The BBG 22nd Annual Christmas Party

The British Business Group held its 22nd Annual Christmas Party Saturday, 8 December at the Hyatt Kishmish Hall with more than 400 members and guests. Guests were treated to Christmas carols sung by the Caspian Choir. Our favourite Georgian band, Vakis Parki entertained the crowd until the early morning hours with a special appearance from Nick Nicotre.

BP – surviving in a USD50 oil barrel world

Addressing the plummet in oil prices in recent months at the BBG monthly meeting, BP’s Chief Procurement Officer Wilbert Long said there is no one single projection that people are aligning to about the future.“Are we in a v-cycle or a u-cycle? I can even ask if we are in an up-and-down cycle. People are divided on this,” he addressed attendees at the Hyatt hotel, 27 April 2015.

“We’re fortunate that we had a four years of USD100 dollar oil, and I think we became complacent. We and this country were living very well. Now, with the drop, the people, the country and us as a company are feeling it. We have to change ourselves and say, if we’re a leading company what should we be doing?

“We need to position ourselves to be able to thrive and survive in a USD50-barrel world now, re-baseline the organisation, and do whatever it takes to get us there, and maintain the discipline. So, if oil does go back to USD100, we shouldn’t change, we should maintain the discipline.”

He compared this strategy to Axon, pointing out that despite the decline, the company isn’t making an awful lot of changes in the way they operate day to day. “That’s something that that we are going to have to do and are doing right now,” explained Wilbert.

BP has worked with 1600 British companies in this region (Azerbaijan, Georgina, Turkey) during last 10 years. “British companies have been very, very instrumental in what has transpired in the region. You’re extremely important to us, and certainly you will continue to be important to us in the foreseeable future.”

British Embassy Update

New Deputy Ambassador Stephen McCormack addressed the BBG for the second time since arriving at post, and gave a brief rundown on the activities and events that the British Embassy is organising over the coming month:

13 May: Crisis training exercise in preparation for Baku 2015

31 May: Visit by the Lord Mayor of London Alderman Alan Yarrow to promote UK financial services.

2 June: Caspian Oil and Gas Show (COGS) reception

10 June: Queen’s Birthday Party (QBP)

COGS and the QBP are the British Embassy’s annual flagship events. Sponsorshop is still available so if you would like to have your name associated with the British Embassy please contact Head of the Commercial Section Jacqui Mullen Jacqui.Mullen2@fco.gov.uk

If you would like to attend a meeting or wish to become a sponsor, please contact Chairman John Patterson, jpatterson@i2offshore.net

PwC celebrates 20 years in Azerbaijan

Speaking at the JW Marriott Absheron Hotel on Wednesday 1 April, PricewaterhouseCoopers Country Managing Partner Movlan Pashayev announced the firm’s latest milestone: 20 successful years in Baku. He touched on the challenges during the course of that time, which the firm has overcome to comprise the strong, 100+ workforce it is today.

As Azerbaijan weathers two interrelated crises – the significant drop in oil prices and the Russia-Ukraine conflict – which have been shrouded in uncertainty, Movlan wanted also to share some thoughts about the current status of the economy and what businesses can expect for 2015:

“In our opinion the government is yet to take action, to diversify the economy and use the opportunity to create more jobs.

“How is the central bank going to save the banks [after the devaluation of the manat]? It’s one of the biggest issues on the agenda. I think we are going to see a few more banks going bankrupt this year.

“A second issue is the major drop in confidence. The trust in the stability of the financial system, from businesses and the general population, has faded quite significantly.

“Sales of apartments has caused a lot of controversy: If you own an apartment but haven’t lived thee for more than three years then you will be taxed on the difference between the sale price and the purchase price. The question is, what is the purchase price?

“We’ve also seen tightening of immigration, in particular when it comes to short-term business trips. If you do not fit in to to one of eight specified industries – retail and consulting, for example, are excluded – by decree you are liable to obtain a permit, even if you are visiting for just one day.”

As there are crackdowns in some areas, elsewhere doors are opening: “A lot of opportunities will come from Turkmenistan. Certainly politically, related to the diversifying of energy resources due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. We have already seen some signals that Turkmenistan is starting to open up. I think it’s a good place to start expanding.”

 

British Embassy News

Deputy Ambassador Adrian Lee, whose three–year posting is coming to an end, gave his final BBG speech. He summised some good news: “We had the final visit of the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy Charles Hendry, during which an agreement was signed between the government of Azerbaijan and the British government on a joint economic trade mission. I hope will give a positive mood for all our trade interests. It’s a really good success.”

