An interview with E-Mart Hypermarket Chairman of the Board, Skytel Group Chairman, First Vice President of the Mongolian National Olympic Committee, Chef de Mission (Team Captain) for Tokyo 2020 B. Battushig. He’s a member of the International Olympic Committee Marketing Commission and Badminton World Federation Council.
You’re recognized as a Harvard Business School alumni and as chairman of a large business group but you’re also recognized as an individual that loves sports. How did sports shape who you are today?
I grew up playing basketball. I used to watch NBA games with my grandmother back in the early 1990’s. At that time, our society wasn’t as exposed to western culture but everyone recognized Michael Jordan’s name. Michael Jordan is an athlete that not only played a major role in my love for basketball but probably for the world basketball community. In 1993, I started collecting basketball cards and dreamt about playing for the NBA. There’s no limit in sports. Sports has many advantages as it teaches you how to win, lose and respect others through sportsmanship and humility. Even if you lose, you still shake hands with the opposing team players and congratulate them on their win and I think that’s where the wonders of sports exist. My family greatly influenced my love for sports. My father was the president of the Mongolian Wrestling Federation for almost 10 years as well as the Asian Games chef de mission for Doha 2006.
I used to play basketball with my friends when I lived with my grandparents in Ulaanbaatar. One of my close friends that I grew up playing basketball within my neighborhood is Sumo Great Champion Yokozuna Hakuho M.Davaajargal. He used to live in the building next to mine. We would play basketball every day. There were even times where the older kids would play on the basketball court and we would wrestle while we waited for them to finish playing (laughs). I left for the United States when I was eleven years old. As I didn’t speak English that well then, playing sports was a way for me to make friends. In high school, I was the basketball team captain in grade 11 and grade 12. I was also selected as one of Seattle’s top ten high school players in my school division. I think becoming the team captain helped my ability to work with others and my organization skills. I still play basketball two to three times a week now.
Was your decision to attend the University of Chicago affected by your love for basketball and Michael Jordan?
Yes, Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls definitely had an impact. However, it was more for academic reasons that I chose the University of Chicago. Ninety-eight affiliated people from the University of Chicago have received the Nobel Prize. My decision was based on the fact that it’s one of the best schools in economics. Milton Friedman, called “one of the most influential economists of the second half of the 20th century” played a major role in the Chicago School of Economics. He brought out some of the theories and models on the advantages of the current free market we live in, Laissez-faire economic theory and free trade policy.
Laissez faire economic system, in brief, is where transactions between private parties are free from any form of government intervention leading to a more efficient economy and growth. On top of this, Milton Friedman received the Nobel Prize from his many successful theories such as on monetary policy. When I was a student at the University of Chicago, my professors spoke greatly of Milton Friedman and were very proud of him.
Afterwards, former US president Barack Obama brought great recognition to our university as he was previously a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. I heard they’re building the Presidential library for President Obama nearby the school. I’m very proud to have graduated the University of Chicago and it also paved the way for me to study at Harvard Business School. Lots of young students ask about how to get accepted to world-renowned universities. Therefore to help in small ways these young students, I’m currently writing a book about this. In my first semester as a freshman in college, I also used to play at my university basketball team but at the time I thought, “It’s not like I’m going to play for the NBA” therefore I thought it was better to focus on school full time. I graduated with my bachelors with an economics degree.
You were elected as the first vice president of the Mongolian National Olympic Committee two years ago. In your opinion, what is the most important task you must do?
Upon working for the Mongolian National Olympic Committee, I understood the significance of Olympism as a philosophy aiming towards a positive direction for society. At the beginning of this year, I attended the Marketing Commission meeting for the International Olympic Committee. During the commission meeting, the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach spoke about how the values of Olympism contribute to people’s life philosophy, the right principle, the right mindset, unity and mutual respect. Thomas Bach also pointed out in today’s world, we need to make decisions based on the right principle and unity and compromise. He mentioned that some people explain that the reason many places can’t resolve their issues is that human interaction has decreased, only self-interest is imposed and extreme views are placed.
At the end of the 19th century, society was also unstable and unable to resolve matters. It was at this time that Pierre de Coubertin started the Modern Olympic Games and Olympic movement and Olympism to peacefully resolve issues. The significance of the Olympic movement lay in where it was only during the Olympic games where athletes, coaches and supporters from all over the world would all gather in one city and were provided the opportunity to be together in peace. It seems in many societies today we could also learn from this history.
