Eulogy for Kakha Bendukidze
14 November, 2014
Kakha Bendukidze was a remarkable man with many remarkable qualities but of all of them, the one that was most obvious beside his impressive size, was how funny he was. And his humor said a great deal about him. He was a quick thinker, and smarter than almost all of the people he came across, and unusually insightful. But never cruel or cynical. He would make fun of people around him, frequently calling me a socialist because I found his
libertarianism so frustrating. His interviews were a pleasure to watch, and he was as funny in English or Russian as he was in Georgian.

He was an incredible analyst. Originally a biologist, he moved quickly and successfully into business when that became necessary and possible. The root of his success in business was his ability to look at the large complex structure of a company, to understand it and how it worked, how it should work and how to make that happen. He was what is called in America, a turnaround guy. He could make things happen in a company, without getting caught up in distractions. That ability to see the whole, and to understand each part and the role those parts played, that systems thinking, is a rare gift and one he deployed in all he did, in business, government and education.

Georgia is a county very preoccupied with its history, and he knew the details of Georgia's history better than anybody. But like so many people who know history well, he looked into the future farther than most. He worked quickly but had only long term goals. And like so many long term thinkers he had great timing. He was one of the very first successful businessmen in Russia to realize that the arrest of Khodorkovsky was just the start and it was time to cash out and leave. And his timing of leaving the National Movement government was good. Soon after the August 2008 war, he moved on and worked full time on his educational efforts. His time in government was not easy. Misha and his team wanted to end corruption, but they had never run a business or any other large entity. Bendukidze told them how to do it. He was not only the architect, he was the engineer and the general contractor of the process. He called in each part of Shevardnadze's rotten government and tried to figure out a way to get rid of it. He moved as many processes as he could off paper and online to better prevent or at least be able to identify state corruption. And it worked. The days of waiting for pieces of paper and official stamps that was such a frustrating part of the Shevardnadze era are gone thanks to him and his vision.

Less known or obvious but just as important was his kindness. He helped many people. Despite how hard he made those around him work, they all loved him and not just because he worked hardest of all. He micro-managed but listened and would change his mind if a good case was made. He yelled but respected. Most of all he cared so much. He believed so deeply in what he was doing. In the end that is worth more than anything, to be a part of a group that works hard and believes deeply in what it is doing. Other than that team, he was alone. The people he worked with were his family and they all treated each other like family.

He clearly believed in liberal economics and felt that the best government would be as small as possible and let business do more or less what it wanted. I don't agree with that vision but he had good reason to mistrust governments looking at their record in the places and times he'd lived. I wouldn't say he was pro-western. He was pro-market. He was practical and didn't care for those abstractions. He loved Russia was not at all anti-Russian. In fact he spent considerable funds bringing Russian students from the very top universities to come to Georgia and look around, chat, eat drink and talk about business, government, and reform. Those trips were probably the single most important sponsored exchange between Russia and Georgia over the last ten years.

Despite the many millions he has put of his own money into Georgia's higher education, he was investigated for corruption related to the Agriculture University. It was clearly politically motivated and he won the case. But I suspect there are those in the current administration that would like to get their hands on the educational infrastructure he has built. It will be a sad commentary on them if they find some trick to take it from his successors. He looked into Georgia's past and into Georgia's future and saw more clearly than anybody. And his vision of the future of Georgia was optimistic. One in which the government would leave people alone so that they could innovate, work and become prosperous. So let's all make that happen. But it won't be as fun without him.