Vladislava Magaletskaya (Rutitskaya), Vice President of the SigmaBleyzer Foundation and former Deputy Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food, is one of the most significant figures in the newest Ukrainian policy. When she came to work in civil service, she did not stop to be a businessperson. She used her business skills to promote Ukraine to international markets. Her team managed to ‘cut windows’ for Ukrainian agricultural products to 11 new markets.
Leadership Journey asked Vladislava what useful experience she had gained while working in the Cabinet of Ministers, and how motherhood helped her in management.
Leadership Journey (LJ): You have great leadership experience, not only in business but also in civil service. Do you often change priorities?
Vladislav Magaletskaya (VM): We become smarter every year. Civil service was demanding your total involvement. A working day could have started at 7–8 am with a TV air; then a number of meetings at the ministry have followed, and still another air and various discussions in the evening. As a result, I was coming back home well past midnight. It was happening in 2014, not long after the Maidan events, when there was no money in the budget, there was Russian embargo, illiquid banks, and lack of credit opportunities… In addition, the agricultural sector was looking forward to decisions and actions. It was not very easy.
LJ: What was driving you to go to civil service? It was wearing yourself out. Your resources – time resources, human, emotional.
VM: Here I will mention a very important motivational moment. A special feeling that emerged in the country after Maidan had driven me, like many other people, who at that moment went to civil service. The feeling that we can change the country for the better. We had a desire to rebuild, update, replace non-working procedures and provide Ukraine with welfare. This was my first driving factor.
Besides, frankly speaking, I wanted to try myself in this new activity for me. When you manage a company, you get used to working in a business environment. Civil service is something completely different. This implies a considerable political dependence and a big bureaucracy – officials are completely unconnected with the commercial world. Therefore, when I was appointed a deputy minister, I wondered if I could abstract from my usual work in a business where everyone was focused on very clear KPIs.
In civil service, you have your arms twisted behind your back (the so-called swallow pose). Perhaps this is the most accurate description. On the one hand, there is the agricultural sector, and better than anyone you understand how it functions, what its tasks and goals are; how to increase its efficiency. On the other hand, a huge bureaucratic machine puts you under the pressure of a set of laws and bylaws, various rules and regulations. To ignore even the smallest piece of law means an administrative violation. At best.
Civil service is something completely different. This implies a considerable political dependence and a big bureaucracy.
Besides, there is a political component. Each party has its own goals, so you need to find a balance. I was the speaker at the Agrarian Committee of the Verkhovna Rada. I was to submit draft laws, approve them at the conciliation boards with representatives of various parties, and to include their propositions. This is a huge amount of work for a leader. Besides, there is a political component. Each party has its own goals, so you need to find a balance. I was the speaker at the Agrarian Committee of the Verkhovna Rada. I was to submit draft laws, approve them at the conciliation boards with representatives of various parties, and to include their propositions. This is a huge amount of work for a leader. This is the type of leadership, which demands a lot of wisdom.
LJ: What competencies did this job require? Which competencies were you lacking, maybe?
VM: I was doing my best to keep the right distance in relations with people. This is a very interesting principle that I took as a lesson from politics. In your relations with people, you must be able to ask for help and get it. On the other hand, you should be able to avoid any external influence on your decisions. You should constantly hold the balance in your relations: to be neither too distant nor too close.
I WAS DOING MY BEST TO KEEP THE RIGHT DISTANCE IN RELATIONS WITH PEOPLE.
For example, while working on the creation of a free trade zone with Canada, we had over eight rounds of negotiations. The Canadian counterparts naturally tried to defend their country’s interests. There were moments of very strong pressure. I was realizing these terms were unacceptable, unprofitable for the country and the agrarian sector. I had to explain, convince, and defend national interests. It was a very delicate balance and the best experience I gained in the civil service.
LJ: What management competencies did this job require? I mean, you were ‘the head’, but you needed ‘hands’, in other words, a team.
VM: Of course, it was impossible to do all this without a team.
LJ: How does teamwork in business differ from teamwork in politics?
