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Ļ7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope


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28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidanís three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the countryís stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.

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Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard Ė and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.

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Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.

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My Kyiv

Ukraineís Very Own Bill Gates

Having arrived for our meeting on time and being asked to wait for one of the richest men in Ukraine to show up, I take the opportunity to look around the office of this personality whose name is often taken for an IT brand in Ukraineís busy business world. What I find is a huge space with its very own garden of green out on the balcony; a very small part of Oleksandr Kardakovís 60,000 square kilometres of real estate property. When he arrives, he is wearing a Top Shop shirt, jeans and a pair of sneakers, and the question, "How has this man who started his business in the turbulent 90s managed to build an IT empire?" just sort of sits in the air. Our conversation begins with the answer...

In business, the result is the only thing that matters. And rather than focus on success, I always work hard to get the result I want, because the former is just relative. If you take athletes, for example, the overall champion is the one who works hardest and runs fastest throughout, not the one who wins one race because the other competitors in that race are weak. For me there is no other way to win. 

This approach is quite a philosophical one Ė but how did it all get started? 
Upon graduating from Kyiv Polytechnic University, the head of my department suggested that I stay on and manage the departmentís computer network. I agreed to the position on a three-year basis, where in return, I was granted an apartment here in Kyiv. After leaving that post, I started thinking over other possibilities in development. But I also wanted to start making money as well as finding professional fulfilment. After reading a number of books about the Great Depression, it came to me that there would always be work in the service industry. So at the end of 1998, I decided that I would try my hand at corporate management and, more specifically, internet connection. Because no matter how thick or how thin peopleís bank accounts may be, there will always be enough money for petrol, rental fees and internet connection. Today, this idea, DATA Group, accounts for about 45% of the Ukrainian data network market.  

DATA Group came out of the giant IT company, INCOM, though didnít it?  Something you shared with your partner.
Thatís not quite true. Friends and I started up an IT company separate from both of these and at some point down the line, it came to my attention that some of our shareholders were using their business accounts for personal ventures. It was then that I cut ties with that business and started another IT company, INCOM; which at the moment has a turnover of 400 million hryvnia.

How is it that one man, Oleksandr Kardakov, could create the IT technology company Ė INCOM, the internet networking company Ė DATA Group and the asset management company Ė OKTAVA Capital, three very different companies, from scratch?
I donít believe in people dreaming of becoming millionaires where the next day their dreams just come true. At least, thatís not something I wanted. My goals had to do with self promotion and of course earning a little money. I built my businesses gradually, step by step. And when I decided to tackle this or that issue, I went for it without any messing around because I had done my homework in the quantity and quality of frontiers that I would have to go through. I remember one of my top managers asking for a development strategy one time and was surprised by this request, because I only know what people are buying today. How on earth could I know what people will spend their hard-earned cash on in the future..? The secret, however, is to provide your client with a good product. That gives him a reason to stick with you. 

The Ukrainian IT business community has been recently talking about the IPO DATA Group is planning to issue. If this happens, it will be the only Ukrainian IT company having managed to pull it off...
I strongly believe that a businessman should by no account be happy with achieved results only: He needs to strive for better development of his company. In 2007, we announced that DATA Group would either try to attract other investors or would get itself ready for an IPO. The crisis has affected a lot of things and has slowed down negotiations, but as of now, talks are coming to their end and for the short-run anyway, there will be three finalists. Sorry, I canít go into more detail than that. 

You started your business in the 90s. It was a harsh time for businessmen and yet at the same time, there was some pretty fruitful soil for quick start-ups. You were considered a newcomer with a clear vision, how did that come about?
As far as I was concerned, I realised early on that to succeed, not only did I have to supply the computers Ė like the majority of other companies do Ė I also had to understand how my clientsí business worked, and then let him know that what we offered him would ease his workload. So I guess it was my personal approach. I didnít want to get into privatisation or counterfeiting; because out of 95% of businessmen, only 5% ever manage to succeed in business. It is for these people I have great respect.

Ukraine is finally finding its way out of the crisis. What were some of the things you implemented to help with this? 
I really donít get those people constantly gossiping about real estate and how it suffered like nothing else. Iím sure that they did suffer, but so did everybody. I personally was able to reap about one third of my income last year out of real estate. I was able to survive the harsher times because of my 60,000km2 of property Ė 90% of which I rent. And DATA Group did witness some losses, but they werenít colossal. 

As far as I know, Renat Akhmetovís business Farlep-Optima is four times stronger than yours. Are you still lagging behind..?
(...pauses). The retail market is a huge one, where every single housing development can be connected to some three providers. This is where Farlep-Optima operates, but letís not go into that.  My business deals with the corporate networks. 

You financed companies that produce toy cars, the washing of billboards and a florist. How did that come about?
There was a television show some time ago called, Sharks of Business. The idea was to get competitors to prove to the jury, of which I was a part, that their proposals were the best so that we would finance their start-up. Unfortunately, all of them have gone bust. One of the businesses I ended up giving away, the rest were sold at huge discounts. It was a very good lesson for me and a reminder that business should be built up gradually. Top management should also learn all of the stages of business gradually. To be a good person with good business ideas and to run a business professionally are two very different things. Thank God I didnít suffer huge financial losses. 

Does a 100% business-oriented life ever influence your family? (At which point Oleksandr Ďs mother calls...seriously!)
What personal life? Actually, yes, my business-mind often affects my personal life and therefore while I have two great sons, 18 and 20 years old, I am divorced. I am positive that if you want to achieve something you must work hard, even harder than that which you might be capable. You canít accept credit from life all the time, you need to give back; otherwise youíre running the risk of facing a crisis of liquid assets. My life is business. Nobody helped me, however, I will help my sons, and then they will have to go at it on their own. 

What do you do in your spare time and what are your favourite places in the city?
I love this country because it gives me the opportunity to earn money and develop business. But to be honest, I rarely walk down Kyivís streets. I am able to afford two-day trips to the Caribbean just to say Ďhií to friends and have a beer or two.

I heard that you have recently gone around Australia on a bike...
I learned how to ride to tour Australia. That was a cool experience. 

Having fulfilled almost all of your ambitions, what do you think is the key to success in business?
My life is like climbing: Every time I succeed in this sphere or that, I keep on climbing and seek out other business opportunities for development. I have never been proud of my achieved results, and instead, set different more difficult and challenging tasks for myself. But I only feel joy when those things I intend come true.  

Ksenia Karpenko

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Comments (4)
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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didnít Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer≠sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they donít understand the meaning of these words.


    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street Ė the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades Ė childrenís favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. Whatís On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.

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