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Banking

Samruk: the outsider’s inside story

Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has decreed the creation of a state holding company, roughly on Singaporean/Malaysian lines, to oversee and rationalize the country’s lucrative but inchoate collection of state-owned companies and foster corporate governance. A British corporate warhorse, Sir Richard Evans, has been hired to pull the operation together. Eric Ellis reports on a confrontation of cultures.

Q&A with Richard Evans, Chairman of Samruk Holdings: “Our mandate is to make two and two add up to more than four”

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A BROAD CAROLINAS accent drawls out across the conference rooms of the Radisson Hotel in Kazakhstan’s new capital, Astana. The American is teaching the basics of corporate governance to a seminar of youthful managers at Kazakhstan’s just-born $40 billion state holding company, Samruk. Some are so young they have acne. "Guys, this part is important!"

The lecturer is a bald late-career consultant from Ernst & Young, doing his bit for post-Soviet reform and, doubtless, per his generous fee for this hardship post, his retirement fund. His frustrated southern twangs are translated into Russian, still the lingua franca here despite 17 years of Kazakh-led independence, and a reminder that Moscow’s powerful bear still lingers covetously in the background here. "There are internal controls," he spells out, "risk management...." The Samruk executives scribble his western wisdom into their notepads.

As the young Samrukis are coming to learn, good book-keeping matters in capitalism. But so does keeping warm on the central Asian steppe, where outside the cosy classroom Astana is a snowbound 25 below zero.

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