VM: A very good question. In business, you can say to the owner, I will get the result, and for this, I need such and such resources and such and such a team. There is a price for this: you can pay above or you can below the market cost, but if you succeed, you can compensate by bonuses. In any case, you can use material incentives.
In 2014–2016, material incentives were out of the questions. The salaries were very low. First, you were to find ways to motivate people to work with a high-quality result, regardless of low salaries. Second, you were to find foundations to be donors of additional finance.
A LEADER SHOULD UNDERSTAND HOW TO WORK WITH A TEAM
For example, we managed to attract several experts with the help of the European Commission. Formally, they were not part of our team, and the European Commission paid for their work. We also had to ask domestic foundations to help with presentation materials, videos, and analytics.
We had to contact, for example, the big four of audit firms in Ukraine, so that they would help conduct a financial audit of state enterprises. And many other things.
Therefore, I would emphasize, the main element of teamwork in civil service is the ability to bring together various resources. Every day I used to wake up with the thought, where else I could get some additional resource that would allow me to motivate the team to achieve the goal.
LJ: So you can motivate a team without money.
VM: I think there should be a delicate balance. There is a good proverb: «Anyone can do it with money, you try to do it with no money.» In this case, we were working that way.
I was very lucky: in the ministry, I had a wonderful team; we had opened 11 new markets for Ukraine and completely reoriented Ukrainian export. With this team, we became leaders in European integration (elaboration of laws and bylaws in cooperation with the Parliament and its Agrarian Committee). We had performed a financial diagnostics of more than 30 large state-owned enterprises, including Agrofund, FGCU, Artyomsol, Ukrspirt, Konarstvo Ukraine.
I was very lucky: in the ministry, I had a wonderful team; we had opened 11 new markets for Ukraine
It was not easy. Similarly, it was not easy to draw a 400 million euro loan from the European Investment Bank in a little over six months. I do not remember any ministry to do the same. Again, this had required a huge amount of high-quality analytical reports, a Grow Ukraine video, negotiations on a free trade zone with Canada and the expansion of EU quotas … Everything was done at a decent level.
LJ: Have you always been a team player?
VM: In my view, you do not succeed otherwise.
LJ: Yes, but you probably come to understand this when you have your type of character…
VM: A leader is the person who deserves respect. To gain your team’s respect, you need not only to be a professional; you must have principles and values. You will never win the respect of your team without these components. A leader should know how to work with a team. You and your team are a valuable resource only together.
LJ: Have you always had this understanding?
VM: I always said that a leader on his own is a suicidal leader. He or she will not be able to do anything big and meaningful. In business and civil service, ‘there is safety in numbers’.
IN BUSINESS AND IN CIVIL SERVICE, ‘THERE IS SAFETY IN NUMBERS’
LJ: Without false modesty, do you consider yourself a brand-person?
VM: This awareness came to me at a certain point. In 2005, at a round table, standing next to respectable professionals and industry leaders, I was feeling shy. The organizers invited the forum participants to take seats at the table, and I remained standing. The participants in my view were more progressive, more educated, and smarter than I was. At this moment one of them turned around and said, “Vladislava, come on, join us.” I refused, saying I was ‘nobody’ to join a group of the industry’s giants. And the answer was, “You are one of us”. I was 27 years old, and suddenly I had realized that I did belong to the ‘giants’ group. It caused a lot of contemplation.
I was 27, and suddenly I realized that I did belong to the ‘giants’ group.
Later, there were publications in the press and interviews, which led me to understand that I was a brand. However, everything has a reverse side. When you become a public person, a lot of different ‘bans’ come along. You set these ‘bans’ yourself. Because you become a model of behavior to copy, and, accordingly, your responsibility multiplies.
LJ: What restrictions are we talking about?
VM: I remember that at the beginning of my work in a new position in civil service on my personal Facebook page there was a cover: a family photo, very sentimental and ordinary. About a week later, the editor of a much-esteemed periodical gave me a call, “Vladislava, we do respect you and follow your publications. I think you should change your Facebook cover.” It suddenly had struck me, from now on, my position, even in social networks, is a public position of a government official. And I cannot, as before, post a cat with the words ‘Hello, everyone!’ The level of my responsibility has become higher. Although, you know, I still do not consider cats to be a bad topic for posts (laughs)
LJ: Do you think a personal brand to be important in life? Do you need to invest in it? If you are positive about it, how did you come to this understanding?
