EDITORIAL FEATURE Doing Business in Kazakhstan S By Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine ince the breakup of the Soviet Union, all of its 15 former republics have undergone various forms of transformation. Some have been prosperous while others have had a much more difficult time. Some have been in the media spotlight while others have kept a relatively low profile. One country which has been able to prosper economically and yet remain relatively low key is Kazakhstan. One of the main reasons why Kazakhstan does not make the news that often is that it is one of the most politically stable and cooperative countries to emerge from the Soviet Union. While maintaining good relations with Russia, it has also been able to foster improved relations with Western countries. Arguably, none of the other former republics have been able to maintain this delicate balance as well as Kazakhstan. Moreover, thanks to the country’s oil and mineral wealth, its attractiveness as a place to do business has only grown as the years have gone by. Nevertheless, doing business in Kazakhstan is much different than in the United States. Without proper knowledge of the cultural and societal differences, any business endeavor is sure to fail. First, it is important to recognize that there are two main cultures in Kazakhstan, one Kazakh and the other Russian. Native Kazakhs, meaning “independent nomads” in Ancient Turkish, are an Asiatic people who are descended from the Turkic tribes who inhabited the area for centuries. The Russians are descendants of the European settlers who arrived during the late Tsarist and Soviet periods. If a person’s ethnicity is not known, it is best to refer to him/her as Kazakhstani, a citizen of Kazakhstan. This term will avoid any misunderstanding. 14 SMALL BUSINESS TODAY MAGAZINE [ MARCH 2016 ] It is important to note that high value is placed on footwear. Men usually wear stylish shoes and women usually wear heels or stilettos. Regardless of the shoe style it will reflect well on you if your shoes are clean and well-polished. Language can be a confusing issue in Kazakhstan. While Kazakh language usage has increased since the fall of the Soviet Union, it still shares official status with Russian. The latter has been deemed the “language of interethnic communication” and most business is still conducted in Russian. When a business meeting is scheduled, it will be necessary to determine beforehand if an interpreter will be needed and exactly which language will be preferred. Most likely, meetings will be conducted in Russian and most documentation and contracts will be written in this language. When making introductions, most men shake hands and smile. Very often, two hands are employed. Handshakes are usually gentle and do not employ the same firmness as in Western culture. Since the majority of the population is Muslim, some men will not shake hands with a woman. It is important not to be taken aback by this. Business cards are usually exchanged on the first meeting. The exchange is usually not as formal as in most other Asian cultures, however, it would be a good idea to spend a little time reading the card to demonstrate that you have taken into consideration your counterpart’s role and status. It is also advisable to have your business card translated into Russian on one side. This gesture will demonstrate your cultural sensitivity and reflect well on you.