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We Are Passionate About Education, It is an Investment in the Future of Armenia: David Amaryan

Armenian entrepreneur, investor and founder and CEO of Balchug Capital, David Amaryan, together with his brother, Vardan Amaryan, founder of the Armenian investment company Apricot Capital, have established the Amaryan Charitable Foundation, which is dedicated to education and humanitarian relief projects in Armenia.

We had an insightful conversation with David Amaryan about the Foundation’s establishment and first projects, his personal journey, interests and running a business in Armenia.

Mr. Amaryan, after the tragic events in Artsakh you and your brother, Vardan Amaryan, announced the establishment of a foundation focusing on relief projects, starting with initiatives in Syunik province. Could you please provide details on the plans for creating the Amaryan Charitable Foundation? What prompted the decision to commence operations in Syunik?

I hail from Syunik; it’s my homeland. My father’s and grandfather’s village, Verishen in Syunik, is where I spent my childhood. Although born and raised in Yerevan due to my parents’ work —my father is a scientist, and my mother is a teacher— my happiest and carefree childhood years were spent in the village, surrounded by the love and care of my grandparents. So, it is a place that is very dear to me and one that I know very well, and was a good place to start our charitable activities, but of course we will build our activities around the country.

Growing up during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War and subsequent crises had a significant impact on me, my sense of self and my view of the world. I saw how war could devastate people’s lives and I realized the fragility of the peaceful and prosperous existence that many countries take for granted.

So, what happened in Artsakh in September 2023 is a personal tragedy for me. Our compatriots were deprived of everything: their home, homeland, and sometimes even relatives. The challenges faced by the people of Artsakh are extraordinary. That’s one of the reasons why we established the Amaryan Charitable Foundation so that we could help.

But we also wanted to really focus on education. Education was the starting point for Vardan and me which gave us the ability to advance our careers both in Armenia and internationally, and ultimately to build our very successful businesses. We want to give other Armenians the opportunities that we had. We are passionate about education; it is an investment in the future of Armenia.

In doing so Vardan and I wanted to use the experience and expertise that we have built up in the financial world internationally in order to make a real contribution to our own country. We recognize the very important work done by the government, local authorities, international organizations and agencies, but we think the private sector can play a critical and complementary role too.

In fact, if you look at the US or many European countries, charitable organizations created by people in business or finance do many incredibly valuable things for society. We think that is a good model to follow and a good precedent to set. It is already happening in Armenia, but we want to help it develop further.

Mr. Amaryan, you’ve had quite an interesting journey, from studying in the USA to working on Wall Street. Could you share more about your background and experiences?

Living abroad for many years was driven by study and work. However, my brother and I never forgot our homeland, we have been doing many things to improve and develop the country.

At school I excelled both in mathematics and humanities, language, and literature. Yet, my interest in finance and calculations dates back to my childhood. My brother and I even created a game envisioning the “Amaryan Corporation” with multi-storey offices, cars, and many employees: it turns out we visualized our future (laughs). My brother and I share a strong bond; I can’t imagine my life without him.

I attended both school and university in the United States, relying solely on educational grants. My first opportunity to study in the USA arose in 1995. At that time, I was a 13-year-old eighth-grade public school student when I came across an article in the local newspaper mentioning that Robert Tembeckjian was in Armenia.  Robert was teaching ethics and political science courses in Yerevan at the American University of Armenia (AUA), instructing graduate degree candidates during the day and adult/extension-program enrollees at night. Motivated by the chance to enhance my language skills and engage with a native speaker, I approached Robert and requested to attend his evening courses. Having excelled in English at school, my parents supported this endeavor as an opportunity for both acquiring new knowledge and fostering communication skills.

Throughout the spring semester, four nights a week, I traveled over an hour each way from home on the outskirts of town to the centrally located AUA. I consistently occupied the front row in a large auditorium filled with adults and very often waited for Robert after classes. His office was on the way and we had various discussions covering a wide range of topics, including our Armenian family histories, sports, politics, weather, and the economic and social consequences of the then-ongoing blockade of Armenia’s western and eastern borders by Turkey and its ally Azerbaijan. These conversations, interactions, and the friendship with Robert, now recognized as mentorship, played a crucial role in shaping my aspirations and helping me to set ambitious goals.

A year later, I was selected by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia and, having received a full scholarship, went to the USA as a high school exchange student at one of the most prestigious schools in New York, Trinity School in the upper west side of Manhattan. Robert’s family hosted me in New York. I was able to juggle my classes with sports, engage in various after-school activities and have fun with my friends. Almost 30 years have passed since those days, and we are as close with Robert as ever. We are one family.

Upon completion of the program, I returned to Armenia and then opted to pursue a full scholarship at Miami University in Ohio. Subsequently, I got a job on Wall Street. I started my career at the investment management firm Sanford C. Bernstein (now AllianceBernstein) as an associate portfolio manager, overseeing investments for New York based clients of about $4 billion. I worked a lot, without breaks or holidays, but those years were invaluable in terms of gaining expertise. 

