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EPIC Hosts Rafi Baghdjian to Share his 35-year Experience with AUA Community

YEREVAN, Armenia ‒ On November 9, 2018, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) of the American University of Armenia (AUA) hosted Rafi Baghdjian, CEO of IDeA (Initiatives for Development of Armenia) Foundation.

Before joining IDeA, Baghdjian was an executive at Shell for 35 years, engaged  in the technical, commercial and leadership aspects of the energy business. He has been involved in ten assignments in six countries: Netherlands, Japan, United Kingdom, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.

After leaving Shell, Baghdjian decided to write a book “Do Not Fly Blind” which is a series of learnings based on stories from his career. He had the idea to write a book in 2010, when everything that was happening in Qatar’s oil industry went through Shell. Baghdjian’s supervisor at that time asked him what Shell had done to be at the top in Qatar ‒ suggesting that Baghdjian write down the learnings to pass on to the next generation of executives. He put together eight stories and has since made more than 40 presentations. They recorded his presentations and now whenever someone from Shell goes to Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, they go through his video before starting to work as it conveys all that he has learned in his 35 years at Shell.

Baghdjian advised the EPIC entrepreneurs and AUA students to aim high, and to not get distracted: “Do not be hampered or slowed down by company HR processes and by cultural, gender and “does not fit the mould” biases. Just aim high and work on it. For example, large corporations, like Shell, “estimate the potential for each employee at the onset and then push up their brightest. This does work for everybody.”

He brought a story from June 2000, in Venezuela, when he sat down for a meeting and ended up watching a football match for two hours on TV before getting to actually negotiating a deal for a $2 billion project with the government of Venezuela. The lesson of this story was: “Do not show anger or make demeaning remarks for tardiness in countries where “time is elastic” such as in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. Both sides end up having bad feelings toward each other, i.e., anger and disrespect, but for different reasons. On the other end of the time sensitiveness spectrum is Japan, where five minutes before meeting time is valuable time.”

Baghdjian stressed the importance of finding the center of the individual’s business world: “When you don’t know who the center of your world is you lose the compass. Find out who the center of your business world is and ensure that you understand and adapt to your stakeholders’ culture as much as possible.”

During the Q&A session, topics ranged from negotiating a contract to the similarities of work habits among Armenians and people of other nationalities. At the end, Baghdjian shared a leadership map according to nationalities and their leadership styles which started an engaging discussion with the participants.

The Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) is a platform for promoting entrepreneurial education, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and startup venture incubation. EPIC provides an ecosystem for the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) emerging entrepreneurs consisting of first-class facilities and collaborative workspace, programs and events, and a network of mentors, advisors and investors. EPIC fosters the understanding and application of entrepreneurship with students and faculty at AUA to craft high-impact multidisciplinary ventures.