When Emir Kiamilev entered Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives at Wharton | San Francisco in 2005, he was running a successful tea company in Uzbekistan with yearly revenue of $7 million. His goal was to learn how to successfully expand the company into other regions not only to grow the business, but also to mitigate the risks of political instability in Uzbekistan.
At first, everything was going according to plan. He based his family in San Diego where his parents lived and commuted to Uzbekistan once a quarter to apply the knowledge he learned in school. He even used the tea business as the subject of a consulting project in one of his classes.
But in his second year, the worst case scenario happened – he lost the company due to political instability. “In those countries, it’s hard to finance anything so it was a cash-based business in which we reinvested all profits. I was married with three kids, but had no income and we were really down to nothing. I got loans for school, but our whole lifestyle changed overnight.”
The “up side” at the time, he says, was the fact that he was in school and could access Wharton’s extensive network and dedicated career management resources. After meeting representatives from Mattel, Inc., he was offered a position as a finance manager. “I was excited because I wanted to come into a consumer products company and learn how Fortune 500 companies do business in corporate America,” says Kiamilev.
Kiamilev and his wife shared an entrepreneurial spirit and also wanted to start up a business. Attending several gourmet food shows, they decided their market niche would be in confectionaries so they took online classes on topics such as how to make chocolate and even flew to Paris for lessons from a high-end chocolatier.
Ultimately, they decided to focus on caramels and in 2009, with $50,000 from friends and family, they launched Amella. Their artisan cocoa butter caramels are now in more than 200 stores and high-end hotels and the couple hopes to break even by the end of 2010.
Kiamilev says, “It would have been much harder to start over without my Wharton education. I’ve seen other friends go through similar situations and they could not recover. But because of Wharton, I have the tools, knowledge and network to one day be bigger than I was in Uzbekistan. The executive MBA program opened a lot of doors and is helping me be a better businessman.”