Adrian also gave dates for a busy April ahead:

8-12 : British Film Festival (spring)

11-12: British Education Fair

13-15: Visit by UKTI energy officials

On healthcare, Adrian announced that from 6 April there will be a change in eligibility of healthcare for British visitors the UK. Any visitors staying for more than six months will now have to pay for their health care.

Lastly, Adrian thanked the BBG for having him, and asserted how relevant and important he has come to find the BBG over the years: “The first time I came I thought, we have a nice meal, we are entertained by John…. After three years I can see the real value added to the business world in Baku. I can tell by the number of people that attend, the number of business cards that get exchanged, and by the energy that this group has that it really works well. And when we get a really informative presentation by the sponsor as we have had tonight I think it’s even better.”

New Deputy Ambassador Stephen McCormack has now taken over the position.

 

If you would like to attend a meeting please contact Membership Secretary James Onslow at azerbbg@gmail.com

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor please contact Chairman John Patterson at jpatterson@i2offshore.net

To find out more about PricewaterhouseCoopers in Azerbaijan please visit their website.

BP to bring Azerbaijan’s energy to Europe

Back in September, celebrations at the Heydar Aliyev Center marked the groundbreaking for the Southern Corridor, BP’s Shah Deniz 2 project that will deliver gas from Azerbaijan to Italy. As the sponsor’s representative at the November meeting at the Hyatt’s Baku room on Thursday 6 November, BP Vice President of Shah Deniz 2 Ewan Drummond took the podium, and expressed the enormity of the task ahead.

Ewan Drummond
BP Vice President of Shah Deniz 2 Ewan Drummond. Image (and top) courtesy of BP

“The scale of the challenge and its complexity cannot be underestimated. We have seven governments with an active interest, 11 companies that hold shares in one or several parts of the chain, and 11 gas purchasers we’ve signed deals with to meet their customer needs.”

In length, the Southern Corridor is a 3500km gas chain from the Caspian Sea to the Adriatic. En route to Italy it will supply Georgia, Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. The result will triple the capacity of the existing Sangachal terminal onshore, Azerbaijan’s oil and gas processing hub for oil and gas export, eventually providing 16 billion cubic metres of gas every year.

The project demands a vast network of human work force and local knowledge. It is creating 30,000 jobs including 10,000 in Azerbaijan and 2,000 in Georgia. As well as being an alternative energy supply for Europe, the Southern Corridor will have a positive impact on the economies of all the countries along its stretch.

“It’s breaking new grounds as a pipeline and a geopolitical project,” said Ewan.

For those who’d like a recap, in 1999 BP discovered what proved to be one of the world’s largest gas reserves, Shah Deniz. Shah Deniz housed 40 trillion cubic feet of gas – how it earned its name meaning ‘king of the sea’.

The initial project, Shah Deniz 1, was for a 700km pipeline, the South Caucasus pipeline, through Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Turkey border.

Ewan described: “The challenges in those days were considerable, but despite that, Shah Deniz stage 1 was developed in only seven years, and became operational in 2006. Since then it’s proved a secure and reliable supply of gas, to Georgian and Turkish customers. This is a track record which gives confidence to the government and our customers.”

BP’s challenge with Shah Deniz 2 is to complete Shah Deniz 1 virtually all over again, but on a much larger scale than anything they’ve done previously. They are using world class technologies and bringing in their most experienced managers.

Ewan has been with BP for 30 years and his role is to ensure that the corridor is completed safely, on time, and within the budget: “We must ensure the significant political support we have supporting us, BP and partners, is harnessed to deliver these projects on time,” said Ewan.

“The success of the corridor requires everybody to play a part,” Ewan summarised. “It’s like a chain. A chain is only as going to be as good as its weakest link, and this truly is a chain of projects.”

 

Embassy news

Deputy Ambassador Adrian Lee represented the British Embassy this month. “The big thing his week,” he said, “was yesterdays visit of the Minister for Europe David Lidington. We’ve had a  lot of commercially focused visits recently, so the minister was keen this time to give a different focus – on the Ngorno Karabakh, and in particular the humanitarianism issues of that, so he visited a couple of IDP settlements, students at the diplomatic academy, and political leaders about the prospects for a political solution, and I think that was very well received by our hosts.”

Last weekend and on Monday the British Council has a very successful fair for visiting British universities. This included a speed dating event with  45 Azeri and British institutions. Adrian commented: “It goes to show that the interest there is from both sides for greater links in education.”

Looking ahead, December will see the Bakutel exhibition: “For the first time we will have a UK pavilion, six British companies, and we also hope to be able to tie that in with another visit from the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy Charles Hendry.”