VM: Two concepts struggle in me. There are people in business who are an example for me: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. I am sure that, while developing their personal brand, they did not try to please everyone. Any leader must stay determined and loyal to his principles.
On the other hand, when I recall Trudeau, Macron and other political leaders, I understand that working at your personal brand is very important. At some point, you become an example for people. However, it really is very complicated.
WORKING AT A PERSONAL BRAND IS VERY IMPORTANT
Quite recently, Sergey Shnurov, the leader of the Leningrad group, had announced in social media that he was preparing for his first half marathon. One of his long-time fans commented that he had grown up on his songs, and now, it turned out, Shnurov was not just a hedonist, but also a millionaire and marathon runner, but he (the fan) remained the same …
I mean, when people perceive you as a brand or newsmaker, they don’t care what kind of a person you are; what you are thinking about. This is also a point to consider.
LJ: I can say that you are a very powerful brand. I think it makes you independent to some extent, gives you the freedom to choose, the opportunity to form a resource, a team of people that will follow your brand and be your ambassadors.
VM: I should say, with all my ability to select a team, I did not always make the right decisions. Several times, I took young and very ambitious people (I like this type of people) to the team. And at some point, it turned out that this person was not a team player, but a ‘lonely wolf’. I had to say goodbye to the person despite the fact, that he was smart, intelligent and well educated. Because a team should not be a group of individuals, refusing to work together to achieve a common goal.
A LEADER IS THE ONE WHO LEARNS FROM THE MISTAKES AND IS ABLE TO RISE AFTER THE DEFEAT
By the way, a leader should know how to make unpopular decisions; otherwise, you would never be a leader. When you learn to make difficult decisions, correctly communicate them to the team and the person affected by your decision, it is a hardening experience. A leader is the one who learns from the mistakes and knows how to rise after defeat. This is one of the main skills.
LJ: Did you have situations when you were to rise?
VM: Of course. Maybe, once a year or so, as it happens with everyone else. There are different situations. They do not always relate to a professional career. They may happen in personal life and kids’ upbringing.
A LEADER SHOULD KNOW HOW TO MAKE UNPOPULAR DECISIONS
LJ: What did you want when you started your leadership journey?
VM: Frankly speaking, money.
LJ: How old were you?
VM: The thirst for money came to me very early, somewhere between six and seven. However, I wanted not money itself but money as a means to achieve my goals. And as for the goals, I always had them. When I was about seven, I ‘got sick’ with a piano. I was dreaming of having had one and playing the piano. At the same time, I did understand that my parents could not afford such a purchase. Therefore, I set my mind on collecting waste paper and scrap metal. Then I wanted a VCR …
LJ: Did you get the piano eventually?
V.M.: Yes, when I was about 11. I have always treated money as a resource that helps you make your dreams come true and achieve your goals. For some time, I used to write computer programs, I was a very good programmer. That was when my first son was born, and I, like any mother, really wanted to give him the best. I have always had such a mindset.
MONEY IS A RESOURCE TO MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE AND ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS
Later, completely different goals came to the fore. I wanted to build a house – which I did. I wanted to buy an apartment in the center of Kiev – and I bought it. I needed to take care of the health of my parents, which means the best doctors for them and the best medicines. My children should have the best education, and I should help them with this. In addition, our family helps charity funds. As you see, over time, some goals replace the other. But you need money to achieve any goal.
LJ: Is money a kind of energy?
VM: I would not say so. Energy is something completely different. Energy implies feelings, impressions, and passion. Money is a necessary resource that helps to achieve the goal and is a good motivator. In civil service, I used to work in close cooperation with the European Commission to establish average European salaries for civil servants in Ukraine. Obviously, this would have reduced corruption in the country. However, another civil servant in my place would not necessarily have such a range of contacts and such a desire to involve Europeans to achieve the general government goals.
LJ: Does motherhood help to develop leadership skills?
