When did you first come to Ukraine, and what brought you here?
I first came to Ukraine two years ago working on a project for Roland Berger, a German strategy consultancy firm. They had a project with the Midland Group who had a steel business and a retail business here in Ukraine. I was brought in as the commercial director of the retail business, but when the crisis hit they sold it.
What were your first impressions of the country when you arrived?
The first city I visited was Kharkiv, so unlike most people my first impressions of the country were not from Kyiv, but from there instead. It was also in winter, which also gives a bit of a different view of things. So I was a little bit surprised at how poor the country is. But then, of course, I came to like it very much. I like the quality of life, and the people. The only challenge I have is the language. Kyiv is an international city, and is like most cities throughout the world. It has a broad offering for nightlife and entertainment, many interesting people and a lot of ex-pats, all of which makes it very easy for me to live and work here.
You’re now the CEO for the Foxtrot and Foxmart Retail chain. How did that come about?
They approached my consultancy firm, UK and Partners, six months ago for us to consult on their existing management team, and after a two-month period the shareholders came to the conclusion it was better we help them on a day-to-day basis. They asked if we could take over the running of the company, and that’s what we’re doing now. It’s a very interesting and challenging project because it’s a very good time to prepare this company for a huge restructuring process. It was very important to define the business models of Foxtrot retail division, which we’ve done, and come the start of next year we’re going to start executing this in the stores. Using best business practices from my time at Walmart and best practises from other retailers around the world, we want to adapt these to the needs of Ukrainian customers and create a truly modern retail business.
How does a Ukrainian retail operation compare to an established one in Europe or the States?
There are a lot of talented people here, but one must remember that there is no retail history or education in the market. This means we have to be very patient when coaching and training people, and this process is much more intense than in Western Europe or North America. But this is very interesting for me because it is like going back to the basics and starting again. It’s a lot of fun. And it’s also very rewarding to see people grow and reaching the next level. One of the main reasons we partnered with Euronics, the largest European buying group, is that we can use their practises and send people for training to other countries of the world. This partnership is very important for us as it allows us to tap into pan European deals with suppliers which in turn allows us to be very competitive on price and product range.
Consumer electronics and white goods are often a good indicator of how the people of a country view the economy. What trend do you see currently?
We started with Foxtrot at the end of the crisis, and now we can see a very positive trend. Consumers are far more aggressive when shopping, which is a very positive sign for the whole market. The market is moving forward again. The electronics market in Ukraine is currently $3.5 billion, and the forecast for next year is $6 billion, so there is a very positive trend in the market. New innovations and techniques show we are on the right track. For example, stocking the latest technologies from Samsung, LG and other key global suppliers gives us at Foxtrot an advantage. We hope to use this to expand both in Ukraine and Moldova. Already we have 250 stores in these two countries and we hope to be opening 20 to 30 new stores every year. We have 20% market share in Ukraine, and we want to strengthen that position going forward.
What do you do to relax in Kyiv, and where do you like to do it?
I like to travel, and I have to do so a lot for business. But while I am in Kyiv, I like to go out with my business partner Kasper, who is known as the biggest party animal in the city, so he knows the right places. My favourites are Buddha Bar and D’Lux.