The Sky is the Limit
The personal story of musician Nino Kambegashvili is nothing if not impressive.
It is difficult to believe that a person can combine seemingly different interests such as music, politics and business so seamlessly. Hercharitable activities both in and outside Germany are worthy of attention in their own right. The story of the Georgian girl’s success began at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in 1998, and continues to this day. Her name is connected to numerous bold initiatives and successful business deals. In an interview with Forbes Georgia, she speaks about her habit of seeking to incorporate culture, art and science into every business niche.
Nino, you are a musician by profession. Was it your initiative to move to Frankfurt in 1998, or did you receive a specific professional offer?
I was 16 years-old when the Rotary Art Club was established in Tbilisi. In fact, I co-founded this club, and was actively involved in its activities. I have been a very active person since I was a student. I always do more than I am tasked to do, and I enjoy it. I received an invitation from the Frankfurt Conservatory at the age of 18, and I finished in the top-fiveof the entry exams among 200 applicants. I was given a scholarship by the Rotary Club, which helped me a lot. In fact, I went on to receive several scholarships from this club over a certain period of time. Thus began my fortepiano studies at the Frankfurt Conservatory in 1998. I also had a chance to conduct additional studies within another faculty, and I chose the Faculty of Composition, where I had the opportunity to work with the legendary composer Hans Zimmer. You can imagine how many new doors were opened for me at that time.
It is evident that your early activities in Frankfurt were only associated with music. How did the events unfold afterwards, and is Frankfurt a place where dreams and goals can be realized?
Frankfurt is a very diverse city that offers many opportunities. It is more international than most cities in other states of Germany. When I first arrived there, I could not speak German at all. Nevertheless, during my first year in Germany, I was hired by a private music school as a music teacher, and I learned the language by communicating with the children. This school paved the way for me to enter the music business. I had numerous students, with whom I organized several successful concerts. In 2007, having already graduated from the Frankfurt Conservatory, one of our concerts was attended by a close friend’s husband, who is a German music professor. Afterwards, he pledged to help me open my own music school. He provided funds totalling 5,000 euros, which allowed me to open a school in an area of Frankfurt where no such establishment existed before. The building only had three classrooms, and I myself lived in one of them to save money.
Did your friend’s husband’s investment pay off?
While working at my previous school, I realized that more money could be made by giving music lessons than by organizing concerts. This school has been posting substantial revenue figures for 12 years. More importantly, these revenues are growing on a regular basis, which even surprised the people at the bank who could not imagine that a music school could be a lucrative asset. Personally, I have a habit of looking for a business niche where I can incorporate culture, art and science along with making money.
Did the opening of your own school inspire you to establish the Georgian-German Economic and Cultural Association, or did this idea come about earlier?
I established the association in 2006, approximately one year before I opened my school. Music schools in Germany were quite boring at the time. They lacked dynamism. I decided to organize an international competition, where children would not only perform, but also compete against each other. It is hard to believe that the culture of organizing such competitions was absent in the homeland of Bach and Beethoven. Many Germans today do not regard music as a profession, because there is not a lot of money to be made in this field. They think pragmatically, and choose to pursue more lucrative professions. In order to obtain state funding to organize the competition, I had to establish a nongovernmental organization, and that is how the association was created. We received several thousand euros in funding each year, which allowed us to establish an international festival that carries the name of my school – the Golden Key. We tried to popularize the festival in Georgia, where there was a lot of interest, but many people did not have the funds to even cover the cost of flights. I decided to come to Georgia to organize trials together with Nika Memanishvili at the old Concert Hall. We selected six children, whose visit to Germany was fully financed by us. All of this took place in 2007, and it was the association’s first event.
So, approximately 10 years after arriving in Germany, you already had your own school and your own association? That is undoubtedly an interesting synthesis. However, we are particularly curious to know how you became interested in politics.
It just so happened that I became acquainted with several interesting individuals who were active in politics, such as my students’ parents. The district where our association set up its office was also home to the chairman of the conservative Christian Democratic Union – Angela Merkel’s party, which I later joined myself. Most classical musicians are conservative by nature, so this party was best suited for my mentality. I would say that politics chose me, rather than the other way round. By 2006, members of the party were already aware of my work, and asked me to join. They saw potential in me. The CDU takes the loyalty of its electorate very seriously, so it always stands firmly behind the people. I have never come across a stronger political union in my life. In Germany, politics are done for the benefit of the population. ‘To do’ is the most relevant verb with regard to politics for me, and I am delighted to be part of this culture. I have been a CDU member long enough to be able to enter the Parliament of Hesse directly in 2020, without having to participate in elections. I will then be in charge of Eastern European relations.
I get the impression that each new undertaking helped you improve upon your previous work. Do you see a pattern?
