Guzeliya Safina’s recipes for success: persistence and work

The TAIF JSC vice director general is sure that who isn’t afraid to be strong succeeds

Guzeliya Safina’s recipes for success: persistence and work

TAIF JSC Vice Director General of Economy and Finance Guzeliya Safina celebrated her birthday on 20 August. Realnoe Vremya online newspaper prepared an essay about this one of the most successful and at the same time modest women of the republic. She is one of those who founded TAIF Group, which is famous all over the world. Read in the report what TAIF began with, how Guzeliya Safina joined the team of likeminded people and what drives her in the everyday work.

TAIF’s soul

This is how Mrs Safina is named at TAIF Group. It isn’t hard to understand why: she has really been dedicating herself to the business since the times when TAIF didn’t exist but there were the early 90s and Kazan External Trade Scientific and Production Association chaired by 39-year-old entrepreneur Albert Shigabutdinov. He was enthusiastic, full of ideas and plans and was creating a team of those who were ready to share the joy of success and bitterness of defeats with him and what wasn’t yet called the foreign word “business”.

“I categorically declined Mr Shigabutdinov’s first invitation to work together. As an economist, accountant I was pleased to consult him about opening a bank account, balancing books... But the cooperation stopped here. I am a healthy conservative in life, I didn’t believe in any commercial undertakings then,” Guzeliya Safina remembers herself.

She was educated by her father to respect what was honestly earned and didn’t tolerate attempts to appropriate what didn’t belong to her and, as she admits herself, she was shocked at how such “businesspeople” made money during those times. Such a business approach didn’t satisfy Safina, and she didn’t hasten to believe that there was an honest private business as well.

“I made sure of the seriousness of aspiring businessman Albert Shigabutdinov’s hopes and the work he offered me became interesting for me two years later. I came to the office on Gvardeyaskaya Street when he started to work as director of Kazan ETSPA,” Safina shared her memories. She came and stayed there.

TAIF PJCS business meeting, 19 September 1997. Photo: TAIF Group’s archive

It was extremely tough at first

It is impossible to imagine Tatarstan without TAIF Group today. It seems it has always existed, that the multi-billion turnover and annual opening of new factories and state-of-the-art enterprises are the norm. People already got used to hearing about growing blocks of flats in Kazan and Nizhnekamsk where employees of enterprises from the Group of Companies also receive a well-equipped dwelling, that numerous cultural projects, including the revival of Ancient Bolgar and the Island City of Sviyazhsk, construction of Bolgarian Islamic Academy and the restoration of the Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral can’t do without TAIF’s active support. Today’s TAIF vice director general remembers herself taking pencils and rulers from home to have things to work with and lunch in a jar. There was a handful of enthusiasts at that time, in the early 1990s, with a measly salary depending on only how they worked themselves. And now the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work” is still the main and key for everybody who works at TAIF Group.

“It was extremely tough at first. Contracts were signed but didn’t make progress. Money got stuck somewhere. In a word, we lived like on a volcano, there was never a dull moment. Life itself showed how to get out of a difficult situation. There were different kinds of deals: we bought and sold cigarettes, sugar, fish. But then we quickly switched to petrochemical products,” says Safina. It was when the really big work began. Export operations, exchange auctions — all this was novel, complicated and, as Mrs Safina admits, interesting.

“At first I had three jobs: accountant, economist and lawyer. But in 1993 we already began hiring new employees because the business was gaining momentum. We had a deficit of workforce,” Guzeliya Safina keeps sharing her memories.

It was scary at times

“Ordinary people gathered, not mummy’s boys, not lazybones, but hard workers who taught themselves to work day and night and not to whimper, complain about tiredness and difficulties. The pace of life is so rapid that in a day we managed to do as much as it would take others a week to do. The car covered up to a hundred kilometres a day,” Albert Shigabutdinov himself who left the chair of TAIF JSC director general and became his successor’s senior adviser and chairman of TAIF JSC Board of Directors says about the events that took place almost 30 years ago.