While I greatly enjoyed my work, my priority was maintaining a strong connection with my parents. Consequently, I made the decision to return to Armenia. After a while, again due to work obligations, I moved to Russia, this time with my family. I held positions in various leading financial and investment companies, including Troika-Dialog and Citigroup. However, I had the conviction that one day we would establish our own company, and it would undoubtedly be in Armenia.

And how did you establish Balchug Capital?

In 2010, my brother and I founded our own investment business. This decision was a direct response to the lessons and insights we gained from the 2008 global economic crisis. Learning from both our successes and failures, we understood the significance of adapting and evolving in the face of challenges.

I was a 28-year-old individual who had experienced success and witnessed ongoing development in an expanding and ever-growing market. However, in 2008, the world seemed to unravel, leaving one uncertain about what steps to take and what to anticipate.

During these periods, I learned the importance of discerning when to pause and refrain from action and when to make decisive moves. We learned to make the right decisions. Reflecting on these experiences today, I have no regrets. Each challenge, despite its difficulties, brought about positive results, and our successes were the outcomes of relentless hard work. Adopting a balanced approach – philosophical and pragmatic – with clear-headed judgment is essential. Importantly, regardless of the circumstances, one must not give up, no matter what.

How do you anticipate the future expansion of Balchug Capital, and where do you envision it?

We have the vision of evolving into a widely recognized, Armenia-based, global leading holding company. The goal is to contribute significantly to the development and dissemination of investment culture in Armenia.

The headquarters of Balchug Capital will always be in Armenia. There is so much we can do in the investment management space here, and that means a dedicated strategy, professional specialists, and collaboration with our partners. But we have already had a lot of visible success and made substantial progress, and I am sure we can continue to grow in the future.

Armenia continues to face many challenges and we will always do everything we can to help it to develop. Regardless of Balchug Capital’s development or where we will expand to, its roots and activities will always be anchored in Armenia.

Currently, Balchug manages assets with vast developmental potential and opportunities. We are already planning approximately 3-5 transactions for the next year. Our team is continually expanding, comprising professionals who share the same values that form the bedrock of our company: honesty and kindness. In general, one of the critical factors contributing to success is surrounding oneself with individuals who are highly experienced and accomplished, from whom there is always something new to learn. The energy of the people you collaborate with holds significant importance.

Returning to your personal interests, you have quite fascinating hobbies: sports and music. At first glance, one might find the combination of these hobbies and your profession incompatible.

I often hear that (smiles). One could argue that sports and music are no longer mere hobbies; they have become integral parts of my daily life, defining how I live. I have been playing music since the age of 17. I recall the first time I entered a club and realized that electronic music was a departure from the familiar tunes we were used to listening to. Since that moment, I delved deeper into it, using the money I had saved to acquire musical instruments and explore electronic music. I can’t envision my life without music: I have been playing for 26 years.

Certainly, there are instances when individuals who primarily know me from the business world are surprised to learn about my involvement in music. This reaction is a consequence of prevailing stereotypes, there seems to be a widespread notion that professionals in the financial sector should conform to a classic suit-and-tie image!

Sports also play an integral role in the lives of all members of our family. The main sport activities of our family are Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and horse riding. My two daughters and my son all practice Jiu Jitsu. My 6-year-old son, Alex is a two-time world champion and Armenia champion. My 16-year-old daughter has been horse riding since she was 3 years old. She has won numerous competitions in jumping and she is a member of the Armenian National Team.

Have you been a role model only in that sense? Do they aspire to continue your work?

My eldest daughter, Anna, is 16 years old and already shows an interest in finance and the economy. We spend significant time together discussing various topics and challenges. I consistently encourage her, emphasizing that with diligent studies and becoming a proficient professional, she could embark on her career within our company. On the other hand, my 6-year-old son isn’t as enthused by this prospect. Some time ago, when he had reluctantly agreed to sit down to do his homework, my wife tried to inspire him saying that in order to be able to work in his daddy’s company, he needed to become a good professional. In response, he indignantly remarked, “Daddy has already promised his company to Anna (my daughter)” (laughs).

My three children are growing up with core family values, but they undoubtedly have their own autonomy and opportunities. Above all, ensuring they receive a quality education is of utmost importance.

As an individual with many years of experience and operating in many countries, what is your vision for the future of Armenia? How can we address the modern challenges and demands of an ever-changing and developing world?

That is one of the challenging questions I believe every Armenian confronts at some stage in their life.

Achieving economic independence is exceptionally difficult for small countries like ours. However, it is crucial to understand the strengths and opportunities inherent in our country and harness them for development.

Foremost, a high-quality educational system is essential; indeed, much depends on education. Other critical components include a well-established economy and defense system.

A country should also be attractive, policies should be clear and consistent both in terms of investment and tourism, and foster a welcoming environment. Time and experience proved that internal resources and potential alone are not enough to achieve significant success. Thus, we must create an environment that effectively attracts and uses external resources. We need to focus on generating global value.

Source: Armenpress.am