You’re the Mongolian Badminton Federation president. How are you planning on developing badminton, rugby and baseball?
I first participated by sponsoring an international badminton competition in 2015 in Mongolia, which piqued my interest in the sport and my will to develop it. Badminton is a signature sport in Asia but not in Mongolia. I’m working towards organizing international competitions in Mongolia to strengthen our federation and nation’s name and participation. I believe other sports federations are also working towards this goal. Currently, Mongolians are participating in eight to nine Olympic sports competitions. Soon, Mongolians may have an opportunity to qualify and participate in cycling and badminton in the future Olympic Games.
Mongolia is now working very strongly to participate in 3x3 basketball for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It was almost just yesterday where we all thought it would be impossible for Mongolians to participate in Olympic basketball games. This is a big accomplishment. Under this framework, our NOC has started communications with FIBA (basketball) on how Mongolia could have a chance to participate as the Mongolian national team is ranked 2nd in Asia and very high in the global rankings in the top 5 as men and women’s team points combined.
I just recently came back from the FIBA finals in Beijing and had a nice occasion to see my friend and FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis. Therefore, it’s very important for Mongolian Basketball to work well with FIBA and attend as many competitions as possible before the Olympic Games. I also support developing winter sports in Mongolia. Our country has four seasons yet only having two to three athletes participate in the winter games is not enough. Overall, there is an opportunity to add more Olympic sports events and the number of overall athlete participation from Mongolia.
As the head of mission for Tokyo 2020, do you focus primarily on international cooperation?
Sports and our Mongolian athletes have put Mongolia on the world stage with their success and promoting our country in various international competitions and games. Upon graduating school and returning to Mongolia, I set myself to not only contribute to Mongolia’s private sector but also social and sports sector which is why I decided to run for the National Olympic Committee’s election and was elected as the first vice president by my fellow national Olympic committee members, which is a non-executive elected position. I value their trust in me very much.
I’m also the chef de mission for Tokyo 2020. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has 26 commissions and I was selected as a member of the IOC Marketing Commission which I am very honored by. If a person is connected to sports in any way then that person is always fully committed and willing to give it all. Because I love sports I’m very active in my elected sports activities. I’m not involved in the independent operations of the individual sports federations but I try to help and support them. I’m also thinking about organizing a campaign to support our national team athletes for the upcoming Olympic Games.
Olympics Games are a celebration of humankind. During this time, is it possible to promote our country through sports?
Angela Ruggiero, a good friend that I studied together with at Harvard Business School was the chair of Athletes’ Commission for the International Olympic Committee for eight years as well as IOC Executive Board Member. She is a famous hockey player from the United States who has helped me connect professionally with many sports professionals in the field. Angela invited us to the USA Houseduring the Pyeongchang Winter Games where she introduced us to the American athletes and sports officials. The USA house held a big event where President of IOC, Thomas Bach attended as well.
We also visited the Japan House set up at the Pyeongchang Winter Games. Setting up a country house is not only a name card of your nation where you introduce the athletes and host many guests, but it’s also a big promotion of your country to the world. Therefore, in 2018, I met with the Ambassador of Mongolia to Japan Mr. Batjargal and the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee regarding building a Mongolia House during the Tokyo Games. Our Ambassador supported this idea and looked into many locations. We are currently finalizing on the location next to Tokyo Tower.
Once we have the agreement finalized, we will work to build a Mongol house (ger) and promote our country. Yokozuna Hakuho also supports this idea and Mongolian sumo wrestlers will come to the Mongol House to promote Mongolia. If we build a Mongolia house in Tokyo, it would be I believe almost as effective as the big international media groups, as it would attract their interest.
Sh. Magvan who is respected as “Grandfather of the Olympics” is proud to have been friends with Juan Antonio Samaranch. How close are you with International Olympic Committee members?
I have met and have a good working relationship with Juan Antonio Samaranch JR and his son. I try to actively represent Mongolia at international sports conferences and events. Upon entering the Badminton World Federation, I’ve met with many people as badminton is a strong community within the sports world. Being an Olympic sports council member, it allows you many opportunities to introduce and promote Mongolia during conferences and seminars. Through this network, I began correspondence with World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president and former Badminton World Federation President Sir Craig Reedie. We recently discussed his experiences as WADA President when we were at the Badminton World Championships in Basel, and it was a great privilege to learn from him given the increased attention on doping in sports recently.
