Zarakh Iliev

Don’t be lazy and never look back. If you look forward with confidence, everything will work out.


Zarakh Iliev, featured on the Forbes list of the 200 Richest Businessmen in Russia, is a successful investor with a fortune estimated at $3.5 billion as of 2019. The magazine has been calling him and his business partner God Nisanov the Kings of Russian Real Estate since 2012. He is also chairman of the board of directors of JSC Ploshchad Evropy and co-founder of the Kievskaya Ploshchad Group of companies.

Iliev and Nisanov’s projects have changed the face of Moscow and improved city residents’ quality of life. These projects include the Evropeyskiy shopping and entertainment center; the Radisson Collection Hotel (formerly Hotel Ukraina); Food City, Russia’s only agricultural cluster; Depo, Europe’s largest gastronomic quarter; Moskvarium Oceanography and Marine Biology Center; Radisson Royal Flotilla, and many others. They are also reconstructing the Olimpiysky sports complex, building a hotel near Zaryadye Park, and building the Schelkovsky multifunctional complex, which will become part of the Schelkovsky transportation hub.

Where did the idea for Kievskaya Ploshchad Group come from?

I understood as a child that if you want something in life, you have to get it yourself, and I was never afraid to work. I grew up in a large family with five brothers and two sisters. My mother ran the house and my father was a shoemaker. He taught me a lot and I’m grateful to him for that. My brothers and I also learned how to make shoes, but, getting older, I realized that I wanted to—and could—start my own business.

My first entrepreneurial experience was gained by sewing and selling hats in the neighboring city of Quba (I was born in Krasnaya Sloboda, Azerbaijan). I was just 10 or 11 years old—very young, but I was good at it. I look back at those times fondly now, but it toughened me at the time. I learned to believe in my own strengths and not fear change. I moved to Moscow as soon as I could, and, together with my colleague God Nisanov, I got into retail. At the turn of the 21st century, Elektronny Ray opened on Prazhskaya, followed by the Moskva trade fair, the Panorama shopping center, and many others. We did everything possible to ensure that they fit harmoniously into the urban space, had a recognizable design, and were more than just utilitarian centers. Today, many of the venues we have opened are full of creative life, being places where master classes and other events are held. Honestly, I’m proud of each and every project.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Differently, depending on the given stage of any project I’m working on. If it is only at the initial stage, there are just drawings and a lot of ideas. I look for modern solutions. Moreover, technologies are changing rapidly: what was the new thing yesterday is now hopelessly outdated.

I achieve productivity by working. I don’t sit at home. I go to construction sites on weekends as well. Five or six hours of sleep is enough for me.

How do you bring ideas to life?

My business partner God Nisanov and I create all our projects together. We have been friends for a long time, having grown up in the same village. Our friendship is time-tested. We have similar values: family, parents, and duty. We always go to the site together, and if we feel like we can create something special there, one of a kind, we take it on.

What’s one trend that excites you?

We are always looking for something new: for the city, for our tenants, and for buyers. There is a lot of competition now. It’s not enough just to put up a wall and open boutiques. Projects that turn out in the spirit of urban trends are what stick out. For example, shopping centers are one of the most popular places for families to spend time together. In the Evropeyskiy shopping and entertainment center, you can go to the movies and play videogames. There are also cozy restaurants with quite reasonable prices.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am never late and don’t tolerate those who do not value other people’s time. I am always ready to answer any questions. I get pleasure from work. Business meetings are more productive when you are full of strength and energy. If your work does not bring inner satisfaction, you should find another job.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be lazy and never look back. If you look forward with confidence, everything will work out.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I’m skeptical about the new passion for business training, where they claim to teach you how to become successful in a couple of classes. I think it’s impossible to learn business in theory. Until you have your own experience behind you, until you have created something real, all such advice for me personally is hot air.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

To create, to search in a familiar area for something unexpected, an innovative idea. The most important thing is not to be afraid to create and experiment.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

It’s important not to get hung up on just one thing. The Kievskaya Ploshchad Group of companies is implementing several projects simultaneously. Not just hotels, but also the construction of the large Shchelkovsky and Nagatinskaya transport hubs, plus we are constantly developing our fleet of ships. There is even a term for this—“risk diversification”—when investments are distributed across different financial instruments. These are the ABCs of business. In addition, each project is more complex and larger than the one before it, such as the Olimpiysky sports complex or the construction of the hotel on Varvarka Street. For me as a businessman, this makes it a unique challenge. Therefore, when carrying out new projects, I am determined to give it my best and put everything I can into it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

If I have made such mistakes, they are in the past and have already become experience.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

The current economic situation dictates investing in projects that will give the fastest return. However, the project should be something you are interested in and, at the very least, useful to society. Otherwise, why all the effort? It’s also important to come up an original design for the project. I came up with the corporate logo for Evropeyskiy, which rotated in the form of a globe at one of the entrances to the shopping center. Now it has been replaced by a fountain, which has become a landmark and a meeting place for visitors to the mall.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought gifts for my beloved grandchildren. I believe that the most important investment is in our children and grandchildren.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I respect and even admire the current caliber of technological development, and I realize how useful it can be. But I believe that no gadget can replace the most important tool for any businessperson: their mind.

What is your favorite quote?

One of the greats said “patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you.” I agree completely.

Key Learnings:

• Be independent in your decisions.
• Avoid formulas.
• Be open to what is new.
• Develop artistic taste.
• Don’t be afraid to experiment.