Watch this space.

This month’s meeting was hosted by BBG Deputy Chairman Morgan Phillips. If you would like to attend a meeting or wish to become a sponsor, please contact Chairman John Patterson, jpatterson@i2offshore.net

Two luxury pads open at Shahdag

Dressed in full pink ski gear, on 1 October Pik Palace and Park Chalet Sales and Marketing Director Shebnem Ferman took the sponsor’s podium at the BBG monthly meeting. She advised members on what they had to look forward to this coming December with the two new five star luxury properties in Shahdag.

The two premiere properties are situated in Shahdag mountain resort, 210 km north of Baku. Just a day trip away, it’s the first ski resort in Azerbaijan, about to enter it’s third year as the winter season opens again on 12 December. “Park Chalet is brand new – 164 rooms decked out in alpine style luxury, inspired by the surrounding nature of Shahdag. Rooms are natural and stylish, with wooden décor. We also have new dining options with Aspen Grill Restaurant serving steaks, on the top floor of the chalet with a fire place looking out towards Pik Palace and surrounding mountains. There are also three meeting rooms and a business centre, all with natural lighting,” explained Shebnem.

She then turned to the other property: “Pik Palace, opening its doors again on 1 December, like its name is palacial in style with 167 large rooms with French balconies and of course the mountain view. The dining experience exceeds expectations, with our Alpina Brasserie and Wine Bar serving local Azeri and international cuisine, along with a Fujisan Asian Restaurant & Bar and Chocolat Café. It is the biggest venue in the mountain resort and can take up to 500 people. We have already started taking group bookings.”

Based on customer feedback from last season’s visitors, the properties are introducing visitor packages, special offers and more which you can discover on their websites, pikpalaceshahdag.com and parkchaletshahdag.com. (Look under the Offers tab.)

Ski fanatics were interested to hear about the resort’s expansion: “We have new gondolas, 14 slopes and 11 lifts, with a dedicated ski shop in Pik Palace, and lots more fun events and activities,” said Shebnem. For those who were looking for an opportunity to unwind, two representatives from the Pik Palace spa, Manager Sarinah Made Suri and Therapist Ni Made Sasri were present, with a selection of aromatherapy products from Chinq Monde Spa Paris for members to try, along with a head massage if they wished.

Finally, Shebnem unveiled a surprise for every member, asking them to stand up and reach under their seats, where they each found an envelope entitling them to a gift voucher or discount on dining, spa treats and other prizes. They also received a little box of chocolates and hotel brochures.

Skiier in front of Pi Palace in Shahdag Mountain Resort. Image (and above) courtesy of Absheron Hotel Group
Skier in front of Pik Palace in Shahdag Mountain Resort. Image (and top) courtesy of Absheron Hotel Group

 

Embassy News

Deputy British Ambassador Adrian Lee took the microphone for a round up of embassy happenings over the past month. He started with the announcement that the Ambassador Irfan Siddiq and his wife Penelope had just given birth to a baby girl which was happy news.

He gave a quick nod to the Scottish referendum vote against independence, and said that it had been decided that, “we should all come together and more forward from that.”

The big thing this month was the 20th anniversary of the ACG contract, for which British Minister for Trade and Investment Lord Livingston attended, and also the ceremony for the groundbreaking of the Shah Deniz 2 Southern Corridor project: “Two momentous events, one looking backwards and one looking forwards, and BP and other British companies have been at the forefront of that for a long time,” said Adrian.

Also present was the trade mission: specially-selected companies by  UK Trade & Investment London to come to Baku to pursue partnerships with Azerbaijani businesses at a three-day event. Market Visit Leader and International Trade Adviser Mark Higgins addressed the group: “I’m not ashamed to say that the mission does not cover the oil and gas industry. We see a lot of opportunity to help Azeri people in other sectors. We are delighted to be here, we’ve had an extraordinarily excellent reception form all the businesses and partners we’ve been to see.”

The mission included Concerto Partners LLP, Findel Education Ltd, PTS Consulting Group and the University of Westminster.

If you wish to attend or sponsor a meeting, please contact Chairman John Patterson, jpatterson@i2offshore.com

Rapid Solutions glams up

On Wednesday 9 July 2014 BBG members gathered in modern lounge-diner Movida, Port Baku, where Rapid Solutions exhibited their new logo and explained what the company, after 20 years in business, stands for today. By Elliot Meredew

This year Rapid Solutions celebrates two decades of achievement. Since launching in Baku in 1994 the company opened an office in Georgia in 2000, gained certification by the International Society of Automation (ISA) in 2001, and with a dynamic outlook has continued to grow to become the success it is now.

