I was a new GM of a company in Ukraine. I had been there for a year. The business there was primarily agency business (sales force) and I assessed that the two areas we could increase was medical group business and working directly with banks (Bancassurance).
Obviously continuing to grow the agency business while I worked on the other two were important. I saw that the majority of my business came from Kiev with not a lot coming from the South (Crimea) or the East (Donbass area which is predominately Russian Ethnics). The West which was predominately more European leaning also was under-served but didn’t have the populations of the South and East. Obviously I started expanding into the East and South first.
I started to get relationships going with five of the top banks in Kiev. All of these were Russian backed banks and as such took a ton of work in building a relationship with them. Getting deals with banks takes a really long time, but if you can get a bank to sell for you it really boosts your numbers.
During this time the Maidan protests started. Students exactly like yourselves were sick of their president slowly taking away rights. President Yanukovych was slowly using his son to take over businesses and make them his own. Dissenters disappeared and would be discovered in the forest tortured and dead.
The students knew that their country was sliding towards an autocratic regime like Belarus and they wanted to do something about it. They set up a Facebook group to meet downtown on the main street and protest. They thought only a few would show up. Hundreds came. So did the police. They beat up some of the students and kicked them out. The students used their cell phones, took pictures and posted them back on FB urging people to come the next weekend. This time thousands showed up. When the police came this time, there were too many protesters and they left.
The protest got a life of it’s own. Tires were brought in for walls, tents were set up, food was made, and a section of the downtown was completely taken over by these protesters. This was about a kilometer from my office so I would often walk down there for lunch and watch it unfold. It felt wonderful to see people fighting for their freedom.
The fighting on both sides got worse and worse. I remember taking my family down one week and watching the students dressed in work helmets with crude fashioned shields practice how to defend using a shield wall. I told my kids this is how the vikings fought and it was inspiring to see college students taking such a main role. We would climb the wall of burnt tires and snow and look at the army positioned on the other side. People were kind and the hope of freedom was on everyone’s minds.
Yanukovych did everything wrong and popular opinion turned even more against him. The fighting got worse and worse and more people were getting hurt by Molotov cocktails and street fighting.
You are me, the manager. What things do you need to start considering for your business? What do you need to do for your office staff in Kiev? What about your sales force located around Ukraine? What are the major risks with what is happening and how would you mitigate them?
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