The key ingredients of Ukrainian businesses’ invincibility
How companies in the embattled nation have learned to adapt and thrive
Kyiv. Early February 2022. Heavy congestion on the roads, dozens of business events, theatrical, musical premieres per day, huge lines in cafes and restaurants. Somewhere in the background, from American news, listening to the threat of the war, Ukrainian businesses believed neither in the reality of rocket attack nor in a minimum level of invasion. The city, even the whole of Ukraine, lived a full life.
Feb. 24, 2022. That day, almost nobody arrived at the office, and if they came – to pick up and deliver laptops and office equipment to employees. From 5 a.m., the bank system was paralyzed, with queues of hundreds of people in supermarkets and hundreds of cars in gas stations. That day, Ukrainian businesses felt not the threat of the war but the real war and faced the reality of the rocket attack. Somewhere in the background, from the news, Russian plans to overcome Ukraine in three days were being heard. That day, it seemed that life stopped, and neither business nor war did not exist during the war.
December 2022. Kyiv, Heavy congestion. Sometimes it is even possible to see an electric car with a generator. Conferences are held in shelters and places with easy access to the shelter. It is possible to drink a coffee, eat lunch or enjoy dinner to the sound of a generator. The sound of a generator is being heard from almost all offices – that is where Ukrainians continue doing business or launch new companies. A smartphone is not only for communicating with friends, family and clients but also for receiving alerts of rocket attacks. Receiving an alert means that you need to run to the shelter. Teams can work from different cities in the EU, the U.S., or Ukraine, regardless of the time difference, the need for more electricity, and other obstacles. Indeed, the war experience revealed the super ability of Ukrainians – a kind of Ukrainian anti-fragility. Invincibility.
Even now, we can find distinct ingredients of Ukrainian invincibility:
Ingredient No. 1: “Create like your whole business, and your life, depends on it”. When the whole business is at stake, there is no time for numerous meetings, discussions, thoughts and negotiations. It is possible to rethink the entire business concept, reconfigure the manufacturing line, and sometimes relocate both business and manufacturing.
For instance, the manufacture of pet food had started by volunteering to produce the cans in mini-packages for people living in shelters and successfully launched a line of meat cans for military people and people living in shelters or with limited access to electricity. A year ago, such a transformation was unbelievable, but today it an experience gained.
Ingredient No. 2: “All limits inside but not outside.” Doing business with limitation of electricity and Internet access? Conducting international business from the country without a functioning airport? Before 2022 it seemed unrealistic, but now it is just an outside condition. Courts are working, sometimes attorneys are preparing for the court hearings by the light of a candle or riding the subway which is some kind of shelter during the rocket attack. Moreover, universities and business schools welcome new students. This is because outside circumstances do not influence inside matters.
Ingredient No. 3: “Flexible business = resilient business.” Every business rethinks its own activity, the values it creates and the new needs of customers. Almost every day, new needs are springing up. New needs mean new business ideas. For instance, lack or limited access to electricity creates the need not only in generators but in flameless heaters, energy bars or food cans, clothing reflective elements for moving in dark places. What was the fashion industry before the war is manufacturing body armor and reflective elements.
Ingredient No. 4: “Individualism is good, but unity for the meaningful idea will lead you to unbelievable outcomes.” Before 2022, a lot of Ukrainian businesses practiced an individualistic approach. Today, owners of competing restaurants buy generators in clubbing. Moreover, a well-known ketchup producer in Kherson places ketchup orders with their main competitor. The war created a new kind of competition – surviving and thriving by unity for the sake of the main idea, the victory of Ukraine.
Attorney Mariya Ortynska, founder of IPSTYLE, a patent law company in Kyiv, is currently studying for her master of laws degree at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.