“In expanding our services in the Caspian region we felt it was time for a change,” Rapid Solutions Sales and Marketing Executive Jamila Bayramova addressed BBG members and guests. “The new logo in the shape of a circle in different colours symbolises the interaction between our different services and divisions.”

Rapid Solutions’ divisions include oil and gas, commercial, telecoms, industrial and marine, with services covering electrics, hydraulics, motor maintenance, engineering design and IT among others. The company has also changed its slogan to: Leading the way through innovation.

“It is defined in the sense of perfecting the knowledge and experience we apply to all of our projects and services,” Jamila explained. In addition, Rapid Solutions has launched an informative, new-look website: rapid-solutions.net

After Jamila’s speech, BBG Chairman John Patterson handed over to Rapid Solutions Managing Director Howard Lyn encouraged members to get involved with a project, The Anglo-Azeri Society, of which he is a board member. The Society merges British and Azerbaijani cultures, supporting charitable endeavours in Azerbaijan. You can find out more at anglo-azerbaijani.org

There was an Azerbaijani theme to the menu with dolma, lamb, chicken and rice dishes, followed by baklava, accompanied by local beer and wine. Guests were free to mix and mingle, and take advantage of the free bar until 11pm.

After the main event, a number of guests lingered awaiting UK Minister for Energy Michael Fallon MP. Coming straight from his flight from London, Mr Fallon arrived late but sociable, circulating the room and discussing industry developments and future UK-Azerbaijan relations – his first appointment of many during his visit to Baku.

If you wish to attend the next event, or become a sponsor, please contact John Patterson at jpatterson@i2offshore.net

EY presents first Robin Bennett award

On Tuesday 27 May 2014 at the Four Seasons Hotel, BBG sponsors EY introduced their first annual Robin Bennett ‘smoking pipe’ award for contribution to Azerbaijan-UK business relations, in recognition of Robin’s work in Baku.

And the award goes to…

EY Country Managing Partner Ilgar Veliyev presented the award to John Patterson, current BBG Chairman since 2009 saying, “You are the face of Azerbaijan-UK business. Thank you very much for the BBG, thank you very much for your banter; please keep doing what you’re doing which is very helpful for all of us.”

“Robin did a lot for the promotion of British business people in Azerbaijan,” Ilgar explained. “His birthday is in June, and we wanted to do something to support what he was doing for many years of his life.”

Robin Bennett OBE, 1942-2011, was one of the founders of the BBG Azerbaijan, which he went on to chair for 10 years, developing the Baku business world with his sought-after experience and knowledge. He came to Baku as a Managing Partner of EY, with whom he enjoyed a long and successful career, after which he set up the Azerbaijani branch of Moore Stephens.

EY, the global tax and accounting firm known as Ernst and Young until last year is celebrating its 20th year in Azerbaijan. Partner and BBG committee member  Turgay Teymurov highlighted EY’s new branding during a light-hearted quiz as their sponsor’s presentation.

British Embassy news

British Ambassador Irfan Siddiq attended an international British ambassadors conference in London last month. One topic of discussion was the recovering economy. As part of his summary, Irfan said: “The UK now has the fastest growing economy of all G7 countries, but there is a need for us as a country to continue to work to support this economic recovery. There is a lot of focus on how we can encourage British companies to do more business overseas. You’re all already fantastic examples of success in that regard, examples that we’d like others to follow.”

June is a busy month for the Embassy, which has already hosted an opening reception for the Caspian Oil & Gas Exhibition and Conference in conjunction with the Embassy of the United States. It was attended by the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy Charles Hendry who visited that week, meeting the president, attending the exhibition and “making sure the British presence is felt,” said Irfan.

Other delegations coming to Baku in June include London & Partners to share the legacy of London 2012 Olympic Games as Baku prepares for the 2015 European Games; the University of Cambridge in establishing a course in Turkic and Azeri Studies; and the Royal College of Defence Studies to learn about the geopolitical landscape of the country.

Irfan added: “It’s an indication of how much the British government is beginning to focus on Azerbaijan, and how much interest there is in Azerbaijan.”

The evening was led by Chairman John Patterson with ‘New Faces’ introductions and the usual mingling and networking before and after the presentation and buffet.

We ate beef Wellington and crêpes suzette washed down with Azerbaijani Fireland wine, finding a moment to tear ourselves away for a Jaleh Spa hand massage as an unexpected Four Seasons Hotel treat.

If you wish to attend the next event, or become a sponsor, please contact John Patterson at jpatterson@i2offshore.net