From Exchange Student to CEO
A quick glance at Keti Bochorishvili’s resume shows many impressive entries, including her latest title: CEO. But when she thinks about her path to success, Keti says it all started when she was 16.
That was the year she applied for the Future Leaders Exchange Program, a then relatively new opportunity in her home country of Georgia, which allowed secondary school students to spend an academic year in the United States.
The program boasts an acceptance rate that rivals Harvard University. Even though she knew her parents would be supportive, Keti didn’t tell them she had applied until she made the final round of testing.
“I was quite independent already when I was young,” Keti said in a recent phone interview. “And I guess I didn’t want to bring big expectations.”
Perhaps her parents knew even then that their daughter would grow up to have international influence. Her host mother in Louisville, Kentucky knew right away.
"We always said, she’s going to be somebody,” said Carolyn Cunningham-Ziady. “And she was."
Mrs. Cunningham-Ziady said her first memory of Keti was hugging the bright-eyed teen and enjoying their first meal together as a host family – after explaining all the different menu items.
I remember I opened the menu and I had no idea the names of the food,” Keti said with a laugh.
Beyond introducing her to her favorite American foods –like bagels with lox – Keti said FLEX armed her with critical thinking and analytical skills, which have shaped her life.
“She was very forward thinking,” Mrs. Cunningham-Ziady said. “She sought out things that she knew she needed to broaden her perspective of the world.”
Keti dedicated herself to her studies, volunteering, and extra-curricular programs, like debate.
“That was one of the reasons I learned to question things and challenge things,” she said. “That has really helped me in the future.”
When she returned to Georgia after her exchange year, she handed her high school a list of improvements she wanted to see.
I realized that my country had everything, but we needed to improve it.
“Since then, I’ve always strived for change and to make things better in Georgia,” she said.
She started out as an active member of the FLEX alumni association, organizing clean-up days and clothing drives. Through her work with the alumni association and with American Councils, she got interested in educational reform, which led to working with government officials in the Ministry of Education. Years later, she was appointed Vice Minister of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.
“Discipline is always something that makes you outstanding from other people,” she said of her accomplishments. “I’m never satisfied. I always try to improve, to learn more, and to go beyond the job responsibilities.”
Keti’s advice for young alumni, and especially young women, is based on wisdom her host father shared with her. He wrote his advice in her diary, just before her return to Georgia.
“I remember one vividly,” Keti said. “Take care of strangers, because also you were a stranger to the United States the first time you arrived.”
“That has been always part of my lifestyle,” she added.
Today, her latest project is taking care of the people of Anaklia, where her company is working to create the country's first deep city port. The project, which is the biggest infrastructure undertaking in Georgia’s history, will set up the country as a transit hub in the region. The project and her role as head of Anaklia City was the cover story in the the August edition of Forbes Georgia last year.
In Louisville, Mrs. Cunningham-Ziady said Keti’s impact is still felt, from the Georgian swords and linens still proudly on display, to her daughters’ fond memories of a traditional cheese dish Keti introduced. In Georgia, Keti said she thinks often of her time in Louisville.
“If anything impacted my life and changed [me], I think it was the FLEX program and the experience I had there,” she said.
About the Future Leaders Exchange Program
The Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) is a competitive, merit-based scholarship program funded by the U.S. Department of State. FLEX students who pass multiple rounds of testing earn a scholarship to spend an academic year in the United States living with a volunteer host family and attending a U.S. high school.
FLEX students gain leadership skills, learn about American society and values, and teach Americans about FLEX countries and cultures. FLEX is a highly competitive program with over 25,000 alumni who have contributed over one million hours of community service in cities and towns across America. The students return home to active alumni networks that carry out inspiring activities. Learn more at discoverflex.org.