Business Education:
Lessons in success

KUSTO BELIEVES IN THE VALUE OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING AND COMMITS SIGNIFICANT
INVESTMENT TO ENSURE ITS TEAM MEMBERS ARE EQUIPPED TO COMPETE

“Many companies talk a good game about being
a learning organisation. Kusto is a true learning organisation. It spent a year travelling all over the world including to the US, the Netherlands and Israel to find new ideas. It’s made a significant investment to learn. This is the hallmark of great companies.”

That’s the assessment of Dr Eric Flamholtz, founder
of Management Systems and professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. He has worked with Kusto since 2012 and his comments should come
as no surprise to those who know the group.

Indeed, Alex Donov, Kusto CFO, says that training and education “are mandatory ingredients for success”, conferring a competitive advantage on the group.

“The world is changing and to be successful we have
to change as well. We can only do this effectively through learning,” he says.

It’s not just knowledge; success demands
precision thinking, first-class analytical skills
and entrepreneurial flair

In Kusto’s fast-moving world of industrial investment, up-to-date knowledge is essential to success. But it’s not just knowledge; success demands precision thinking, first-class analytical skills and entrepreneurial flair – qualities Kusto has spent years nurturing in its staff.

Founded in 2002 by Yerkin Tatishev, himself a highly-educated entrepreneur, with three other partners all similarly well educated and qualified, Kusto’s culture
is to engender a keen thirst for learning across all its teams.

The group, which has over 8,000 staff, has always encouraged employees to study for professional qualifications, particularly in project management and finance where it expects PMP and CMA or ACCA certification respectively. It holds regular training and coaching sessions.

More recently it has developed a far broader set of training programmes and, unlike most companies,
it does not have a fixed budget for training. Rather,
it allocates funds according to need. Explains Donov: “It’s not about spending the money because it’s there. It’s about investing to make a difference.”

Kusto tries to work with the best partners, who are often radical thinkers doing original research, and the group has forged important relationships that it continuously draws on to improve.

“We ran a management programme in 2012, organised by Alma University. And that proved
a turning point,” says Donov. “We followed courses on strategic planning and performance management, on business ethics, effective thinking, game and management theory. They were given by world-class thinkers and researchers
in their fields and have made us more focused, more effective and more competitive.”

One of the lasting relationships that came out
of this programme was with Dr Flamholtz. Kusto and Dr Flamholtz worked together for 18 months after the initial programme on a series of tailored leadership and development courses, strategic planning and performance management training for 20 of its top executives.

Dr Flamholtz says: “[Kusto management’s] core characteristic is their great desire to learn, asking penetrating questions and quickly showing a keen understanding of complex concepts and methods.”

The 2012 programme also helped the group to develop more formalised training programmes for staff and towards the end of 2014 Kusto set up
a management assessment programme for its top managers. The programme identifies gaps
in managers’ experience and knowledge and
it aims to develop individual education and training plans tailored to each manager.

“Knowledge, vision and values are prerequisites
of being a successful top manager,” says Donov. “Only continuous education can provide and maintain these three elements.”

The group also uses professional business trainers to deliver courses in marketing and sales, project management, strategic planning and performance management, and has established an internal consulting function to support these efforts.

Besides following externally-developed courses, Kusto also founded its own Agricultural School
in 2014 to help support its agribusiness division. The school offers postgraduate diploma courses for agriculture students from outside and inside the group.

We want to give young professionals
and graduates the chance to develop and use
their theoretical knowledge in practice.
It’s a vital part of the learning process

“We want to give young professionals and graduates the chance to develop and use their theoretical knowledge in practice. It’s a vital part
of the learning process,” says Daulet Nurzhanov, CEO of Kusto Agro and an instrumental force in establishing the school. Offering courses in agronomy, chemistry, machinery, management, finance, safety and communications, the school celebrated its first group of 15 graduates
in February 2015.

As Dr Flamholtz says, taken together it’s a big investment that few companies are prepared to make. But for Kusto, it is central to its strategic plan of having a highly skilled workforce that can think independently, precisely and creatively.