“It was scary at times: our men went on business trips, they were away for weeks sometimes, while I was alone in the office. By that time, we already changed the address and moved to an office on Mushtari Street where we occupied the second floor. There was nobody even to sign documents. Ours called and told me to prepare payment orders, go to the bank and pay as soon as possible. But how to pay and what to pay with? I had to get out of that on my own. We had just one car at that moment, while I used to go to work on foot. You rush to the bank, ask it for credit. There is nothing to justify the credit, I swore on my honour like we would certainly earn. You get the credit, sign the payment orders, and that’s it. All this money is gone in a second. That’s all. There is nothing on the account. I return from the bank and understand I am shaking like in fever. But it was unthinkable I could quit. And the same thing repeated a day later,” Safina remembers.

TAIF PJSC was headquartered in an old building on Mushtari Street from 1996 to 2002. Photo: TAIF Group’s archive

The company gradually gained strength: turnovers grew, banks’ trust increased. Moreover, Kazan ETSPA never gave anybody foundation even to think they could play unfairly. The organisation’s reputation that could be trusted became the main asset of the company.

After establishing effective sale of petrochemical products, Kazan ETSPA had a vested interest in improving petrochemical factories, increasing volumes and the quality of products. Enterprises that were in crisis couldn’t solve these problems on their own. The company had to address this problem as well.

It was 1993. Nizhnekamskneftekhim turned out to face economic hardships, the enterprise had almost no money to pay even salaries. The workers hadn’t received salaries in the last six months. When the government of the Republic of Tatarstan approved the plan for privatisation of NKNK, it was decided in this plan that the staff was to get 50% of shares, while either the workers themselves or the enterprise could pay for the shares instead.

“One had to pay for privatisation. In a word, in the end, our company had to pay 3,4 billion rubles for Nizhnekamskneftekhim’s privatisation. While we reached stalemate — we had nothing on the account. Every day we were called and asked how much money we transferred. We began to borrow money. We got out of the situation by selling cars. It was not simply uneasy but extremely uneasy to get them in 1993. But we managed to do it, we carried out the operation quickly and managed to repay the debts,” Safina shared her memories.

Mr Shigabutdinov talked about the situation during that period in detail: “The 3,4bn was an unaffordable sum for us, but it was decided that our company had to pay it. They talked with me first: ‘Albert, help to pay, otherwise, the staff can be left without shares’. While we didn’t have money. We partly agreed with banks — we got credit. We allocated all working capital — in the ETSPA, we were purchasing and selling cars, and we used all revenue to pay for NKNK workers’ shares for several months. It was a difficult period, there was a shortage of money, all ETSPA workers had their salaries cut, the business was suspended for some months. NKNK promised us to cover this sum with money from exports. You remember that in the late 80s and early 90s Tatarstan closely cooperated with Yugoslavia. So NKNK exported rubbers to Yugoslavia’s tyre factories where Tigar tyres were made. Rubbers whose sales revenue was to partly cover the money from the sale of shares to the enterprise’s workers were sent to Yugoslavia by train, then the war began there. And all wagons full of rubber were fired and bombed. They were completely destroyed — everything burnt. We had already paid the money for the staff’s shares by that moment, and NKNK didn’t have other opportunities to give it back to us. And we turned out to have billions of debts. We spent much time trying to return the money from Yugoslavia, but the war dragged on, then Yugoslavia collapsed. So the NKNK staff got the shares as non-refundable assistance from Kazan ETSPA,” Albert Shigabutdinov remembers.

According to him, he is still scared to remember those years, how hard it was to solve this problem. “It is one of the numerous extremely tough moments of the formation of the ETSPA, I shudder to remember that period even today, not everyone would withstand it. Moreover, we managed to save the enterprise.”

From Kazan ETSPA to TAIF

The company’s list of interests gradually grew: cars, special machinery, import of technology and know-how. This commodity got to the Russian market with the help of American partners. Albert Shigabutdinov was destined to meet with NKS Trading Inc. This partnership became strong and constant. The Americans recommended the Tatarstan company to create a local stock market without which it is impossible to attract injections to develop the petrochemical industry from abroad. They had to start to master this new business as well, including to study abroad.

