Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA)
Posted on October 16, 2004
By Ethan Zindler, staff writer
WEST BARNSTABLE - It was billed as a chance for business leaders from a developing nation to glean the secrets of success from a successful entrepreneur.
But for Roza Shakhnazarovna Sabirova, director of Asia Textiles Ltd. in Uzbekistan, it was a chance to drum up business.
Sabirova and three other female Uzbek business leaders met with Doreen Bilezekian, co-founder of the Christmas Tree Shops at Cape Cod Community College Wednesday. Bilezekian and her husband sold their business to retail chain Bed Bath & Beyond for $200 million last year.
Bilezekian delivered a few opening remarks about the challenges of launching a new business, then opened the floor to questions.
Via an interpreter, Sabirova said that during the delegation's visit to a Wal-Mart the day before she had noticed the store was selling $8 cotton T-shirts. She could produce them for $1 apiece, she said, adding she'd be happy to supply the Christmas Tree Shops.
"You can accept this as an offer," said Sabirova.
"Send me a sample," Bilezekian replied without missing a beat.
The Christmas Tree Shops began by selling "closeouts," or unsold inventory acquired from other retailers, at bargain basement prices. The company now also features a large number of items that it buys directly from distributors in East Asia.
Later, in an interview, Bilezekian said she and her husband, an Armenian-American, had held discussions with central Asian producers in the past but never signed any agreements with companies from that part of the world.
For her part, Sabirova said after the meeting the quality of her products is unrivaled. And, she added, her firm is actually a joint venture with Chinese investors.
Wednesday's visit was part of a 10-day tour of the Cape and Boston by the Uzbeks. On Tuesday, the group met with Sen. Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, and with Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, a Republican. They also held discussions with Wampanoag representatives and attended a clambake.
Their visit was underwritten by the Open World Leadership Center, a tiny federal government department originally created by Congress to foster greater understanding between the U.S. and Russia.
Last year, the center expanded its focus to include three former republics of the Soviet Union - Uzbekistan, the Ukraine, and Lithuania - said Open World program manager Britta Bjornlund.
This year, the program will bring 1,850 business and political leaders to the United States. Its annual budget is $13 million.
CCCC President Kathleen Schatzberg said she first learned of the possibility of hosting a contingent from Uzbekistan from the American Association of Community Colleges.
"We held up our hands and said we're interested because it also indicated there was grant money to pay for the expenses," she said.
Schatzberg hosted an Uzbek exchange student in her home when she was an official at a community college in Minnesota during the 1990s and traveled to Uzbekistan to lead training sessions for future exchange students. And, she speaks some Russian.
Open World thought of the Cape partly because of Schatzberg's connection.
"We thought that Cape Cod was a good fit for this group because it just seemed like a nice sized community," she said. "A lot of the reason we pick different communities is the enthusiasm of the communities themselves."
[Reprinted with Permission]