Samir Jabiyev is a public accountant for PKF Texas. Born and raised in Azerbaijan, he studied at the Azerbaijan State Economy Institute and then moved to Houston, Texas, where he developed his successful career.
Congratulations on you promotion. How long did it take you to get to this level in your career?
I started with PKF Texas twelve years ago. Actually, it was exactly twelve years on February 4th. But before that I spent about two years working for Ernst & Young. So, totally I have been in public accounting for fourteen years, which is the average to go all the way to partner level. Well, I would say the average is twelve to fifteen years, depending on where you start.
This is not the first big change in your life. Although there were several changes you went through, one of the most significant was probably coming to United States. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I have always been found of changes. If there is an opportunity for me to change something about my life I usually jump on it. That was one of the reasons why I came to United States. I saw an opportunity to study here and to get my MBA. When I was coming over here I did not think about staying here long term. My brother had won a green card back in 1999 and moved here to live, so he is the one who helped me come to Houston. I was considering some other cities as well but I ended up coming to Houston. I came here to study, and one of the goals was to get my MBA and move away from public accounting to get into the industry, possibly do financial analysis and become a financial advisor. That was the career path for me. But when I was doing my MBA at the University of Houston, PKF Texas was recruiting at the campus and they offered me to join them, which was not exactly what I was planning to do, but, like I said, if I see change that promises something, I embrace and accept it, so that is what I did and joined them back in 2001.
So was it a hard decision to make?
It was a decision that was going to change the career path that I was thinking about at the time. So yes, it was a decision that I thought about. I am not sure if it was hard or not, because once I see something that is good for my future, I move in that direction pretty quickly.
What were the advantages of coming from different cultural background? Did it help you in any way?
I think anything you look at you can look at it from two angles. It could be a challenge and it could be an opportunity at the same time. Definitely, being from different background, and coming to different country, the first thought that pops up in your head – it’s a challenge. You are not from here, you do not speak the language as well as they do, you have a different culture. How do you adapt? How do you accept this new culture and become part of it but also do not lose your own identity. That was a challenge.
The opportunity is that you bring so much with you that people over here are not aware of. You can share with them, you can teach them, exchange ideas that they are not familiar with. It was challenging at the beginning, but as I learned to understand America, Americans, the way they think, and the way they live. I shared what we had in Azerbaijan bringing part of that culture over here. I brought in things that I have learned from international background and it made me unique. We have about 150 people working in this office, but PKF is an international firm with 440 locations in 125 countries of the world, so about 70% of our clients do business internationally. For instance, I have clients in offices in Russia and Kazakhstan, so being from there, being able to speak the language, and understand the culture sometimes helps a lot. Houston is a melting pot of all the cultures together. Sometimes you meet somebody from Egypt, who is like a CFO or CEO of a company, and he is going to connect a lot better with me than he would with average person who grew up here. So being able to bring that in my career has definitely helped me along the way.
You studied both in Azerbaijan and United States. Can you compare it?
In Azerbaijan I graduated from the Azerbaijan State Economy Institute. I did international economic relations, which was big, but really, thinking back, all the stuff we learned, it was mostly teachers trying to understand what it was they were teaching. It was such a new subject for them. It was only the second year that department existed.
In general, education in Azerbaijan is, or at least used to be, very strong. But I think a lot depends on the student, whether or not he wants to study. If you want to study, education there is pretty good.
Over here in the University of Houston it was definitely different. It is a lot less control. You are more on your own. Nobody cares about attendance; nobody cares if you are participating in projects, as much as they do in Azerbaijan. Times change though, I do not think it is the same as it was twelve years ago, even here in Houston.
I hear a lot of people, who did not really have a chance to study culture or the way education works here, complain about American education, and I do not agree with that. If you do everything that you have to be doing as a student, education here is actually stronger than in former Soviet Union, but it is on you. It is not on the teacher to teach you, it is really on you. You have all the opportunities to learn.
Do you think Azeri education makes a person more disciplined?
I think it is a valid point. Plus the whole environment that we grow up in, we were taught to be more responsible and disciplined.
You worked at Ernst & Young before PKF. What can you tell us about that experience?