The region already trusted Kazan ETSPA as an investment structure, and the company turned to the republic’s management and offered it to develop fully-fledged stock market leverage in Tatarstan. 11 April 1995 can be considered another milestone. Together with Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev, Board Chairman of Mom Lease Inc. D. McKenlis, NKS Trading Inc. President A. Fridman met with Vice Premier, Chairman of the Tatarstan State Committee for Public Property Management F. Gazizullin and Director General Kazan External Trade Scientific and Production Association Albert Shigabutdinov. The sides expressed their readiness to create an international investment company whose task would be to attract investments in the Tatarstan economy. For this purpose, the newly created organisation planned international independent inspections to evaluate and analyse enterprises’ assets, carry out transactions with securities in the stock market and so on. This is how Kazan ETSPA transformed into TAIF.

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev meets with delegation of investors from the USA, 11 April 1995. Photo: TAIF Group’s archive

The newly created company actively developed poorly mastered but extremely necessary niches of the economy for the republic: mobile and landline communication, satellite television, construction, production modernisation, Nizhnekamskneftekhim first, Kazanorgsintez then.

“At times I thought maybe I should stop and find a calmer job. People work 9 to 5 and don’t suffer from the absence of creative burnout and hard work. I also asked Mr Shigabutdinov sometimes why we needed it. Fortunately, everything you have inside can be discussed with the director general. This has been established since the very first days. He is an open, democratic person, he thinks that it is better to express your doubts aloud than torture yourself inside and suffer,” Guzeliya Safina talks about rare moments of weakness. Then work seized her again. So she understood she wouldn’t be able to work somewhere else.

People’s content is main joy

TAIF Group today is 42 subsidiaries and dependent companies with over 38,000 employees. The main areas of activity are oil and gas refining, chemistry, petrochemistry and energy, investment and finance, filling stations and other services, construction and production of construction materials, information and other services. All subsidiaries of the enterprise are closely connected from a perspective of economy, machinery, technology and management. And this allows the Group to gradually develop and improve, expand the range of products and outlets.

TAIF JSC vice director general in economy and finance with finance and economy office’s employees, 16 November 2001. Photo: TAIF JSC’s press centre

But not only the economic component is important. More precisely, the development of the economy allows TAIF Group to perform numerous social tasks. Apart from the construction of well-equipped mortgage dwelling, the company actively invests in the creation of infrastructure: parks, squares, sports sites and big venues, support for amateur sport, creative initiatives and the education system... The republic probably has no important and necessary area TAIF Group hasn’t actively participated in.

“People’s content is the main joy for the TAIF management. Hiring a new employee, I always warn that if they don’t like something, don’t accumulate the discontent inside, say this openly. We solve any problem, whether it is personal or public,” shares Guzeliya Safina. She believes that if a person truly loves what he does, persistently works and isn’t afraid to take the initiative, if he puts his effort, he will certainly succeed.

Mrs Safina herself warmly remembers her story of success: the small first office, the pencils she had to take from home, how the staff of future TAIF began to grow when specialists from different departments had to sit at one table sharing knowledge and studying together. She still remembers their move to Mushtari Street and the first venetian blinds on the office window. She also remembers the firm growing, including thanks to her effort, gradually turning into the Group of Companies, while the winged snow leopard became more recognisable both in Russia and abroad.

Guzeliya Safina is awarded the order For Merits to the Republic of Tatarstan, 2017. Photo: Roman Khasayev

The successful, strong and charming woman takes every action, every development step of her entire life’s business, all hardships and joys on this road to heart. As a great leader, professional she has proved that a really determined person can achieve any, even seemingly unachievable goals. She doesn’t like to talk about herself. But her actions speak about her: a handful knows that she is an active benefactor, moreover, not only in Tatarstan. The neighbouring Chuvash republic enjoys Mrs Safina’s generosity as well. In her native Batyryov District where Guzeliya Safin was born, she was awarded the title Benefactor of the Year. And this isn’t far from being the only fact of recognition of her both merits and professionalism: Mrs Safina is an honourable economist of the Russian Federation and Republic of Tatarstan, she was awarded the medal In Memory of 1,000th Anniversary of Kazan, the medal and the order For Merits to the Republic of Tatarstan.

