Alumni Success Story: Samuel Samuelyan (MBA ’02) Shares the Secret of Starting a Successful Business Career
AUA alumnus Samuel Samuelyan (MBA ’02) is a successful Lebanese-Armenian entrepreneur and the Honorary Consul of Portugal in Yerevan. In the interview below he elaborates on the business ventures he has undertook, the challenges behind them and the key to success.
Tell us about your origins. Where do you come from?
I was born in Lebanon. I grew up there and in Saudi Arabia where I went to school. I am a traditional Diasporan-Armenian brought up in a traditional Diasporan family – my mother and father were born and raised in Lebanon. I moved to Armenia in 2001 to pursue my Master’s Degree at AUA. I have been married for eleven years. I have three sons, who will hopefully attend AUA when they grow up.
Why did you decide to move to Armenia in 2001?
Primarily because I was tired of living as a Diasporan-Armenian. I realized that moving to Armenia was just a matter of time. Growing up as an Armenian in any country of the Diaspora and raising your children as Armenians is an endless struggle with language and identity preservation. It’s hard to explain to your family what it means to be Armenian if they don’t relate themselves to the language or the country. Although my family did their best to preserve Armenian traditions in Lebanon, I decided to move to Armenia to simplify my life. I found it to be the right time to move here as I wasn’t married at that time, I didn’t have any obligations, I was only 24 years old. I started doing my Master’s degree and engaged in business ventures at the same time.
Tell us about your educational experience at AUA. How did you benefit from it?
I had the opportunity to meet amazing professors. One of my biggest treasures is my relationship with AUA which I cherish very much, and the second and foremost, probably, is my relationship with my classmates. Most of them are still here so I see them quite often, I interact and work with them. I am very happy that that’s the case.
The biggest blessing I have had living in Armenia is the quality of life. Of course, there are challenges but you live in a safe and friendly Armenian environment, which cannot be recreated anywhere else. That makes it worthwhile raising a family in Armenia, seeing them happy, healthy, and looking towards a bright future.
This is why I believe that AUA is and will be the torchbearer of education for the generations to come. I hope that, as an alumnus, I will be able to contribute to my alma mater in my way, as much as possible.
What is your role as the Honorary Consul of Portugal in Yerevan?
As the Honorary Consul of Portugal in Yerevan, my role is to represent the interests of the Portuguese Government in Armenia. This involves acting as the liaison between the governments of Portugal and Armenia. Also, I often assist Portuguese delegations and individuals who are in need of support and assistance in Armenia.
Currently I am working towards establishing a regular Portuguese class for people who wish to acquire basic language skills in Portuguese.
Tell us about the business ventures you have been involved in since you moved to Armenia.
The first business that I started in Armenia was setting up a restaurant called Square One on Abovyan Street. Then it expanded to the airport and Tumanyan Street. That allowed me to enter the Armenian market, to learn about the possibilities, challenges, and customer service. I created a good name for myself in the restaurant industry. Today I own four cafes in Yerevan one of which is Green Bean located inside AUA. I am going to expand my restaurant business by bringing franchises to Armenia.
I co-own a travel agency, Sidon Travel, which operates flights from Yerevan to Beirut and in the opposite direction on a regular basis ‒ twice in the winter and four times in the summer. Beirut is a very active destination. Last year we had 30,000 passengers coming to Yerevan from Beirut and vice versa. People from Lebanon are discovering Armenia and people from Armenia are discovering Lebanon. It’s a very short trip. Besides, people living in these countries share a lot of similarities.
I am also the official distributor of Kia Motors in Armenia. I have been doing it for less than two years. It’s a completely different venture. It opens doors to Russia and Korea as the head office is in Russia and the factory is in Korea. It is a very interesting field.
The newest and the most exciting venture I do is agriculture. I planted 35,000 walnut trees in Armenia two years ago and I hope to see them bear fruit this year and the year after that and so on.
Which business venture was the most challenging one?
In general, Armenia is challenging for doing business because it’s landlocked and two of our borders are closed so it’s difficult to import and export goods. Everything is more expensive. So any person investing in Armenia has to have something that is more valuable to a foreign market than any other country, such as IT and tourism, two industries that are booming in Armenia. Agriculture, in that sense, has its own potential – being closely related to the Russian market we can export to Russia. But it has its own challenges as well.
When I first came here adjusting to the mentality was a big challenge because we were still a post-soviet republic. Many things that I would say didn’t make sense to locals and a lot of what they were saying didn’t make sense to me. I think I came half way and many things also changed in Armenia. With the new generation and the rapid development of the Internet and communications, Armenia is changing very positively and very quickly.
Why did you decide to engage in farming?
The first reason is that agriculture has great potential for growth. Secondly, I view it as a long-term investment. There is a Greek proverb that says “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Long after I am gone, maybe 70-80 years from now, that farm and those trees will still be there. That can be a kind of legacy or a contribution that people can make for Armenia for the long-term. It’s very difficult to invest in something that is so long-term because of the difficulty of financing it. Typically, the difficulty with villages is that people don’t have access to capital. So they plant things, such as watermelons, wheat, and leaf vegetables, that require relatively small investments but yield produce in a very short time. But if you could invest and have the patience and time to wait for your investment to bear fruit, then you would have actually done something good for yourself, for your country, and for the environment. Planting 35,000 trees is a small but a positive step against the carbon footprint that humanity leaves behind.
What’s the secret of starting a successful business career?
One is having the right business plan, doing a lot of research. If you do research at the beginning, the chances of failure are much less. However, the most important thing is to be dedicated, to be very strong-headed and say “I am going to do this, no matter what people say.” It should be in your heart, not only in your mind.