In May of 2012, Adham Yusupov had a map of his future. He’d just graduated from George Mason University, and in April he’d taken the LSAT and scored a 162. The next step was a given—he would apply to law school and begin his career on the business side of law. But just then, two events intervened.
The first was a few chance encounters at a Kentucky Derby party on a rooftop in New York City. His brother, whom Adham describes as a “social butterfly,” had invited Adham to meet some friends in the music industry and enjoy a day out. But at the party, Adham encountered not one, but several lawyers all of whom were unhappy in their profession. “They were saying things like, ‘If I could, I’d throw myself off this rooftop,’” stresses Adham. “It was highly demotivational!”
The second was the illness of his father—the family breadwinner. Adham’s father had long been a successful businessman, working for years with the World Bank and then for a prominent think tank. But that year, he suffered a stroke. Adham and his younger brother worried over the future of their younger sister, as well as the wellbeing of their mother, who had been a stay-at-home mom up until this point.
In 2012, the economy was still reeling from the financial crisis, and jobs—particularly well-paying jobs—were in short supply. Suddenly, Adham knew what he had to do. Pulling in his brother to help, he launched a business, Ecology Mir Group (EMG), and from its humble beginnings in his parents’ basement, it has quickly grown into a multi-million-dollar company with an impressive array of services.
Initially, EMG was founded as an IT subcontractor, working with a partner to provide IT products and services to the federal government. But over the seven years of its existence, Adham has kept a close eye out for opportunities for expansion and diversification. The first big one came in 2014.
“I started to realize that leadership isn’t about “me.” You have to focus on what everyone else is doing. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. And I believe those lessons transferred over to the business world.”
It was EMG’s first experience with logistics, and Adham quickly saw the opportunity for expansion. “From there, we just started blowing up,” explains Adham. “We continued our partnership on the IT side, but we started focusing heavily on logistics, on getting things from Point A to Point B for the government. It was through the Department of Defense, but also through the Navy, the Army, the FBI, the State Department, you name it, we worked with them all nonstop. We’ve acquired 760 prime contracts since then.”
Their “secret sauce,” as Adham puts it, is their efficiency. They have the systems in place and the infrastructure to offer a tight turnaround, accepting seemingly impossible requests from the government late on a Friday evening and having projects completed by Sunday or even Saturday. “The agencies know who we are, because we’re the ones who can get it done,” affirms Adham. “If they call another company, they won’t even hear back until Monday. Not many businesses can do what we do, especially the big ones where there’s a lot of bureaucracy.”
The next big expansion came in 2016, when Adham’s brother approached him with a proposal—getting into the ammunition industry. Not only did they push into manufacturing ammunition and supplying it to the federal government but they expanded into the commercial side under the EMG Ammo label, selling to gun ranges. “One thing led to another, and some of the agencies we’re working with realized, ‘Hey, you guys are providing the logistics side, you’re providing ammunition, can you move bigger things,’” explains Adham. “’Can you transport these missiles? Can you provide these explosives, or certain other items that regular carriers cannot?’ And we could. So we signed contracts, we got our licenses to handle grenades and explosives. It was a pivotal moment in the history of our company.”
Today, EMG has 12 employees, and will break $10 million in revenue this year. Their year over year growth has been astonishing, and Adham is looking to bring on more staff as their capabilities continue to expand. “We help the government procure mission critical solutions,” says Adham of the business today. “That ranges from logistics to armament, even to construction. The government relies on us heavily to be able to procure these things on a quick turnaround. We’re moving equipment, we’re moving missiles, we’re moving ammunition, we’re moving people, we’re moving soldiers, and we even provide training as well. We continue to pass off to our partner the IT work that we were doing when the company was created.”
Ever keen to improve and sharpen the company’s edge, Adham has recently turned his attention to EMG’s sales department. From the time the business launched in 2012, this department was the purview of his younger brother. However, about a year and a half ago, his brother chose to bow out, feeling exhausted by the 24/7 schedule of running EMG. Adham took this opportunity to begin restructuring the department. “I’m never the type that sits around and gets comfortable, I’m always looking for optimization,” reflects Adham. “Everything my brother had built in the sales department was critical. Some of the things he had built were great and some, I learned, needed improvement. But these were all lessons. I had let him take the reins there and run with it. When he left and I looked more closely at the processes in that department, I realized there were things we could do better. Therefore, I brought the right people into the department to really start growing that part of our business. We had a great foundation that he helped us build, but now we’re using that to launch into something even better.”
