Case spotlight: Coming of Age in Central Asia: BI Group’s Quest for Growth

By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies as described in our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.
You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.
This case was featured in Connect, issue 53, September 2021.

Who – the protagonist

Aidyn Rakhimbayev, founder and Chairman of BI Group.

What?

BI Group is the largest construction company in Kazakhstan.

Aidyn and two university friends, Askhat Omarov and Bauyrzhan Issabayev, founded the company in 1995. Their first construction project took place in 1997, involving the development of a health centre for a private client in the capital Astana (now Nur-Sultan).

Initially starting as BI Construction & Engineering, there are now five companies under the BI Group umbrella – BI Construction & Engineering, BI Development, BI Client, BI Property and BI Infra Construction.

As of 2019, BI Group generated $1.1 billion in revenue, employing about 5,800 people.

BI Group

Why?

BI Group had outgrown the Kazakhstan market and Aidyn had ambitions of it becoming one of the 100 largest construction companies in the world by 2024.

This was a whole new ball game though for the founders, as they faced the might of the most sophisticated European, Chinese, American and Japanese construction firms, who had vast experience in foreign markets.

BI Group’s first overseas venture into Uzbekistan saw limited success, but managing the joint venture with a local Uzbekistan company was challenging, not least understanding how local sub-contractors were recruited and paid.

Undeterred, they placed their focus on another former USSR state, whittling the list down to Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the largest economy in the region: Russia.

When?

It was December 2019 when Aidyn addressed the company’s 5,800 employees at its festive end of year gathering about plans for international expansion.

Aidyn gave them just five years to achieve the goal of becoming one of the world’s largest construction companies.

Where?

BI Group is headquartered in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Nur-Sultan, named after the former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Key quote

“We understand that people (in Tashkent, Uzbekistan capital) need and look for apartments that give value for money…When I have been to Uzbekistan – my first time was maybe two years ago – when we did some research, I think it (Tashkent) really reminds me of Astana (Nur-Sultan) ten years ago. We think it is a great opportunity for us to expand our market and our brand.”
Manager #2, BI Group, on why they entered the Uzbekistan market.

What next?

As Aidyn and his leadership team contemplated pushing into the foreign markets they had pre-selected, which countries should they target first? And which segments should they focus on - the building, industrial or civil infrastructure?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

The need for more Kazakh cases

Onajomo said: “Most of our students, full-time and executives, are Kazakh or Russian. As we taught courses on strategy and organisation to these students we noticed that there were few teaching cases about the challenges that companies face in Kazakhstan. Thus, we wanted to write a case that accurately captures the challenges faced by a leading firm in Kazakhstan as it sought to expand into new foreign markets. The case had to be local—rooted in Kazakhstan’s resource rich economy and institutional environment and, thus, relatable to our students—as well as internationally appealing, capturing recurrent themes that managers face as they seek new markets abroad.”

Atanu commented: “We did not set out to write a case about a construction company. We chose BI Group because it is a successful, reputable private firm that has dominated its home market. Like executives in other successful firms, BI Group’s leaders started wondering where the next source of growth would be. As we spoke with them we realised that this perennial question raised many organisational and strategic challenges for BI Group. In addition, being a Kazakh firm, the company had to navigate institutional challenges that are unique to Kazakhstan.”

BI Group

Wider appeal

Onajomo continued: “The case was initially intended for MBA and Executive MBA students at the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business here in Kazakhstan. But while we were developing the case, we felt that the case afforded a broader scope for learning. This case should be of interest to anyone looking to understand the internationalisation efforts of firms located in transition and/or post-Soviet economies.”

The possibility of a follow-up case

He added: “The pandemic and related changes to workplace practices has affected this company, just like any other. It is quite plausible that their internationalisation efforts have changed. As we write in the teaching notes accompanying the case, BI Group is planning to expand operations incrementally to the European Union.

“The pandemic will also affect us if we decide to write a follow up case. Interviews, for instance, will not be done in-person. Furthermore, we may have delayed access to BI Group managers (we experienced that while finishing the case in the summer of 2020). Understandably, busy managers, who run a billion-dollar business under pandemic restrictions, may not prioritise data collection by researchers.”

Learning from award win

Onajomo enthused: “I was honoured to win The Case Centre Entrepreneurship Award in 2018. Winning the award brought home to me the importance of telling a compelling story in a case. As Atanu and I worked on the BI Group case, we remained disciplined, supporting our story with the best available data. Yet, we did not want to tell a flat story. We constantly sought to tease out the human story beyond the numbers; we hoped to portray the drama, the frustration, and the joys of being a manager at BI Group, a local Kazakh success story.”

Key access

Onajomo concluded: “The access to BI Group was crucial. We were fortunate to have access at the highest level. Such access is unusual for firms in Kazakhstan. We were granted access to high-level meetings on international projects, as well as to key individuals working on the company’s internationalisation strategy. Some of the more fascinating ‘backstage’ insights emerged from our discussion with project managers located abroad, who were often on site managing international projects.”

THE CASE 

The case

Who – the protagonist

Aidyn Rakhimbayev, founder and Chairman of BI Group.

What?

BI Group is the largest construction company in Kazakhstan.

