Tako Barsonidze, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on making ends meet, pushing ahead and motivation.
I am a lawyer with an LLM from the University of Sussex, now an LBS EMBA 2024 candidate. I have worked in the Georgian energy sector for the last 6 years.
I was born in 1989 in Georgia, which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 through anti-Soviet demonstrations and deadly clashes. The independence was followed by civil wars in the 90s, making it exceptionally troubled times for all Georgians. Even now, the term “Kids of the 90s” is used to describe children who were raised in an environment full of crime, corruption, lack of food and overwhelming distractions to get an education.
I was raised by a single mother and her parents. My mom worked as a doctor, and my grandmother as a schoolteacher. Neither were paid their salaries for months (a phenomenon known as "frozen salaries" back then). My grandfather basically saved us from hunger through his entrepreneurship: He learned car mechanics from journals and started to repair broken cars.
I did my best to pay my family back with my study: I was among very few students (less than 1%) who was granted 100% state scholarship for their entire BA studies due to exceptionally high performance at the national exams.
What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?
To cover living costs during LLM in the UK without any kind of scholarship.
My husband and I were both doing Masters degrees in different fields. He had a scholarship, which was enough to cover our living costs for only the first 4-5 months for both of us. Soon I got a job at a hotel, where I helped at breakfast and cleaned rooms. I worked there for a few months, but it was very hard to maintain good performance at the University because I had to get up very early, and I was very tired in the evening to study. I periodically looked for jobs at closer cafes/hotels, and I was quickly hired as a waitress because my English had improved, and I had become more confident in speaking with customers freely.
At the end of the year, I had even earned savings to take to Georgia and graduated from the University with Merit.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
In 2012, almost a year after I quit the Prosecutor’s job and played poker for a living, I told my husband (then boyfriend) that maybe professional work was not for me and I would just continue professional poker.
He said: “I think that this way, you will lose your professional skills, and you might regret it. I would just try to look in different directions than those which you wanted at first but did not work for you”.
In a few months, I started working for an NGO, and I loved every small detail about my job: writing, analysing, debating, looking at laws and comparing them to practice. I had missed that. Since then, I have tried to progress as a professional who is creating and making, which I enjoy very much.
What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?
Recently I was advised to stay where I am, refuse my purpose to study business and just take pleasure in what I’ve got now.
Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader
⚡️ To look at team members as partners rather than subordinates.
⚡️ To leave and start something else when there is nothing else you can teach your team or no more room for progress.
⚡️To have a clear vision shared with the team and exact short-term tasks/steps to realise that vision
Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?
There are many leaders whose speeches and publicly expressed attitudes to work/business I like very much. I just would not say that they inspire me because, in my case, inspiration comes from the inside.
In an ad for her tutoring class, Anna Wintour said that “you’re nothing without your team”. I liked this capacity of a leader to realise the importance of the team and to say it loudly.
There is a famous quote from Steve Jobs - “if you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.” I am not sure what exactly he meant, that was making some people unhappy by someone else being a leader, but it helped me to think more critically about my approach to offence in life. Doing something beneficial/creating value does not grant you a positive attitude from everyone. And, of course, I liked his unconventional outfit during public speaking. This became a symbol of a harmless violation of unnecessary restrictions.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
I take pride in being a Laidlaw Scholar. To me, it means that my background is at least interesting (possibly, impressive) and promising, and I have the capacity to show it.
The Laidlaw Scholarship increased my confidence that I could really have the potential to do something beneficial and creative because people who are experienced in evaluating skills, capacities and talents decided to give me this amount of scholarship.
The Laidlaw Scholarship means that I can study business at a top business school. I would not make it without it, that’s a fact based on our family finances.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
I run a management company. We are a strong team from diverse backgrounds, knowledge and experience. We debate efficiently, and we have enough time to work individually.
Our clients want us to evaluate investment opportunities in the Georgian energy sector, analyse risks and calculate potential profit.
We help investors to construct power plants by facilitating communication with grid operators and local communities.
Our clients are also existing power plants, whom we provide with a management service in power trade at organised markets.
We also analyse possibilities of operational cost optimisation for large companies.
We also have a branch which receives applications from potential entrepreneurs and introduces the best of them to appropriate businessmen from our network.
We organise trainings in industrial production for local agronomists in collaboration with banks. We are considering possibilities to cover industrial production in agronomy as a management consulting service.
📺 Currently binding: House of the Dragon
📺 My current anthem: Since I Don't Have You by The Skyliners
📚 My top book recommendation: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: A price of a small suitcase being higher than everything I planned to put in it.
Tako is a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School. You can find Tako on LinkedIn. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school.
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