azizi Foundation in Afghanistan which sends more than 100 students overseas on scholarships?

No, the Azizi Foundation is making the program to send university students in the coming years, and also for masters degrees , to India and other countries. Azizi Foundation will be the sponsor of these students. In the future also I want to invest in my country to open some factories and to find jobs for the people. At the same time I want to help. I have a plan for 2009 to build a big hospital in my country for cancer and for children, free for the public.

Concerning your action, you are kind of replacing the state. The private sector is basically overcoming what is lacking in Afghanistan, what the state is not doing basically.

Yes, in Afghanistan the two ways to help the country are one, investment, and two by education. Without this it won’t work. In the country there are some problems, especially in the government, some systems of bureaucracies, and corruption. This is not good. But in general, I think in the future this country can work. In 2004 I invited 500 Afghan business people from different countries around the world, because during the wartime a lot of Afghan business people went to the United States, some went to Europe, some went to the Middle East, and different countries. I invited them all here to Dubai, and to go to the country to make investments and help the country. I believe this because Afghan people do not like the war and are so tired from it. The Afghan people believe the future of the country will be good.

Can I ask you what is your vision for Azizi Group and Azizi Investments, and what do you feel is your major responsibility towards Dubai, towards Afghanistan, towards the countries you are presenting?

I would like Azizi Investments to be such a big company in the future, because Azizi Investments has to fulfill the promises it has made to the public. What Azizi Investments says Azizi Investments does. Also for quality; Azizi Investments wants the best quality and on-time delivery. These are three reasons why I know Azizi Investments will be one of the largest companies of developers. Azizi Investments has a program in the UAE, especially most of the projects are in Dubai, but in the future, after a few years, we will go to other countries. But whenever Azizi Investments goes to another country it must go there very strongly. Azizi’s responsibility towards this country is that it has to apply the rules and regulations of this country as a host country. Second, all the promises this country makes it must do. Third, it is about good quality. Azizi Investments does not think about the profit; for us, it’s better to have less profit but good quality. This way the public is happy and talk well about Azizi Investments. This is more important for our company.

Anything else you would like to add?

Thank you so much.

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