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A Kazakh woman’s intriguing professional journey through swaths of paradise

30 june 2014, 13:35
0

Alua Pikard will be the first to tell you she’s led a charmed professional life.

The Almaty native has developed several of her own businesses – all in fields she enjoys. They’ve included executive recruiting, marketing and public relations, and now property development.

She’s also spent half her working life in paradises like Spain, Thailand and Bali.

Now she’s in the enviable position of being able to work from almost anywhere she wants.

A key to that freedom is the Internet, which allows her to take work with her while she establishes herself in the latest location she fancies – which at the moment is Bali.

When I interviewed Alua by Skype at her office in Bali recently, I quickly realized that another key to her success is a thirst for learning.

For example, she taught herself marketing, strategic communication, branding, organizing events and working with media to publicize those events.

Learning these skills wasn’t enough, however. She wanted to master them. She’s succeeded to the point that clients consider her a marketing and PR whiz – and don’t want to work with anyone else.

Public relations ace Alua Pikard at her desk in Bangkok. Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

Public relations ace Alua Pikard at her desk in Bangkok. Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

A common thread among many of those who’ve developed a lifelong love of learning is parents who were educators. That’s the case with Alua, whose father, Yerbolat Sadvakassov, was a computer-programming professor at Almaty’s Polytechnic Institute, and whose mother, Meruert Ashimova, taught pharmaceutical science and biochemistry at the Republican Medical College.

Her parents encouraged her to begin studying English early -- in elementary school -- and her prowess with that language has been another key to her success. It’s meant she could offer her services to clients from a lot of countries, not just Kazakhstan.

Alua’s career began with law, which she studied at Kazakh National University. After graduating in 1998, she joined a law firm that represented such international clients as IBM and British Gas.

In 2005 the Spanish locomotive and train-car manufacturer Talgo dangled a management job in front of her that would broaden her skill set. She grabbed it. Her duties included finance and human resources as well as legal matters.

“I had to go quite often to Madrid and Barcelona,” she said.

The trips were invigorating. “I love Spain,” Alua enthused. “It’s a nice culture. It’s has good food and happy people. It’s a fun place.”

The job was also satisfying because Talgo was helping Kazakhstan develop. The country was in desperate need of replacing much of its railroad infrastructure – like tracks – and its antiquated, Soviet-era locomotives, freight cars and passenger cars.

Talgo, a world leader in rolling stock, would end up over the next decade landing billions of dollars worth of contracts from the national railway company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy for the equipment and maintenance services.

Two years into her tenure with Talgo, Alua decided to scratch a longtime itch to be an entrepreneur.

In 2007 she and her younger sister Ayleen, who had also earned a law degree at Kazakh National University, opened an executive recruiting firm.

Prime Solutions specialized in recruiting managers and hard-to-find technical professionals – such as specialized engineers -- for international companies with Kazakhstan operations. Most of the recruits were Kazakhs, but the company helped find foreign professionals as well.

Ayleen still does head-hunting. Borrowing a page from her globe-trotting sister, she’s living in Singapore – and travels a lot through east Asia.

Her focus these days is developing the business, particularly attracting new clients. She’s been especially adept at forging relationships with oil and gas companies in such countries as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Japan.

Alua knew when she and Ayleen opened Prime Solutions that making people aware of the company would be crucial to its success.

So she immediately began teaching herself marketing and publicity skills such as branding – creating an appealing company identity – and strategic communication – devising communication strategies that help a company attain its business goals.

Part of Alua Pikard’s business success has been her ability to network – and LinkedIn recognized that in this congratulatory message.Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

Part of Alua Pikard’s business success has been her ability to network – and LinkedIn recognized that in this congratulatory message.Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

Alua loved this kind of work – and was good at it. “I was very happy when I found this new field for myself,” she said.

In 2008 she went to Thailand for what she thought would be three months. “I ended up staying four years,” she said.

An important test of whether she could succeed in marketing and public relations came when she became part of a team organizing a world-renowned yachting competition, the Samui Regatta.

It was exhilarating. People came from around the world to idyllic Samui Island to take part in the race and the festivities surrounding it.

“I did PR, worked with the media, and worked on both international and local events connected with the regatta,” including a bikini fashion show and a VIP party for participants and sponsors.

“I met a lot of Thai people, started getting to know their culture,” Alua said.

Alua Pikard at an event she helped organize in Bangkok.Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

Alua Pikard at an event she helped organize in Bangkok.Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

The contacts she made at the regatta event and elsewhere in Thailand helped her start her own marketing and public relations business.

It’s a given that those who succeed in marketing and PR have to like people – and Alua does. Would-be clients recognize this immediately, and embrace her warm and friendly personality. Her engaging charm helped her business grow steadily.

Alua had made a short visit to Bali in 2004, and was intrigued by it.

An exotic monkey statue outside shared office space that Alua Pikard used when she first arrived in Bali. Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

An exotic monkey statue outside shared office space that Alua Pikard used when she first arrived in Bali. Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

In May of 2013 she decided to work there for a while to see if she liked it.

She found shared office space in the cultural bastion of Ubud, but she didn’t know whether she’d stay a few weeks or years.

One of the reasons she decided to stay was the fascinating people she met – many of them creative types like herself and many, like her, interested in sustainable living.

“I met so many people working on their own interesting projects,” she said. “I found a community of free spirits and creative types who were living healthy lives.”

She continued to work with clients in Thailand while looking for a new project she could get psyched up about.

She found one.

She became friends with Wayan Kentri Norberg, whose family owned eight hectares of land in Bali’s Tabanan area overlooking the famed Jatiluwih terraced rice paddies – a United Nations World Heritage site.

Wayan Kentri told Alua she wanted to do something to help preserve the rich tradition and culture of the area.

The two began bouncing ideas off each other, and discovered they shared the same vision of creating a “center for artists and researchers” that was “eco-friendly, organic and connected to the community.”

“She and I had so many things in common, and we realized we could do so many things together,” Alua said.

Architects, designers and landscapers are drawing up the outlines of the project now, with details still to be filled in.

To make sure the development fits its surroundings, Alua said, plans are for housing to be made of bamboo, with roofs thatched from the ilang ilang plant. “We want to use solar panels” for electricity, she said.

Another idea is to harvest healing plants from the site’s forested area. “We’re thinking about creating a healing center there,” Alua said.

The two women have already started creating an organic garden on the site.

The tranquil-looking Desa Seni resort and yoga center in Bali, where Alua Pikard goes to unwind.Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

The tranquil-looking Desa Seni resort and yoga center in Bali, where Alua Pikard goes to unwind.Photo courtesy of Alua Pikard.

And Alua is working on both a website and a blog dealing with “sustainable living, sustainable food and a healthy lifestyle.”

Her latest exciting project isn’t the only reason she wants to stay in Bali, however.

“I’m so happy and so comfortable here,” Alua said. “I feel a very deep connection with it.”

 


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