A milestone took place at the annual general meeting of TAIF JSC shareholders on 27 June 2019. TAIF JSC’s unchangeable Director General, experienced Albert Shigabutdinov left his post. With Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov’s approval, Ruslan Shigabutdinov chaired the company according to the unanimous decision of the Board of Directors and shareholders of the head company of TAIF Group. Seeing off Mr Shigabutdinov from his post as director general of TAIF JSC, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov said about him: “It is a very determined person, a person who has achieved the impossible, some things he talked about seemed absurd, but thanks to his persistence, perseverance, everything became a reality.” These words were about the director of TAIF JSC, but, in fact, they are about his team that has dedicated his many years of work to the country and republic’s important business. Mrs Safina’s contribution to the creation of TAIF Group of Companies can’t be overestimated either. Realnoe Vremya online newspaper’s editorial also congratulates Mrs Safina on her jubilee.

  • Ruslan Shigabutdinov

    Ruslan Shigabutdinov TAIF JSC Director General

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    Let me congratulate you on your jubilee on behalf of the management and thousands of workers of TAIF Group of Companies. Outstanding Russian writer Maksim Gorky wrote: “All my life I considered only those people who love and know how to work real heroes”. Your life, intense work record are clear evidence of the famous classic’s words. You, Mrs Safina, is an extremely hardworking and responsible person who treats her work with big love, putting all effort, giving it all knowledge and the great experience for the good of the common business — for the development and prosperity of TAIF Group of Companies. This is the formula of your personal success. Your best personal and business qualities — determination, high professionalism, fidelity to principles and courage in decision-making — are worthy of huge respect.

    You are a great financier, talented organiser, wise manager and, undoubtedly, beautiful woman whose intelligence and big inner power are in harmony with the charm. You are always optimistic about the future inspiring everybody showing your own example to new professional victories and accomplishments. We have things to learn from you.

    On your jubilee day, I want to cordially thank you for the joint long-term work for the good of the common business, your exceptional professional competence, the ability of clearly and consistently work in a team of likeminded people, for the huge effort you have been putting for 30 years already for the growth and development of TAIF Group of Companies for the native land’s prosperity.

    Mrs Safina, we sincerely wish you everything that makes your life bright and truly full: strong health for you and your family for years to come, happiness and well-being, a cheery mood, harmony and luck in your business and undertakings.

  • Albert Shigabutdinov

    Albert Shigabutdinov Senior Development Adviser to TAIF JSC Director General, TAIF JSC Board Chairman

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    I am sincerely glad to congratulate you on the jubilee.

    30 years ago when TAIF was still at the beginning of the journey, you became one of the first specialists who believed in the common business’s success despite all difficulties, together with the team of likeminded people we step by step created and developed the company that now became one of the biggest industrial and investment holdings of the Russian Federation.

    Welcoming this memorable day, you have the right to be proud of the results of your professional activity: under your management, the financial and economic department is one of the most effective and fruitful areas at TAIF.

    Your outstanding personal and business qualities — high professionalism, a good understanding of the essence of economic processes, determination, exceptional analytic skills, competence and a strong sense of responsibility are your key successful fruitful work for the good of TAIF Group of Companies. You, Mrs Safina, not only a talented manager, highly professional financier but also a beautiful, charming woman who possesses rare qualities that are worthy of real respect — inner freedom, independence and an ability to achieve desirable results. You are the prime example of that all heights can be achieved through working hard and moving towards the goals that are set.

    On this amazing day, let me express you, Mrs Safina, deep gratitude and great appreciation for your unlimited dedication to the business, your boundless energy and deliberate decision-making, for the long-term fruitful work for the good of our country, the Republic of Tatarstan and TAIF Group of Companies.

    Might life bring you only joy and happiness, might every new day warm you with love and care of your family and friends, be full of great impressions and unforgettable events.

  • Radik Gayzatullin

    Radik Gayzatullin Tatarstan Minister of Finance

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    I sincerely congratulate you on your jubilee on behalf of the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Tatarstan. We wish you every success in your professional activity and luck in all undertakings, likeminded people’s support as well as new ideas, constructive decisions and might all ideas become a reality.

    I have known you for many years as a smart, persistent, hardworking, progressive, responsible, determined financier, a person who respects her people and her Homeland who is marked for her ability to successfully perform tasks that are set, making new ideas and projects a reality. Your daily work helps the economy dynamically grow, socially important issues to be successfully resolved, it strengthens the economic stability.

    I am grateful to you for your openness for a dialogue, the ability to understand every important issue.

