Tamar Gakharia’s story -Leadership Transcends Gender

“Change is inevitable” – this succinctly encapsulates the dialogue I had with my interviewee on the fourteenth floor of Axis Towers during a routine workday. It was here that I met Tamar Gakharia, the financial director of CBS Group.

Photo Credits to Sopho Papiashvili

Listening to her story felt akin to experiencing a Hollywood blockbuster, replete with special effects, emotions, and challenges. Tamar’s life, marked by personal drama, a tumultuous period in the 90s, and eventual success (which she now deems as happiness), deviated starkly from her early, naive expectations as a young bride. The greatest disillusionment of her life was her husband, who insisted she abandon her studies for domestic life. Today, however, she reflects on her journey with gratitude, having shed her rose-tinted glasses and transformed every challenge into an opportunity.

“Are you satisfied with where you are now?” I inquire after a lengthy and evidently draining conversation. Her response highlights a relentless pursuit of growth, questioning the value of achieving her position as a Chief Financial Officer if it represents the pinnacle of her development. Tamar’s resilience, self-belief, and capacity to process past hardships are truly remarkable. “Going against the current has been the theme of my life,” she asserts, a statement her life’s story robustly supports. She married for love, divorced when it faded, chose highly competitive educational paths, and pursued a career typically not associated with women at the time. She endured poverty and corruption, and through sheer determination, earned her parents’ unwavering trust and support.

And I believe her.

Tamar began her career at the Bank of Georgia during her second year at university. “The pace was frenetic,” she recalls, but it was here she learned the value of hard work and the irreplaceable knowledge gained through life and professional experiences, fueling her almost addictive desire for learning and leading to her formula for success.

And she’s the only respondent who did share her unique formula for success with me.

Photo Credits to Sopho Papiashvili
Judge for yourselves.

“Everyone has their own formula,” she cautions, before revealing hers: Skills multiplied by attitude and effort, plus continuous learning, listening, thinking, the ability to love, and the willingness to embrace change equals success, which for her, is synonymous with happiness.

“Success is an ongoing process of achieving happiness,” she elaborates, encouraging others to discover their personal formulas for success.

Tamar’s belief in the inevitability of change is central to her philosophy. She firmly believes that without stepping out of one’s comfort zone and taking risks, development ceases. “Life is motion,” she states as we transition to discussing her shift from a secure banking job to the uncertain realm of CBS Group.

Joining CBS Group was a leap of faith for her, as the company, at that time, was merely a concept without employees or tangible assets, just a collection of shares with a mission. She likens her decision to nurturing a new entity, a decision that resonated with her inner self.

“There were neither employees nor any specific assets — just scattered shares owned by a particular founder and a mission. We had to assemble all this, refine it, and nurture its growth,” she adds, smiling. “I chose to cultivate a new venture. This objective resonated deeply with my inner self. At that time, I undertook a significant risk. I was transitioning from a stable job with a consistent salary, which was crucial for me financially, to a situation where I had the chance to build something independently,” she explains.

Photo Credits to Sopho Papiashvili
And she did!

Currently, Tamar Gakharia serves as the CFO of a prominent Georgian business entity, CBS Group. This group encompasses key assets such as Telasi, Tbilisi Energy, Cellfie Mobile, the Georgian National Lottery, and Tbilisi Minibus, among others. Tamar has been instrumental in leading all the significant transactions undertaken by CBS Group over the years. This includes a noteworthy deal in Georgia’s recent history, the acquisition of Cellfie Mobile – a leading telecom operator in the country – by CBS Group. Recently, Cellfie Mobile executed one of its most crucial transactions, issuing bonds worth 65 million GEL. This marked the company’s inaugural transaction of this nature and its first appearance in the capital market.

“I take great pride in our progress. Yet, a decade ago, it was rare to find a female manager. Back then, I sported my signature hairstyle — the French braids. There was widespread skepticism towards ‘the girl with the braids’ in these companies,” Tamar Gakharia reminisces with a smile. She highlights another decisive factor confirming her correct career path: the company founder’s trust in her unbridled enthusiasm and extensive experience. “They accepted me as I was, and following the initial interview, they endorsed me without any reservations. That marked the commencement of my journey with the CBS Group.”

Did you consider yourself lucky?

Had I chosen to work in a pre-established, large corporation, I might have considered myself fortunate. However, I consciously chose to leave my comfort zone, thereby creating my own path. At the interview, I wore a green jacket, ripped jeans, red ballet shoes, and French Braids, presenting myself authentically. Fortunately, I met a man (now the director of the holding) who appreciated my genuine demeanor and trusted the lighthearted girl before him. In hindsight, it seems both the company and I were fortunate that I didn’t pass up this opportunity.

Do you view yourself as a woman in business?

Leadership transcends gender. Empathy and breaking stereotypes are essential for both men and women in teamwork. I embody whatever role is needed — at times a man, at other times a woman. This adaptability is a conscious inner state I maintain.

What are your thoughts on role models?

My stance isn’t fixed. Early in my career, I disliked comparisons with unattainable figures. High-ranking individuals didn’t serve as role models for me; they seemed too abstract and didn’t provide a tangible pathway. Middle management, on the other hand, was more relatable and served as a better guide.

Photo Credits to Sopho Papiashvili

Is being a ‘strong woman’ a mindset or a part of corporate policy?

It’s both. From a mindset perspective, a woman must self-determine her aspirations beyond domestic confines. This realization is the starting point. Policy-wise, without systemic support to empower women to make these choices, no real change will occur. Currently, Georgia faces a significant gender wage gap of about 30%, and the employment rate gap between men and women is notably pronounced among those aged 25-34. This disparity leads to lesser social security for women. Closing this gap requires a synergy of mindset and policy. Companies, particularly in the private sector, have a responsibility to ensure gender diversity, which fosters problem-solving from diverse perspectives.

Is this the approach your corporation takes?

We ensure equal opportunities for both men and women, basing employment on skills, knowledge, and experience. For instance, at Cellfie, women constitute 55% of the workforce. This isn’t mere corporate responsibility; we don’t equate it with charity. Hiring women is not an act of charity for us. In certain situations, women have outperformed men. Take, for example, Tbilisi minibus, which employs female drivers despite prevailing stereotypes. Skill, not gender, determines ability. We believe in building foundations on education and experiential knowledge, not just through theoretical training.

What do you believe impedes a woman’s development?

My message to all women and girls of any age is never to feel guilty — whether about working or not spending ‘enough’ time with your children. It’s the quality of time spent with your child, at work, or with family that matters, not the quantity. In my view, guilt is a significant barrier to a woman’s development. You should never regret any life decision or ponder whether it was right or wrong. Every decision you make is a part of your journey.

Although she does not view herself as a role model and refrains from generalizing experiences, she still agrees to emphasize the core message. As our conversation nears its end, I ponder what the reader should take away from this interview — possibly a young girl still wearing the same rose-tinted glasses that Tamar eventually discarded after several setbacks.

In a contemplative silence, Tamar Gakharia responds, “I would like to advise everyone to pursue what they desire, not what others expect of them. Heeding one’s inner voice is crucial, and for this, education is essential.

A woman with a healthy mindset nurtures a healthy child. This approach will transform the environment and shift our way of thinking. We need to remain open and adaptable to change. We must consider the broader context and continually evolve. A shift in thinking is often a result of generational change. It’s quite straightforward — women themselves should open the doors that are locked to them.”