EY is one of the Big Four accounting companies that currently exist and they have a very different model. At the time that I worked there, and currently as well, they do not care that much about people as much as they care about the results, so people become kind of an inventory and that is how most of their workers feel. Those are great companies to get on your resume, to get your career started, but because of their negative relations towards their employees, people do not want to stay there for a long time. I never wanted to go back to Big Four companies, because I had absolutely no life. Our workweeks lasted from 80 to 100 hours and nobody really cared. It was an expectation, so you should just get used to it. Work and life balance is very important for me.
What were your biggest influences?
I would say that when my son was born it definitely shifted my life from what it was before, so that was a big influence, I think, both on life and career. I had to learn to prioritize and put him first, my life second, and my career third. You have to find the right ways to make everything work. I have to be available for my family all the time, at the same time to be available at work all the time. It is hard to balance.
Azerbaijani community is big in Houston. Can you say you are part of it? How important is it for you?
I am currently not as actively involved in our community, as I probably should be, but I was involved a lot closer before. Five to six years ago, when I had more free time. I attend all of the officially organized functions that we have, as much as we have, like New Year parties or Novruz parties. I was actually a part of Novruz party that we put together for kids last year. I played the role of Kyosa. It was fun. There was zero preparation. I was just told: “You are going to be Kyosa.” I watched the cartoon and tried to figure out what I was suppose to do and got the costumes. Kids enjoyed it.
Do you give yourself more credit for achieving what you have in the foreign country?
I think I have done my part, but I do not think I can take all the credit for that. There are a lot of variables that went in my life. It started off with my parents giving me the right values. Azerbaijan shaped me. I came here when I was 24 years old, so my parents and my country already shaped my whole adulthood. From there on it was up to me to apply myself to certain things in my career and my life. I think I have done something, my parents did a lot, and certainly Azerbaijan gave me a lot. So it is not only my effort.
There are a lot of young people from Azerbaijan coming to US to study each year. What would be your advice for them?
The advice I could give… if you are coming to different country to study and your goal is to stay and work here, be adaptable to change. Do not resist it; do not try to bring your world into different one.
Do you think it is possible for someone who completed his or her education in Azerbaijan to work in Texas? Or is it important that you study here?
It is absolutely possible to work here with Azerbaijani education. Education is good, but you learn a lot on the job, so there is no reason why person from Azerbaijan, or anywhere really, could not do that. The challenge is that many employers here structured their human resources hiring around universities. Basically, and I will use us as an example, I get resumes from people from Azerbaijan, asking to help them get a job and it is hard for me to explain that people, who start working here, they have their jobs selected since their second year in university, because that’s when we start our recruiting process. Our pipeline is filled two-three years in advance.
So if someone who just came from Azerbaijan did not study here, can he work?
Is it easy for him to find a job?
No, it is a challenge.
What do you do when you are not working? It is interesting to hear about your hobbies. There is an event coming up called MS-150, I heard you are going to participate. How did you get into the biking hobby?
I used to be a very active guy; I still try to do as much as I can. I will be 37 in March, so it is difficult to do what I did when I was in my twenties. Sports have always been a major part of my life. One of the disciplines I liked was biking and I always enjoyed it because I was pretty fast on the bike. So it kind of shaped the way to do MS-150, which is a two-day race. But sport is not the only reason I do it. First, we raise a lot of money to help the community. Last year we raised around 18 million dollars, which goes to research and charity. The second is that the number of people who participate increases every year. I think last year it was around 15 thousand and you get to meet a lot of interesting people, they share their experiences and that really enriches you.
If you look back to yourself right before you moved to the US, what has changed about you the most?
I became more open-minded, acceptant of other cultures. Azerbaijan was the only thing I knew before I moved here, but now I see so many differences and it is not just Americans, it is all the cultures and everybody brings their own uniqueness. It is not necessarily good or bad. It is just different. I learned to accept other cultures, see what good they have that we can learn and adapt ourselves. That is the biggest change.
Do you set goals for yourself, or you are just trying to do your best and see where it takes you?
I believe it is very important to set goals. I do it every year and then I try my best to achieve those goals. I think it is a part of success.
What is next for you career-wise?
Well, for the moment I think I am going to enjoy what we have here and try to take PKF to the next level. We have a goal of becoming larger, and hopefully I can play my part in that. And then, years down the road, I plan to get involved in PKF International, do some international travel and cooperation between offices. See how that goes. That will probably be when my son grows up and goes to college, so it is not in the near future. But that is what I am thinking about. I hope to become a president at some point.
Interview by Murad Gafarov
Photos by Togrul Mamedbekov
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