I was able to use the music school’s finances for the charitable association’s activities. Politics ensured that all of our economically sound projects received material and moral support. Everything falls into place like pieces of a puzzle. Culture, economics and politics jointly lead you towards doing charitable work. There are poor people in every country, and Germany is no exception. I have given many lessons for free, as I knew that the student’s family was unable to pay. Over the course of the past 20 years, I realized that the further I moved forward, the more I was able to do. My ambitions were growing, I needed to raise more money, and so on. Many people asked why I was putting so much on my plate. My response was always the same: I have the necessary strength and ambition. Naturally, I am talking about a healthy ambition. It is amazing to see so many happy people around me after a successful project. It makes my own life more diverse too.
Since you mentioned charity work, I would like you to recall your visit to Afghanistan, which was a very risky but noble undertaking. Why did you specifically choose to go to Kabul?
2010 was a strange year. I arrived at the National Music Institute in Kabul and stayed there for a month. I wanted to help as much as I could, because there were lots of incredibly talented Afghan children studying music there. From the moment I arrived, I felt the city’s strength, which it passed on to me. I had wonderful pupils. I had the idea of establishing a girls’ orchestra – the first of its kind in the country. We were successful, and the orchestra went on to perform at the Davos Forum opening ceremony. This was a very successful project. Apart from Afghanistan, I also had numerous interesting undertakings in Georgia. In 2013, I brought Peters notes to the country. The president of Peters gave us 1,500 notes as a gift. We also gave away four electric pianos and other musical instruments.
Last year you opened the first Georgian restaurant in Frankfurt, called Old Tiflis. Is the opening of the restaurant in any way connected to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Georgia was a guest of honor last year?
For some reason, people were weary of opening a Georgian restaurant in Frankfurt. I took this decision because I believed in what I was doing. In 2018, as a result of hard work and great effort, Georgia obtained the status of a guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and I decided to fill this gap on the market. I was surprised to learn that nobody had thought about presenting Georgia’s culinary aspects during the fair. I quickly found a location close to the fair and opened Old Tiflis only two months later. In the beginning, I was waiting tables myself, as I wanted to personally welcome the guests, explain to them who we were and what we offered. We also did some crazy stuff for marketing purposes. For example, we cooked small khinkalis and took them onto the streets for people to try, screaming “khinkali, khinkali!” It worked, and we got a lot of people interested in Georgian cuisine. The restaurant was very popular from the beginning.
In hindsight, was the opening of the restaurant a successful move?
As you enter the restaurant, you see photos from my private album, where I share the stage with people such as Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Customers become curious about the stories behind these photos, and we end up striking up a conversation. They can spend hours at the restaurant enjoying various Georgian dishes and wine, which I also tell them everything about. In the end, we make money by passing time in an enjoyable fashion, without even noticing it. This is further proof that you can make money by doing something that you enjoy. One of the local newspapers even referred to me as a ‘gourmet pianist,’ which I liked a lot. In another achievement, the Radeberger Brewery, which has a virtual monopoly on the local market, offered me full financial backing and commercial space to develop a business concept. I am taking advantage of their offer, and from the first of April this year, I will be renting a large space in one of the city’s oldest palaces in order to organize and manage wine and food festivals and cultural events during the summer.
It can be said that your activities allow you to act as a goodwill ambassador in Germany. How do you see the development prospects of the economic ties between Georgia and Germany? Do you have any plans of your own with regard to Georgia?
I always advocate decentralization, and the case of Georgia is no different. The provincial regions must be given more opportunities to strengthen economically. Two large German investors are currently interested in building hotels in the Georgian countryside. We will be visiting Georgia together in April. One of the investors wants to build a 2 or 3-star hotel in a village, and is only asking that the state allow him to use a plot of land free-of-charge for a certain period of time to set up the business. Tust Immobilien is a real estate company that specializes in building medium-class hotels across the world. The investor asked me to find a suitable village in Georgia to build a hotel, and I am currently pursuing this matter. Imagine how wonderful it would be to open a hotel in such a village, creating jobs and boosting local tourism. Various festivals could be organized there, attracting more and more interest in the location. The village would become financially and morally stronger, which would be enormously helpful in light of its difficult geopolitical location. As for the other investor, this is a company that unites several real estate specialists. They also wish to invest in real estate in Georgia, but not in Tbilisi. One of the options is Kvereti resort, where it is possible to build an excellent medical hotel. Along with these two investors, I will also be bringing the President of the Frankfurt Airport to Georgia in April to negotiate an agreement between the two countries in the field of logistics.
What is your success based upon?
My strong character and the support which I receive from my team. Your team can only be strong if you are fair and honest in your relationship with them. I always protect the interests of all my team members, be it the chefs or the cleaners. The formula for my success is to share my profits with my team. For example, I always increase the salaries of the teachers at my school in accordance with inflation. We have an equal number of holidays, and we are very friendly with each other. However large the building, it is doomed to collapse unless it has a sound base. That is how I view my business activities.