U.Ganzorig: If you have passion and ambition you could actually make a difference to Mongolian people
By Allyson Seaborn
Ganzorig Ulziibayar is understated; his office is understated. The Polar Star he received from the President of Mongolia for his contribution in the development of Mongolian financial markets hangs in an inconspicuous spot on his wall, dwarfed by other awards, certificates and degrees. The Financial Markets Association was something he and some colleagues formed over ten years ago to promote professional code of conduct and financial education.
I ask him what he’s most proud of on his office wall. “Well, actually you get a PhD or something similar because you are worthy of receiving a PhD. You are not proud of the actual diploma. You are proud of what went into the degree and for what you have achieved,” he replies. So Ganzorig – known to his friends as Ganzo – isn’t particularly fussed about the small golden star on his wall. He’s proud of all he’s achieved and so he should be.
”The Financial Markets Association is still the biggest public professional association doing public education in Mongolia. Since its inception, it has really broadened its scope and helps Mongolians understand finance and helps to improve the financial markets here. Financial markets are of course, the infrastructure and backbone of economic development. The Association has also heavily invested in building necessary infrastructures on the public side of things,” he explains.
Founding Chairman and fellow board member of the Business Council of Mongolia, J Peter Morrow, has this to say about his colleague: “He is a creative and talented guy, having a big impact on the Mongolian business scene.”
Ganzorig is, of course, modest about the different hats he wears. Among many things, he’s President of Mandal Insurance and Chairman of the United Mongolian Corporation (UMC). The UMCs philosophy and belief (as stated on their website) is that “fundamentally, business is not about making money, but about creating sustainable positive value for the community.” UMC was established in 2004 as a consulting group to advise and help businesses increase their efficiency. Since then, the company has undertaken a number of high profile advisory jobs and has diversified into investment management, deal negotiations and asset management. UMC has also co-invested, structured and managed several high profile real estate deals in Mongolia.
Ganzorig also feels professionalism in the corporate sector is something which is lacking in Mongolia today. In his opinion, non-profit professional organizations play a very important role in a properly functioning society by providing a discussion platform for ideals exchange. “Integrity and professional ethics are born in and spread out from professional clubs. Among a dozen professional associations I helped to establish during the last 10 years, most of them are functioning very well.”
He was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1981 as both of Ganzorig’s parents were studying science at university there. He tells me that “during that time, if you performed well in high school and passed your exams, you went to the Eastern Block Countries for higher education – so that’s why I was born in Poland. I was, however, raised in UB for half of the year and the other half in the countryside in Tuv Aimag. My grandparents, who often looked after me, were retired teachers and decided to live in the countryside rather than in the city. They bought a few hundred animals, but it was not nomadic life.”
I ask his opinion of today’s Mongolia. He tells me “I think Mongolia is an interesting economic paradigm. China has been rising for twenty years and this cannot continue forever because economies are like waves that go up and come back down. I think Mongolia really needs to tackle this momentum now before it’s too late and I believe that’s why we’re at an important focal point. Maybe we will fail to realize this, but I don’t think this is in everyone’s best interest.”
Ganzorig has been lecturing at Mongolian universities free of charge for ten years and describes himself as a “local product” and, as such, he understands the problems that Mongolians face today. “Other elements need to be added to the current education system. It should be practical and grounded to Mongolian needs. Mongolians require hope and a good education so they gain the confidence needed to advance,” he explains. “Today I talk to students about leadership or just about life because there needs to be guidance from a brotherly figure. New graduates will be developing this country and should be preparing as citizens and get some drive. Most of the time I really feel the urge to go out and convey my experience to younger generations.”
His insight into the old way of life in Mongolia is fascinating. Ganzorig describes how “as a child you live in an imaginary world and as an adult you get closer to reality, so maybe at my age it’s impossible to accurately compare the previous Mongolia to what it is today. What happened, however, is that we threw out the socialist elements we thought should go and in the process, some of the good aspects of the socialist educational system were stripped off.”
He goes on, “for example, at all levels of the socialist education system we were told to be good people via songs, poems and plays. Many thought of this as propaganda, but these social values about being a good person were important. Social values about how humans should behave should be the same in either a capitalist or socialist society. Social foundations are the same for all people – whether you are a nomad or a Harvard graduate, we are people. All the other things are the small details. So during the socialist era, Mongolians were receiving good messages in schools about how to behave.”
Ganzorig points out that when Mongolia became a democracy, these social messages were lost and were no longer taught to children in school. He believes the free market education system is a fallacy and mistaken when it says it promotes the best people up. “What you have to do is raise the system itself. You don’t leave people in the mud and expect natural selection to just take place. For the last twenty-three years our education system has been lacking these social messages for being good people and you can observe the ramifications today. We’ve not been preparing socially responsible citizens with good moral values,” he says regretfully.
