If you work in trade finance and have any dealings with Georgia, then chances are you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ana Kavtaradze, head of trade finance at Bank of Georgia, member of the ICC Banking Commission’s executive committee and true embodiment of the values of loyalty, honour and hospitality held in high esteem in Georgian culture. Shannon Manders reports.
Born and raised in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi, where she now lives with her husband and son, Ana Kavtaradze is renowned for being a true ambassador for both her country and her bank.
The saying goes that ‘everyone has a story to tell’, and Kavtaradze’s occurs against the backdrop of Georgia over the past four decades, during a period that was marked by Russia’s regional domination, then by turbulent times, including coups, civil war, revolution and invasion.
Five years after Georgia gained independence from the Russian empire, in 1991, when unemployment in the country was rife – and “you wouldn’t find a waiter younger than 45”, she landed her first job in the international department of a small Georgian bank. She was just 16 years old.
The position had come about through one of her English teachers, who was working at the bank at the time and sought Kavtaradze out for the job because she had a good command of English and advanced computer skills. The role involved mostly administrative duties and translation.
It was when the bank started getting involved in USAID bank training exercises that Kavtaradze’s interest in finance was truly piqued, and she became fascinated with the dynamics of the banking system. “The war was over. There were many US projects supporting the development of the country, and the National Bank of Georgia was taking its first steps in implementing its bank supervision system with the support of USAID,” she says. It was then that she decided to study banking at the state university – giving up her initial dream of becoming a surgeon because of her frustration at the poor conditions at local hospitals.
During her studies she kept up part-time work on the USAID project and afterwards, at the age of 23, Kavtaradze was offered a position in the international department of Bank of Georgia. This time as a specialist. Because the country was still at a “very low level of development” at the time, her remit included many functionalities – including trade finance – to begin with. She was promoted to her current position as head of trade finance in 2010 – having held an acting head role for a year – and with that came her focus on trade finance, after restructuring the department to include all aspects of the business, from factoring to export credit agency financing.
A massive milestone for Bank of Georgia was its premium listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2012, becoming the first entity from Georgia to do so. Kavtaradze remembers the occasion as being pivotal to her loyalty to the bank. “Even for the country, this was a huge transformation – when you are part of such a change you really feel driven.”
Kavtaradze’s involvement in the development of trade finance in Georgia has instilled in her a deep passion for the industry. Such is the extent of her devotion that she has sacrificed much of her personal leave and time because she felt that her team needed her. “I felt like the mother of my team along with my newborn baby seven years ago. At that time, the team was more dependent, but together we have achieved a high level of professionalism and independence, which I am really proud of,” she explains.
Although Georgian culture is patriarchal, Kavtaradze does not consider herself a feminist, doesn’t believe in positive discrimination and has never “felt weak”.
“Maybe because I have always considered myself as strong and brave,” she muses, reminiscing about how, as a child, she preferred playing with cars – not dolls – and once in her early teens changed her male neighbour’s car tyre without any formal know-how. She was just 16 when she learnt to drive.
Kavtaradze’s upbringing has left her with an appreciation for the chivalric form of respect that Georgian women are accorded. “In Georgia, gentlemanly acts are seen as politeness, it’s our culture – people don’t get offended as they do in many parts of the world today.”
Her personality is defined by her strong work ethic and love of people. “Relationships and communicating with people is something I really enjoy doing,” she says. In a way, Kavtaradze represents the Georgian national character, which is symbolised by the Kartlis Deda, or Mother of Georgia, monument in the hills overlooking Tbilisi. The statue is a 20-metre aluminium figure of a woman in national dress. In her left hand she holds a bowl of wine with which she greets her friends, and in her right her sword is drawn against her enemies.
“I’ve never felt that as a woman I have limits,” she concludes.
More articles in GTR’s Women in Trade Finance series:
Catherine Lang-Anderson: “Flexibility is not just an issue for women”
Silja Calac: “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes”
Alisa DiCaprio: “How we do trade finance today is not how we’ll do it in five years”
Sian Aspinall: “We owe it to the next generation”
Lorna Pillow: “There are no superwomen; there are only women who have support”
Emma Clark: “No one tells you that trade finance can be really fun”
Natalie Blyth: “Being the colour of the wall isn’t enough”