Aram Khachatryan: Respect your competitors and learn from them

Aram Khachatryan is the co-founder and General Director of Galaxy Group of Companies. He started his career in business by founding MegaFood, which presents 30 trademarks in Armenia now. We meet before the start of the working day, at the sports hall in Al. Shirvanzade N21 School, where Khachatryan practices jiu-jitsu three times a week for two years now. The interview continues at a tea table.

More than a sport: The art of not giving up

“It is more than a sport. It is a philosophy that sculpts one’s system of values.”

He offers that explanation, interrupting the practice when we arrive. Khachatryan tells us that jiu-jitsu is the backbone of Eastern martial arts and the secret is “to overcome roughness with softness”. Jiu-jitsu wasn’t the first type of martial arts for Khachatryan: he practiced aikido as well, which he describes at “the path of strength and harmony”.

“Jiu-jitsu gives you inner peace. I trained in regular sports and training halls for years, but I didn’t learn anything new. Here, everything is simple, there is no pretense, people come to train and our coach Ashot is a wonderful sensei. Here, there is proper attitude and deep respect for everyone.

Jiu-jitsu is a martial art that contains strategy and strict rules, which you must follow if you practice it. It is an art of not giving up. Jiu-jitsu explains perfectly how to win. “Black belt is the white belt that never surrendered,” says Aram Khachatryan, adding that for leaders jiu-jitsu offers the most important lesson: you are not perfect, you have a lot to learn from each other and people around you.

Your aspirations are your driving force

“My aspirations always urged me to move forward. I was a year and a half old when my father died. So, whatever I achieved, I did it on my own.”

He tells that the desire to live better was his constant driving force. His brother, sister, mother and other relatives were the people who supported him in different periods of time.

“I am the youngest child in the family, so I followed the example of my big brother, who took it upon himself to care for the family. I learned my first lessons of responsibility from him. My mother dreamed I would assist him, do something good for the family, and I had to fulfill her dream,” tells Khachatryan.

We believed we all would become ambassadors

“Studying diplomacy was the time of “youthful romanticism”. Now I understand that it was an emotional choice. If I could go back and choose again, I would study economics or law.”

He is one of the first alumni of the Chair of International Relation of the Yerevan State University (YSU). According to him, the students “believed we all would become ambassadors”.

“We were confident each of us would work as an ambassador. I chose to learn French first, and when it was time to select the second foreign language, most people in my course chose Arabic. We didn’t consider the difficulty of the language. We thought, there are 22 Arabic-speaking countries, and since we’d be ambassadors soon, we better learn the language now,” tells Khachatryan.

The studies did affect Khachatryan’s life — he is fond of the Eastern culture and continues learning about it. He keeps in touch with 4 or 5 other alumni.

“We did get an ambassador in our ranks after all — Tigran Balayan, a particularly honest person,” adds Khachatryan.

The shift from diplomacy to business

“Entering into the business with education in diplomacy is a serious challenge, but it is not insurmountable.”

The co-founder of Galaxy Group tried to import products together with a friend, while they were students, and he says he acquired economic knowledge in the process.

“When I was creating MegaFood, I met many SME and large business owners, managers who consistently developed and improved new strategies. I learned something from all of them. Now, looking back at 24-year-old Aram just embarking on that journey, I understand it was a very good training,” tells Aram Khachatryan.

He describes MegaFood as “a group of people dedicated to the business”. Khachatryan believes that MegaFood’s biggest contribution to the market was healthy competition, which is a fundamental stimulus for development of economy.

“Emergence of strong competitors contributed to development of the industry over the years. The principle of respecting your competitors and learning from was established institutionally. Perhaps, the small number of regional and international brands in the Armenian market at that time made it easier for us. Things are different today, and so are consumers. They have grown more demanding, conscious. The number of people living healthy lifestyle and choosing corresponding products has increased,” explains Khachatryan.

MegaFood started importing a range of international brands into Armenia, adapting their strategies to the market, which was a novelty.

Making Galaxy N1 employer

“In 2004, my cousins joined me in the business. They just graduated from the university, where they studied law, and they brought in fresh ideas and new initiatives, new business projects,” tells Khachatryan.

Over time, they founded Megasport, Santafe, Megatoys and other companies of Galaxy Group.

“Galaxy has 20 years of experience and a special place in the Armenian economy. We employ 3,000 people at the moment. Last year we paid USD 27m in taxes, which made around 2% of the state budget revenue,” says Aram Khachatryan, stressing that human capital and women’s involvement in business are priorities at Galaxy.

According to him, the group’s strategy has three cornerstones: people, education and innovation.

“Our key to success is a strong, professional team. I am surrounded by individuals, top experts in their respective fields, which inspires a sense of incredible confidence. Mistakes and errors happen, but in that case I try to understand what caused them, analyze those factors, listen to opinions and suggestions of everyone involved and then make a decision based on my assessment of the situation,” tells Khachatryan.

He notes that the objective is to make Galaxy the N1 employer in terms of career development. “It is ambitious and difficult, it is a high bar, but I can tell you we have good pre-conditions already. We have the basis,” he adds.

Innovation and Technology Park

“It’s a risky project, like any other, but we are certain of success. Looking into the future, we can see clearly that this project won’t just be our achievement, it is also going to be fundamentally important for the state.”

He believes that lack of natural resources means that Armenian economy has to be based on science and education. According to Khachatryan, it is hard to develop economy when people have little relevant knowledge of the market.

“Advanced branches of economy and education should be interconnected. You can’t educate 1000 chemistry specialists if you haven’t calculated beforehand how many chemistry specialists the industry needs. Education should be connected organically with the economy. Our Innovation and Technology Park is set to solve this kind of issues as well: it will create an environment connecting large companies, young specialists and inexperienced university graduates, who are going to analyze the given firm’s request and find solutions through analysis of the issue. The park will have laboratories, an educational center, and banks and venture companies will perform as sponsors,” tells Aram Khachatryan.

The future of Armenian economy

“Time is the most valuable thing and we should do all we can not to waste it.”

Aram Khachatryan is convinced that social life is changing too, so predictability and stability of domestic politics is a key pre-condition for developing business in Armenia.

“Investment requires planning. When the economy is unstable and the country lives in a semi-warlike state, any entrepreneur is taking a big risk. You have to create better conditions for entrepreneurs to compensate for the difficulties. The easiest example that comes to mind is that contacts with state agencies must be simplified and digitized,” says Khachatryan.

He is certain that as a member of EAEU and a country connected with the EU through the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), Armenia has great opportunities for targeting the markets in Europe.

The biggest achievement

“I travel a lot for work and personal matters. I hope this doesn’t sound immodest, but we are indeed among regional leaders in many aspects. The Armenian consumers have become more demanding and competent in recent years, which is also an important factor in business development.”

Khachatryan underlines that he works with a strong team of professionals.

“I would like to reiterate that I am surrounded by strong individuals, top experts, and it inspires a sense of incredible confidence. It is also a big responsibility, because working with this kind of people requires being honest, quick and effective in decision-making,” explains Aram Khachatryan.

According to him, Galaxy’s projects have proven out their innovative and revolutionary contribution to Armenian economy in practice. However, Khachatryan believes he has a more important achievement.

“My family — my wife and two sons — is definitely the biggest achievement of my life,” he concludes.

Lusin Mkrtchyan

Photos by Emin Aristakesyan

Galaxy Group of Companies operates since 1999 uniting more than 3000 people. Represented in 3 countries with over 10 diverse fields of operations.