Aidyn and two university friends, Askhat Omarov and Bauyrzhan Issabayev, founded the company in 1995. Their first construction project took place in 1997, involving the development of a health centre for a private client in the capital Astana (now Nur-Sultan).

Initially starting as BI Construction & Engineering, there are now five companies under the BI Group umbrella – BI Construction & Engineering, BI Development, BI Client, BI Property and BI Infra Construction.

As of 2019, BI Group generated $1.1 billion in revenue, employing about 5,800 people.

BI Group

Why?

BI Group had outgrown the Kazakhstan market and Aidyn had ambitions of it becoming one of the 100 largest construction companies in the world by 2024.

This was a whole new ball game though for the founders, as they faced the might of the most sophisticated European, Chinese, American and Japanese construction firms, who had vast experience in foreign markets.

BI Group’s first overseas venture into Uzbekistan saw limited success, but managing the joint venture with a local Uzbekistan company was challenging, not least understanding how local sub-contractors were recruited and paid.

Undeterred, they placed their focus on another former USSR state, whittling the list down to Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the largest economy in the region: Russia.

When?

It was December 2019 when Aidyn addressed the company’s 5,800 employees at its festive end of year gathering about plans for international expansion.

Aidyn gave them just five years to achieve the goal of becoming one of the world’s largest construction companies.

Where?

BI Group is headquartered in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Nur-Sultan, named after the former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Key quote

“We understand that people (in Tashkent, Uzbekistan capital) need and look for apartments that give value for money…When I have been to Uzbekistan – my first time was maybe two years ago – when we did some research, I think it (Tashkent) really reminds me of Astana (Nur-Sultan) ten years ago. We think it is a great opportunity for us to expand our market and our brand.”
Manager #2, BI Group, on why they entered the Uzbekistan market.

What next?

As Aidyn and his leadership team contemplated pushing into the foreign markets they had pre-selected, which countries should they target first? And which segments should they focus on - the building, industrial or civil infrastructure?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

The need for more Kazakh cases

Onajomo said: “Most of our students, full-time and executives, are Kazakh or Russian. As we taught courses on strategy and organisation to these students we noticed that there were few teaching cases about the challenges that companies face in Kazakhstan. Thus, we wanted to write a case that accurately captures the challenges faced by a leading firm in Kazakhstan as it sought to expand into new foreign markets. The case had to be local—rooted in Kazakhstan’s resource rich economy and institutional environment and, thus, relatable to our students—as well as internationally appealing, capturing recurrent themes that managers face as they seek new markets abroad.”

Atanu commented: “We did not set out to write a case about a construction company. We chose BI Group because it is a successful, reputable private firm that has dominated its home market. Like executives in other successful firms, BI Group’s leaders started wondering where the next source of growth would be. As we spoke with them we realised that this perennial question raised many organisational and strategic challenges for BI Group. In addition, being a Kazakh firm, the company had to navigate institutional challenges that are unique to Kazakhstan.”

BI Group

Wider appeal

Onajomo continued: “The case was initially intended for MBA and Executive MBA students at the Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Business here in Kazakhstan. But while we were developing the case, we felt that the case afforded a broader scope for learning. This case should be of interest to anyone looking to understand the internationalisation efforts of firms located in transition and/or post-Soviet economies.”

The possibility of a follow-up case

He added: “The pandemic and related changes to workplace practices has affected this company, just like any other. It is quite plausible that their internationalisation efforts have changed. As we write in the teaching notes accompanying the case, BI Group is planning to expand operations incrementally to the European Union.

“The pandemic will also affect us if we decide to write a follow up case. Interviews, for instance, will not be done in-person. Furthermore, we may have delayed access to BI Group managers (we experienced that while finishing the case in the summer of 2020). Understandably, busy managers, who run a billion-dollar business under pandemic restrictions, may not prioritise data collection by researchers.”

Learning from award win

Onajomo enthused: “I was honoured to win The Case Centre Entrepreneurship Award in 2018. Winning the award brought home to me the importance of telling a compelling story in a case. As Atanu and I worked on the BI Group case, we remained disciplined, supporting our story with the best available data. Yet, we did not want to tell a flat story. We constantly sought to tease out the human story beyond the numbers; we hoped to portray the drama, the frustration, and the joys of being a manager at BI Group, a local Kazakh success story.”

Key access

Onajomo concluded: “The access to BI Group was crucial. We were fortunate to have access at the highest level. Such access is unusual for firms in Kazakhstan. We were granted access to high-level meetings on international projects, as well as to key individuals working on the company’s internationalisation strategy. Some of the more fascinating ‘backstage’ insights emerged from our discussion with project managers located abroad, who were often on site managing international projects.”

THE CASE 

The authors

Onajomo Akemu
Assistant Professor, Management & Entrepreneurship

The protagonist

Aidyn Rakhimbayev
Founder and Chairman
Read the case

Educators can login to view a free educator preview copy of this case and its teaching note.

TEACHING NOTE - Reference no. 321-0224-8
Get our newsletter

Stay in touch with all the latest case news and views in our free newsletter, Connect.

Read it online or sign up to have it delivered direct to your inbox!

Picture representing 'Get our newsletter'
Picture representing 'Get our newsletter'
Get our newsletter

Stay in touch with all the latest case news and views in our free newsletter, Connect.

Read it online or sign up to have it delivered direct to your inbox!

Discover more