On 19 June ISET hosted Jacques Fleury, formerly the CEO of GGMW and currently the CEO of GWS and Director of JSC Château Mukhrani. The format of the meeting was very different from the typical seminars conducted at ISET. Mr. Fleury provided insights into doing business in Georgia since 1997 when he was asked to become the CEO and increase the value of one of Georgia’s most famous intangible assets – the popularity of the mineral water from the springs of the Borjomi valley.
When Fleury joined the company GGMW was nearly out of money and he was told that the company would need to raise at least $3 million to cover the necessary investments.
While the company’s shareholders were supportive, Fleury knew that he would have to carefully consider what investments were necessary and when they would have to be made before he could successfully argue his case.
Moreover, even though these investments were made, GGMW still faced a considerable series of challenges. Mr. Fleury asked the audience what those challenges were and, as he did so, he stopped telling his story, picked up a marker, and stood next to the whiteboard. Together with Mr. Fleury, the ISET students then made a list of challenges that the Borjomi company faced in 1997. This forced the students to place themselves in the shoes of Fleury in the 1990s. They started thinking not only as economists considering the macro and micro-investment climate problems then facing Georgia, but also listed all of the detailed business-level problems that needed to be solved inside the firm if it were to survive. Mr. Fleury then underlined the most important of these issues and started recounting the steps he and the company took to resolve these difficulties. The main problem he stressed was counterfeiters. At that time 96% of Borjomi water was faked in Russia, the biggest consumer of the product. Complicating matters further was that although GGMW had the exclusive rights to the Borjomi brand, some of their competitors had virtually identical products. Fleury knew that it would be difficult to establish a successful branding strategy under these conditions, but through sequential arrangements, he managed to reduce the level of counterfeiting to 0.02% by 2005.
The seminar lasted for two hours and the information Mr. Fleury provided to students as part of the incredibly interesting story of how a $3 million investment in Borjomi in 1997 turned into a company valued at $500 million in 2012.
ISET wants to give special thanks to Jacques Fleury for meeting with the students and conducting a truly unique seminar.