You wouldn’t expect a man like Ganzorig to have much time for sports or hobbies, but that isn’t quite true. “My life and my job are so intertwined. My job is also my passion and my hobby. I love lecturing, writing economic analysis, lobbying the government for bigger and better change and doing things like discussing the new ideas for the Mandal brand, even looking at the real estate investment project on the UMC side of things. I think that is my pastime,” he chuckles.
He does however, acknowledge the need for balance and tells me he plays basketball once a week and tries to do yoga occasionally. He also takes a moment to explain the history of yoga in India and of tai chi in China, noting that the “two things are all about moving your muscles and stretching without exerting your heart too much. So it’s all about slow movement, but self-sustainability, so I guess that’s why I enjoy it so much.”
Ganzorig is not fond of travelling. Somehow I have an idea that it’s probably quite difficult to drag him away from the two giant computer screens sitting on his desk. He beats me to the question. “I like to stay in the office,” he laughs. “I do like hiking, though, and the fresh air as long as it’s not too far. What’s the point of being in a car or plane for so long – as long as you’re outside? I don’t really prefer one region of Mongolia over another. Every part of Mongolia’s natural landscape is unique and beautiful.”
Ganzorig doesn’t have a favorite Mongolian expression, but he’s unique in that he wishes to share his least favorite one with me. “I find this a bit of a joke,” he begins light heartedly. If you don’t have a debt you are rich; if you don’t have any illness you are happy. I agree with the second part right, but I do not agree with the first part at all.”
He explains Mongolians traditionally thought about debt negatively, with an anti-borrowing mentality, frowning upon mortgaging one’s house or simply applying for a bank loan. “This is, of course, an old traditional saying which is no longer relevant to Mongolia right now. If you want to develop and believe in your future, you have to borrow and invest in yourself. I’m not talking about going to the casino or buying a brand new car with borrowed funds. I’m talking about borrowing to invest in your education or your business or your house.”
What does this insightful man think about the future of Mongolia? “I think during the next ten years we’ll experience a good economic boom. I’m confident about this. I think it’s time for change and the public consensus is there. Everyone is tired of being poor. We have a young population, a huge landmass and good mining resources. This country has been here a few thousand years. We have a rich culture and traditions. I think we just need to make people remember this and energize them and then this country will be going forward at a very fast pace.”
Inspiration-wise, Ganzorig admires Steve Jobs. “I’ve just read his biography. He was an inspiration and this book energized me. His life is proof that if you have passion, you can create anything. Money is not the biggest problem – it’s the 100th problem, but before that there are 99 problems you must overcome before that.”
I ask him how he feels about foreigners in Mongolia. He asserts that “foreigners need to understand Mongolia is in a different paradigm. Although it’s not their problem or obligation, I’d like to say to the foreign expats here that you could help this country move forward because you have this knowledge. If you have passion and ambition you could actually make a difference to Mongolian people. After all, whether you are British, French or Mongolian we are all humans at the end of the day. Maybe you could do something for the Mongolian people and be proud to leave your legacy not just to Mongolians, but to the world.”
Ganzorig then describes to me a profound childhood experience that left a memorable imprint on his psyche. His tone softens and I’m reminded of the line from Wordsworth’s My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold, “The Child is the Father of the Man.”
He shares a poignant story with me – one that helped form who he is today. “I had this childhood friend whose parents were divorced – his mother had left him. His father was an alcoholic so he lived with his grandfather and older sister. He was my best friend in school and within the space of one month both his father and grandfather died, leaving two kids alone. Unfortunately, I was in no position to help really, of course. The relatives came in and took over the situation, but these kids were so bright and had such promising futures and great potential. They could have been bank CEOs, but their lives were jeopardized and changed in a split second right in front of my eyes.” He glances ruefully out the window. “This incident really helped me to understand hardship. From a young age I started to understand the complexities of life. I desperately wanted to understand the meaning of events like this, actually even as a kid, and this helped me. If our society had good infrastructure in terms of equal opportunities, then my friend could have really have gone somewhere. His life is broken to this day. He couldn’t attend university and being uneducated can destroy a person and leave them with little hope. This shouldn’t happen in our society, but it does. I still keep in touch with my friend, you know.”
Later that evening I Google the meaning of the name Ganzorig and find out it translates to “steel courage” – a name that suits this philosophical business man perfectly.
Although most of Ganzorig’s thoughts and writings are in Mongolian, you can read more about his opinions and ideas at ganzorigulziibayar.blogspot.com.
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