With Oksana Doroshenko, founder and managing partner of the legal company A.S.A. Group, we had two meetings. The first time we met in her office to record a conversation on a tape recorder. The second time we met on a summer terrace of a cozy restaurant so that in an informal setting to discuss further the topics covered in the interview. At a certain stage, these topics become actual for many leaders.
The essence of the founder’s energy, the transformation of his role and functions in the company, trust, priorities – we talked about all this for more than two hours, and records of the conversation could make a good business book. “Partnership is hard work, it’s difficult to trust,” says Oksana. “Any power struggle destroys a company, and is unacceptable under any circumstances.”
Leadership Journey (LJ): What did appear first in your life: management or entrepreneurship?
Oksana Doroshenko (O.D.): I think management. I came to a law firm, where, despite the financial success, there was no clear business structure. In a relatively short time, I managed to adjust the processes and help transform the company into an efficiently operating business. We had requests from our clients to restructure their businesses. In response to these, I became the manager of this direction of the company.
Maturity of a manager is largely determined by his willingness to invite people to the company stronger than himself not being afraid of the competition.
Several projects have been very successful and profitable. I was offered a partnership. This was the start of the entrepreneurship story. A.S.A. Group is undergoing a similar process now. We are moving to a new level of our development, and pure entrepreneurship is replaced by corporatization, structuring.
LJ: Leaders must raise new leaders. Do you like this statement?
O.D.: I do not admit it can be otherwise. This is the only correct path to the success of your business. I felt particularly the importance of this approach when I realized that I had many ideas, but sometimes I did not have enough energy to implement them. It is important to understand that energy is people. The maturity of a manager is determined largely by his willingness to invite people to the company stronger than himself not being afraid of competition.
Energy is people
LJ: Partnership practice is widespread in the juridical business. Is the partnership culture well developed in Ukraine?
O.D.: Unfortunately, this culture is still at a rather low level. In a Ukrainian law firm, if a person has been working for two years, he has achieved some significant results, he is already asking for a partnership, that is, a share in the business. A salary increase or bonus payments are not discussed. The goal is to formalize the partnership on paper.
I am deeply convinced that partnership is a much more serious and important stage in the development of relations in business. A partnership needs to be earned not only by your sales achievements but also by your willingness to share risks and comprehend the meaning of the word “trust”.
Partnership is a much more serious and important stage in the development of relations in business
LJ: At A.S.A. Group, judging by its name, you have two partners. Is this the story of civilized relationships and trust?
O.D.: My clients in the previous company were expecting, and sometimes even demanding I took actions on their issues that would be more resolute. I did not have the opportunity to satisfy their requests, other than by exceeding my authority and making a decision myself. Therefore, I was losing very promising clients who wanted to work with me, but did not agree with some company policies.
Then I made a willful decision to leave and start my own business. There were people in the company, who I was trusting for many years, and they became my partners. My maiden name is Agoshkova; many people know me under this name. I do not change it in social networks. A.S.A. is the initials of the names of the company’s partners. A.S.A. Group has been operating in the Ukrainian market for six years. Being a perfectionist, I am a bit scared by this age. I thought we would achieve much more in these years.
LJ: Now you are a managing partner. In this status, is it easier for you to run the business?
O.D.: Of course, it is easier for me when I finalize the decision. Any power struggle destroys a company and is unacceptable under any circumstances. As soon as I notice the signals; when I see disagreements and unhealthy ambitions, I am directly talking about this to my partners. We sit down and voice everything frankly point by point. Sometimes we need special training to learn to trust, to communicate, to set a common goal higher than our personal ambitions.
About a year ago, we participated in the training. After the training, it became more comfortable to work: the partners realized that an increase in costs when business is developing is normal. We invest in marketing; we hire more expensive and qualified employees.
LJ: What is the perfect partnership for you?
O.D.: This is a raging sea of energy that is filled and amplified by the energies of the partners. This is moving forward, moving in one direction, a movement in which partners reinforce each other with their strengths. Partners trust each other, the team believes in partners, clients trust the team, and business grows. As soon as something changes, someone begins moving in a different direction, everyone suffer from this – the team, the customers, and the business. A partnership is hard work. To trust is hard.
A partnership is hard work
LJ: How long are you ready to live with a “gnawing worm” inside?
O.D.: They say I am paranoid because I am frank and open. I think that if I do not say my mind, no matter a person accept my view or not, I will not be able to continue working with him. I need to voice my view and not to stay in puzzle and distress. Emotional swing interferes with business development and business management. The task of the leader is to learn to control emotions. After all, when this is your business, and rather big, there is a lot at stake. You cannot make emotional decisions, because the people, the brand, and the reputation are at stake.
The task of the leader is to learn to control emotions
For the sake of my company, I try to find answers to a lot of questions. I try to tolerate some things, which earlier would cause me losing my temper, quarreling and breaking up.
Patience is my new level of leadership competence development. One wise person once said to me, “If you have questions for a person, there is something embarrassing about him, but you continue to work with him, then you need him for some reason.” Awareness of this simple truth helped me a lot.
Now, when something bothers me, when I do not like someone’s behavior, I ask myself, “Do I really need this person in my business and in my life?” If the answer is affirmative, I start to solve the conflict. I am looking for the reason for the conflict in myself. As a manager, maybe I was not able to explain correctly, what I was expecting of the person.
Patience is my new level of leadership competence development
LJ: And a leader 3.0 is …?
O.D.: In short, a leader 3.0 is about trust. This is about developing employees within the company and helping them. A leader 1.0 is about survival. A leader 3.0 is about the team, values, and corporate culture.
There is a book by Dan Kennedy “Ruthless Management of People and Profits”. It looks like he is right: you do not owe your employees anything, you pay them, and they have to understand what you pay for, you need to count the cost of each employee and his payback. The task of a business is profit. However, the question is, will people, with this approach and attitude to them, want to ensure your company the profit? Are they ready to share their energy? I do not know…
In general, I have never used the words “I do not know” during my career as often as I have during the past year. I used to have a clear “yes” and “no” answer. Now, realizing and rethinking the value of people and the value of people for business, I understand that I am not always dead sure of my decisions.
LJ: What are you? Are you your company or are you yourself, and the company is a means to achieve your personal goals?
O.D.: Now I am a company. If I were focused solely on my goals, I would spend more time in sales, which I do very well. My goal is such a company, which is a pleasure for employees to work in and for clients to deal with.
OUR MISSION IS TO SAVE A BUSINESS FOR ITS OWNER
Our mission is to save the business of the owner. When bankers tell us that the court case won helped to save the bank, I understand that we are doing everything right. When participants of corporate disputes thank us for the fact that they were able to go out of business without loss, this proofs the strategy is correct.