Adham and his siblings come by their ambition honestly. Their father was the second most successful businessman in Uzbekistan before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. That year, as it collapsed, Adham’s father chose to move Adham and his mother to Chicago, Illinois, where Adham’s brother was born. Soon after that, when Adham was about 5 years old, the family moved to a big ten acre property outside the DC area, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The area was beautiful, but there wasn’t much to do out there. There were no neighborhood kids to play with or shopping malls to get lost in. Instead, Adham and his younger brother, and later his younger sister, spent their days playing outside by the Shenandoah River, or swimming in the Olympic-sized pool that was part of our home. “My first friends were probably the deer in our backyard,” jokes Adham. In the summers, the whole family would return to Uzbekistan, where the kids loved to spend time with their cousins, aunts, and uncles. Adham’s parents also spent a significant amount of time travelling the world, and Adham and his cousins spent time in Europe, Canada, the Caribbean, and Hawaii.
“…my dad made it very clear to me that I needed to focus on my education and finish my degree where I would have a lot more potential.”
Adham’s father became the Regional Director for Central Asia and Azerbaijan at the World Bank. The position meant non-stop travel so Adham’s grandparents moved here from Uzbekistan to help watch over the children. They took them to school and attended basketball games with Adham’s mother. In fifth grade, Adham had his first taste, literally, of entrepreneurship when he convinced his grandparents to buy him bulk packages of FunDip from Costco. Adham then sold the FunDip for a dollar a pop on the playground. He paid his grandparents back and made his first $100 in profit.
Academically, he thrived, earning straight A’s during his time in elementary school, and then at Randolph Macon Academy (RMA)—the Junior ROTC Air Force Academy in the area. Adham’s older cousins from Uzbekistan were already attending the school; some lived on campus, and some, much to Adham’s delight, came and stayed with the family. From 6th grade to 9th grade he continued at RMA, and developed his passion for sports, particularly basketball.
After earning a black belt in karate as a young boy, basketball became something of an obsession for Adham. Rain, snow, or shine, he was out in the driveway shooting hoops much to the chagrin of his always-worried grandmother. By eighth grade he had helped RMA earn a conference championships and was attracting the attention of recruiters at local private high schools. In ninth grade, he met with a representative of Wakefield High School to check it out and liked what he saw. As Wakefield was known for its strong academics, his parents approved, and the Yusupov kids began attending the prestigious private school the following fall.
By this time, Adham was such a strong player that he was named Captain of the Varsity Basketball team as a mere sophomore, inviting a fair amount of anger from the older students who felt entitled to the role. However, Adham took to the captain title quickly, learning lessons about leadership along the way. “That’s when I really began to develop as a leader. Prior to that I was more egotistical,” admits Adham. “It was ‘Hey, I’m this, I’m that, I’m the best.’ And I started to realize that leadership isn’t about “me.” You have to focus on what everyone else is doing. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. And I believe those lessons transferred over to the business world.”
One summer, Adham had the privilege of playing with the National Basketball team of Uzbekistan. His father had previously worked with the Olympic Committee there and was able to get his son in for practices during the summer. “Some of these guys went on to play in the NBA,” marvels Adham. “You have to remember that I was the youngest and the shortest and they’re looking at me like, ‘Why is this kid even on the court?’ But when I came back from training that summer my coaches could see that my skills were greatly enhanced. When I came back I was faster, I could jump higher, and I could even dunk at that point. Everyone wondered how I could improve so much just by playing in the backyard until they realized I had spent the summer with the Uzbekistan Olympic team. I think my coaches wanted to send the other kids overseas, too!”
The schedule at Wakefield was punishing. The school was an hour from home, which meant Adham was up every morning by 6:00 AM, and never home at night until 8:00 PM at the earliest. Between school, studying, basketball, and commuting, Adham barely had a minute to himself and often fell asleep at his desk doing homework late at night. As a sophomore, he was taking AP Calculus, and while he loved his math and science courses, his grades were no longer the straight A’s he’d enjoyed back in middle school.