In 2017, after becoming head of mission for Tokyo 2020, I went to Japan and met with the Tokyo Organizing Committee Olympic Games President Yoshiro Mori. The former prime minister of Japan highly respects Mongolian sumo wrestlers and loves rugby, which I told him is a sport that my younger brother used to play. I’m hoping to gain experience from sports professionals to learn and implement in Mongolia.
How are you getting your nation’s voice heard across the International Olympic Committee?
The Marketing Commission has many influential members. During the meeting, I thought I should voice in and said to the members that I’m a representative of Mongolia. One of our biggest issues today is air pollution. Passenger vehicles are one of the major contributors of air pollution. Toyota is a TOP (The Olympic Partner) for the Olympic Games. I asked if there were any environmentally friendly initiatives for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games since Toyota is well known as a producer of less polluting, hybrid cars. The committee got the response that during the Tokyo Games, Toyota’s environmentallyfriendly cars will be used for transportation, which was really great to hear.
The IOC also has a program for children that uses sports as a tool to educate them. I discussed with Mr. Yo. Baatarbileg, Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Sports of Mongolia about implementing OVEP (Olympic Values and Education Program) in Mongolia. During the Olympic Games opening ceremony, I’m thinking of proposing to have a female athlete hold the Mongolian flag. A female athlete has never walked holding the Mongolian flag during the opening ceremony of the summer Olympic games from what I understand.
There are many Mongolian female athletes recognized for their accomplishments in judo, freestyle wrestling, boxing and shooting. However, this is a matter that should get input from others and decided officially by NOC.
It must be difficult completing all these jobs at once?
In one way, it’s multi-tasking but in another way, you can say it’s to focus on a similar job function for each different job. Working at E-Mart, Skytel and Mongolian National Olympic Committee requires me to work with many different people and completing multiple tasks at once but wherever I go I try to hold a few core job descriptions. I pay attention to foreign relations, strategy and raising finance.
To this day, I’m still in close contact with the people I met in Chicago, Harvard Business School and from when I worked at Morgan Stanley. We exchange ideas and consult one another. I’m also very happy to have been elected first vice president of the Mongolian National Olympic Committee. It’s a non-staff position that allows me to work together with many sports professionals and attend conferences together to develop sports and Olympism while giving me the opportunity to do my other private sector jobs.
Between 2016-2018, I also had the opportunity to work as an external member (non-staff) of the Monetary Policy Committee at Mongol Bank (Central Bank of Mongolia). Instead of working at the same office every day I prefer to work on and research different things and do work under the social responsibility framework. For example, I founded a non-profit organization called Mongolia Needs You where we run a mentorship program for 25-30 students every year. 10 students from the program are granted scholarships each year. Over the past four years, we have had 108 students in our program and granted scholarships to 30 students. E-mart and Skytel are also both very socially accountable companies and actively give back as part of their social responsibility framework.
Thank you. This is my last question before we end this interview. Under your sports and social responsibility framework, what ideas do you think can be implemented in Mongolia and what ideas or advice do you have for future projects?
Sport is a big structural part of society. In the future, as Mongolia hosts more sports events and games that we become more experienced and have the infrastructure to host larger sports events together with the different government and non-government institutions. The event I had in mind recently is the Youth Olympic Games. This is because I was able to attend the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina in 2018 and now the next one will be in Dakar, Senegal in 2022 that I believe developing countries like Mongolia could possibly be a host nation. This specific event provides international support, especially for bringing athletes from all over the world and maybe even support for sports infrastructure. During this event, for instance, we can build an athlete’s village on the outskirts of the city.
Afterwards, I see an opportunity where the athletes' village can be turned to an affordable housing project where local residents can purchase them through low-interest mortgage loans. It will contribute to reducing air pollution which currently is a big issue in our society from also burning coal in the houses. I believe it requires everyone’s involvement including the sports sector, private sector and public sector. Lausanne 2020 Youth Winter Olympic Games preparations are well on their way and comping up soon, I hope that many people from our country can attend and gain experience and participate in this event so that one day we can proudly say we hosted one.