    On this day, we join numerous congratulations you are receiving. We wish you strong health, further professional successes and confidence in tomorrow. We wish you creative potential and life experience to keep helping your activity. We wish you and your family happiness, kindness and well-being.

  • Midkhat Shagiakhmetov

    Midkhat Shagiakhmetov Minister of Economy of the Republic of Tatarstan

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    On behalf of the staff of the ministry of economy and me personally, accept our sincere and warm congratulations on your anniversary!

    You were at the origins of TAIF, working for the benefit of the company and the industry, and you have achieved significant success, which speaks of you as a person who is purposeful, responsible, deeply engaged and dedicated to your business, with full knowledge and rich experience.

    For many years you have been working for the benefit of the petrochemical industry of Tatarstan.

    The steadily developing TAIF Group creates new efficient production facilities, high-performance jobs, introduces and develops advanced technologies.

    On this festive day, I sincerely wish you good health and long life, success in your professional activities and the realisation of all your plans! Let the work that you give your strength and knowledge to bring joy and new achievements!

    Let reliable people always be near you, and peace and harmony reign in your home!

  • Aida Volkova

    Aida Volkova Chairperson of the board of Avers Bank

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    On behalf of the staff of Avers Bank, I congratulate you on the wonderful anniversary.

    I would like to express my sincere respect and admiration for your experience, wisdom and energy. Your trustworthiness and desire for success have united many wonderful people around you, and you have achieved many successes with your hard work and determination.

    Your contribution to the development of the economy of Tatarstan has been repeatedly noted by the president of the republic, and the title of Honoured Economist of Russia and Tatarstan is an indicator of fruitful work, incredible efficiency and high professionalism.

    I am doubly pleased that your anniversary coincides in an amazing way with the 30th anniversary of Avers Bank, the chairperson of the board of directors, whose ideological inspiration and catalyst for development you are. For many years, our bank has demonstrated stable dynamics in terms of its main financial indicators, and continues to grow and develop! We are proud to work under such an experienced, wise and deep person as you are!

    I wish you success and victories in all areas of your interests to inspire you to implement new ideas and aspirations. May you always be lucky! Good health, happiness and well-being!

  • Maryam Davletshina

    Maryam Davletshina Governor of VTB Bank in Tatarstan, Vice President of VTB

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    One needs to have strength of character, incredible hard work, true professionalism and, of course, courage to create from scratch and for many years lead one of the key areas — economy and finance — in TAIF Group of companies, which is of strategic importance for the republic and the country as a whole.

    Behind your diligent work, there are pages of great history associated with the dynamic development of the economic and industrial potential of the region. The order 'For Services to the Republic of Tatarstan', the title of honoured economist of Russia and deep respect in the business environment are indisputable proof of high achievements in professional activity.

    On behalf of the entire VTB team in Tatarstan and myself, I cordially congratulate you on your anniversary. Health, well-being and further success in creative work. Let your home be filled with the light of smiles of your dear people and every day of your life will be happy and joyful.

  • Rinat Sabirov

    Rinat Sabirov Director General of Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Kazan

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    On behalf of the staff of Gazprom Mezhregiongaz Kazan JSC and myself, I congratulate you on a wonderful anniversary!

    I highly appreciate and value our joint work. You are a top professional, talented manager and, at the same time, an amazing, bright and unique person.

    I am glad to have the opportunity to wish you good health, happiness, family well-being, and many years of further joint work.

  • Rushan Sakhbiev

    Rushan Sakhbiev Manager of Bank of Tatarstan Branch of Sberbank

    Dear Mrs Safina,

    On behalf of the members of the board of the Bank of Tatarstan Branch of Sberbank and on my behalf, please accept our warmest congratulations on your anniversary!

    A highly educated person and successful manager, you are considered one of the most experienced and effective corporate executives. Your work, professional acumen and managerial talent allow you to successfully solve the tasks aimed at the continuous development of the petrochemical industry of the Republic of Tatarstan and the innovative processes that take place at all enterprises of TAIF Group.

    Dear Guzelia Mukharyamovna, I sincerely wish you further success, good health, happiness and well-being, so that there are always people you can rely on in any situation, as well as the implementation of the most ambitious and bold projects!

By Arseny Favstritsky