As a high school student, Adham focused on math and science because he was interested in becoming a doctor. His grandfather had been a cardiologist, his grandmother a dentist, his aunt a radiologist, to name just a few. He had observed surgeries at hospitals in Uzbekistan as a teenager so Adham felt medicine was in his blood. This idea persisted right up until he was picking classes at the registrar’s office at the start of his freshman year at George Mason University (GMU). He looked at his schedule, heavy with biology and chemistry courses, and said to himself, “This isn’t what I want to do.”
His mother was surprised since being a doctor had been his goal for some time. But Adham pivoted, ultimately majoring in Sociology with a global concentration and minoring in Business.
“In our culture, it doesn’t matter if you’re affluent or if you grew up with a silver spoon or not,” explains Adham. “At the end of the day you have a lot of responsibility to your family, to your parents.”
Adham tried out for the GMU basketball team and was eventually asked to be part of the practice squad. He was also invited to try out for the NBDL, a minor basketball league. He enjoyed the GMU and NBDL but his father had a father-son talk with him. “He said, ‘I appreciate what you do, and I know you’re good at basketball,’” recalls Adham, “’but are you really going to be great at basketball at the level you’re dreaming about, making it to the NBA, where you can sustain yourself and make a living off of it?’ So my dad made it very clear to me that I needed to focus on my education and finish my degree where I would have a lot more potential.”
Hoping to encourage his business ambitions, Adham’s father began involving him in meetings, allowing him to review documents and contracts, and successfully piqued Adham’s interest. He still loved basketball, but he was ready to focus fully on his future.
During his time at George Mason, Adham had another crucial encounter: he met the love of his life. The two met in a 300-level Criminology course, where Adham nervously tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she was from Uzbekistan. In fact, she was half-Japanese and half-Persian, but the question launched a conversation, that became a friendship, that became a romance. Adham admires not only his wife’s beauty and intelligence—she has since gotten her PhD—but her love of family. “In our culture, it doesn’t matter if you’re affluent or if you grew up with a silver spoon or not,” explains Adham. “At the end of the day you have a lot of responsibility to your family, to your parents. In our culture, as parents get older, they stay with their children. My father stays with me now, and my wife had the same mentality as me about family, that’s what really connected us.”
It helps, too, that Adham’s wife completely supports the work he does with EMG. “She’s so supportive, so understanding,” he nods. “We went on a vacation to Cabo recently, and it was the first time I’d taken a week off in three years. I was still working 80% of the time. I was on phone calls addressing very critical things. And guess what? She was super understanding; she never gave me a hard time about it. She understood, this is what has to be done. She’s truly seen me rise from nothing to something.”
Adham’s wife also gets along swimmingly with his mother, who has been on her own journey of growth over the past few years. As mentioned, she had been a stay-at-home mom up until Adham’s father’s stroke. But a couple of years after he fell ill, she decided to try her hand at the professional world, accepting a job as a sous chef. In only four years, she’s had a meteoric professional rise, becoming the Executive Chef at well-known restaurant Chef Geoff. She recently accepted a new Executive Chef position with an even larger restaurant company headquartered in Tampa. “She was always passionate about food,” smiles Adham. “Right away, when the executives saw her potential, she was climbing that ladder until she got to the top position. In the past few years, we’ve seen this new side of her. I really admire how she’s been able to excel.”
Adham asserts that not only his parents, but also his siblings, share his drive and work ethic. “We’re very confident in what we do,” Adham notes. “Perhaps bouncing around to different schools and moving a lot as a kid helped us become who we are and developed our drive. It built confidence that no matter where we went, we’re going to make it happen, we’re going to make it big. I know there are people who are happy to put in their 9-to-5, go home and relax, and enjoy a drink. We’re not those people!”
As a leader, Adham says he started to develop his leadership skills when he was the team captain of his basketball team. His coach emphasized that the team was only as good as its weakest link and it was his duty to help his teammates.
Adham says his style is still developing, but stresses the importance of patience, especially in the context of a new business. “You want things to happen right away,” he says. “But that’s not how it works. Be patient with your first contract, be patient with your team, be patient with everything. That’s something I admire about my dad, his patience and his diplomacy.”
Most of all, he advises courage. “Go for what you want,” Adham encourages. “Don’t let anyone else tell you what you can or can’t do. A lot of people gave me recommendations, some were right, some were wrong. In my gut, I always had a feeling of the direction I needed to go. I believe in growing, diversifying, and always improving. What drives me to do what I do? I’m always looking for the next thing.”