Gulnara Kalikova, Senior Partner, Kalikova & Associates
How long have you been working for your current company?
Since 2002. This year was the probably biggest challenge in my life - I made a decision to establish my own business and plunge into an unknown, unclear and quite unstable area for me – entrepreneurship. This was also the year of my graduation from a one-year LL.M. Program at Harvard Law School. By that time, I crossed the 40-year milestone, had a family with three children, held a diploma in law from the Kyrgyz National University, defended a doctoral theses in the area of civil law, and had a fair practical experience and a number of years working at offices of international law firms in Kyrgyzstan.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
The decision to start my own business was quite difficult as I had a choice whether to continue my employment with the local office of an international law firm where I had quite stable work conditions and reliable support from my foreign colleagues or to follow an independent path full of risks and uncertainty. Kyrgyzstan is a small country with moderate population (5.5 million) and underdeveloped legal market. The main issue for me from a business perspective was whether there will be demand for my work as a local law firm employee, whether I would be able to attract serious clients and become a reliable counsel for them? Despite all my doubts, I decided to take a risk. Certainly, it was difficult in the beginning, since apart from practicing law I had to learn how to manage and work with people. My basic personal capital consisted of my invaluable experience of working at the local offices of international law firms, understanding technology and quality standards, my contacts with foreign colleagues.
This 2012 year marks our 10th anniversary as a secure and growing law firm of 20 capable and talented lawyers with high demand for their services. Over the years, we completed hundreds of projects, worked with dozens of international law and audit firms, served clients from dozens of countries of the world. Although business involves non-stop work, tension and responsibility to clients and peers I do not regret the decision I made. Perhaps, there will be other challenges in my life, but the one I took ten years ago taught me not to be afraid of taking the risk and responsibility and proved that any goal is achievable so long as you like what you do and always move forward.
Wha tis your proudest professional achievement and why?
My biggest achievement is my input into the professional development of my colleagues with whom I work or have worked. I helped some to choose the right career or area of practice, and others – to develop their professional skills. Of course, my help can be assessed only by those who I work with, though, in my view, sharing experience and knowledge with my colleagues is the best I could do today in my professional life.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Today, my greatest challenge is the one I’ve been looking for in the recent years. Few years ago, I read Management Challenges for the 21st Century by Peter F. Drucker and The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. They made me realize that I have to ponder over the impending “Third Chapter” and, furthermore, to find an idea that would seize me for decades to come. It is most likely that it will be about my professional career but maybe not. I am still looking for it, which is inconvenient on the one hand as it leads to uncertainty about the future, but on the other hand, it stimulates creative thinking, new ideas, desire to read various literature and to continue education. Today, my dream is to take leadership courses at Harvard Business School; perhaps new knowledge and ideas will help me find my next challenge.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
Once I felt guilty about working too much and not spending enough time with my children as a good mother would do. Butwhenmysonsgrewup into matured men, they told me that no matter how much time we spent with them as parents it was more important that we taught them values that govern their lives and relationships with people. They grew up to become independent and self-sufficient men and I and my husband are very proud of them. Now, it is our daughter and four grandchildren who are growing up and we realize that the way we look at life, the way we live and work is the best example for them to be guided by in their future.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
Yes, there are two main mentors in my life – my father Amanjol Kalikov and my academic supervisor Viktor Oygenzicht. My father always was and
remains to be (we celebrated his 90th birthday last year) an example of honesty, integrity, diligence, craving for knowledge, open-heartedness and life optimism. His personal example and conversations with him always lead me and motivate me to improve, to like people, and to do good things. My second role model, my academic supervisor Viktor Oygenzicht, taught me to like jurisprudence, to analyze and think, voice my thoughts, and find creative aspects in the issues that might seem dull. He passed away many years ago, but the knowledge he gave will remain with me and in my heart for the rest of my life.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
For our law firm, corporate diversity means not only having diverse gender and national representation, but also diverse individualities in our team. As far as gender equality is concerned, there is almost equal number of men and women in our firm, with women slightly outnumbering men. Kyrgyzstan is a multinational country, therefore, we do everything we can to have as many national representation in our legal team as possible. Other important thing is having the team members with diverse characters and tempers. I know from my experience that such diversity brightens up our job with emotions, which is of no small importance for making the job interesting.
Were there any points in your caree rwhen you felt you were at adisadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I have never felt disadvantages or advantages of being a woman. Maybe, this is about attitude of the society towards women in business, or about support from family and friends. I always felt quite a loyal attitude of the society towards me personally and to women’s business in general, and of course I have always been encouraged by my family and friends. TherearemanyeducatedandactivewomeninKyrgyzstan. Though there are not so many women in power and politics, but it was our country which was first among the post-Soviet countries to elect female president Roza Otunbaeva (her presidency ended at the end of 2011). There are many women in Kyrgyzstan who are civil rights activists and the number of those doing business keeps growing. Historically and culturally, women in Kyrgyzstan are known for having a high degree of independence.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
In my country, the legal industry underwent big changes in comparison to Soviet era when the practicing lawyers did not exist as a class or business in general. It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of the independent post-Soviet countries in 1991 that the law firms and business lawyers came into existence. This is a new phenomenon for us, but women here turned out to be quite business-like and were not afraid of starting their private practices. There are many women in Kyrgyzstan who practice law; some of them run their own law firms. Today, our market is highly competitive, and only those who are able to constantly improve the quality and technology of working with clients can run a successful business. Women are an integral part of this competition.