VM: Motherhood is a special experience. My method is – you cannot force a child to do anything. Sometimes you have to apply various tricks to make a child eat, do lessons, etc. It takes a lot of affection and attention to instilling the little one with the necessary skills and ideas. However, a child is not always aware of the need, and you have to wisely direct.
If you can teach a child to eat porridge and instill healthy habits, then you are quite capable of leading large teams.
Therefore, yes, motherhood does help me in management, which also has an eternal balance of motivation, principles, rules, and discipline. If you can teach a child to eat porridge and instill healthy habits without a hell of violence against a personality, then you are quite capable of leading large teams. This is my personal experience.
LJ: What is driving you now?
VM: First, the understanding of the value of time. I have long realized that only 20% of the effort produce 80% of the result. I try not to go deep in matters of no interest for me. I am not engaged in the projects with tremendous efforts and meager result. Moreover, I do my best to keep maximum focus: few things will give you the best possible result. For ten years, ‘the time use balance’ has been my major stimulus.
TIME IS THE ONLY IRREPLACEABLE RESOURCE
Time is the only irreplaceable resource. I want to have my favorite, successful job, and I am happy to work at SigmaBleyzer. I love my family very much and they should have all my affection and energy they need. I love art, music, beauty, and relaxation. A part of myself is working for community: both in charity and support for various programs. And these four roles must somehow fit in the 24 hours.
LJ: Does it work?
VM: Over time, I became wiser. I removed all unnecessary things from my life to the maximum. This even applies to the wardrobe. I am also very selective about the amount of furniture, dishes and the rest. Less in number, better in quality.
LJ: Is it luxury?
VM: Yes, I think so. But a different kind of luxury. This is the luxury of freedom. You stop being dependent on minor things and overloaded with them.
LJ: How do you communicate with people in your team?
VM: I am for delegation of authority and for project management. Of course, there are people who will cope with certain tasks much better than I will. Moreover, I am not afraid that this requires total control. Therefore, I try not to pile on myself an unnecessary administrative work. A team must consist of different types of people, but eventually, make a unique whole as in a puzzle. You have to understand what you cannot do and how to motivate those people who know how to do it well.
A TEAM MUST CONSIST OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEOPLE
LJ: What are the goals and tasks of your company now?
VM: We are engaged in financing in a new direction, the energy sector. We have almost finished the creation of a new fund. This work includes cooperation with partners and government institutions that relate to the energy sector, in particular, gas production. Activities connected with AgroGeneration Company, in attracting finance and reducing it cost, is another direction.
LJ: Is your task to communicate and guide the team?
VM: Yes, I am on the board of directors. Every day I communicate with the management teams of our assets on the issues of finance cost reduction or attraction of new sources, or the expansion of export markets, etc.
LJ: How do you set boundaries of your personal freedom? Do you allow yourself to turn off the phone on vacation?
VM: I used to be connected on vacation, previously. But my husband taught me that sometimes you could and should be out of touch. We have the rule to turn off the mobiles and the Internet before going to bed.
I rarely answer calls from unknown numbers; instead, my phone sends an automatic SMS with a proposal to state the question in a reply message. I read it, and if it is a worthy question, I spend my time and energy. I am very selective in terms of meetings and I try to be very careful about information resources. I use only important and interesting resources. I do my best to remove all negativity from my life.
LJ: How often do you have a vacation: is it one week a month or two weeks twice a year?
VM: I try to have a vacation with my family twice a year: 10 days in summer and the same after the New Year. On weekends, we use to travel across Ukraine. This is our favorite short vacation format.
LJ: Is it a complete break from your work? Or you cannot take your mind off your work?
VM: On vacation, we try to distance away from our work. I will give you an example of my husband. We went on the May holidays to Odessa, but during the four days of this mini-vacation, my husband had to fly to Kyiv twice. At that moment, a large company was under sale. We understood that he could not do otherwise, that he had a great responsibility … But in the end, everyone had a rest, except him. Therefore, on weekend tours, my husband and I try to devote as much time to our children as possible. Besides there are parents looking forward to attention, participation, and help. Therefore, we try to find this balance.