Alona Lebedieva: People are the main asset one should invest in

Despite the loss of more than 40% of business to the war and part of the territories of Ukraine being occupied, the company continues to support the country’s economy contributing to the state and local budgets in full, continues to pay salaries to employees and engage in charity projects to help the Armed Forces and the population. The multidisciplinary industrial and investment group works in the fields of industrial pump construction, railway carriage construction and agriculture. It is about challenges and business priorities of Aurum Group in 2023 that we are going to talk about in an interview with the business owner Alona Lebedieva.

Your business suffered significant losses due to the war and the occupation of part of the territories of Ukraine. How well do you think the company coped with the challenges of 2022?

I believe that for each of us 2022 was the year of tests and reassessment of our own values. I have no doubts that, taking into account all the negative consequences of the war, including the economic circumstances, inflationary processes, problems with access to resources and premises, in connection with Ukraine losing control over part of powerful industrial enterprises, blackouts, our group coped very well.

Since the beginning of the war, some enterprises, especially in the first months of the war, actually stopped operating, but we’ve had almost no layoffs in the Group’s enterprises, and although the costs at these enterprises still do not cover the profits, we pay salaries to all employees and diligently pay taxes in full.

What were the transformations of approaches to management and planning in the company during the year of the war?

Unfortunately, the planning horizon has shrunk considerably. Earlier we used to hold emergency meetings occasionally, while now the entire management team of the Group, directors at enterprises, heads of various sectors are on call 24/7. There is no certainty of what may happen in an hour. Therefore, every step is weighed and discussed. Nevertheless, the situation also has a positive side – the Aurum team has become more united, there has been more initiative from the grassroots. Ordinary workers generate many good ideas to constantly help the Armed Forces and people and, in my opinion, this should be appreciated.

Has the war changed the priorities and ideology of the business?

Absolutely not. The fact is, I have always believed that a person is the main asset that should be invested in. And all decisions are based on this, because the group tries to support each employee, seeking every opportunity. And especially now, when there is a war in the country, business must show its resilient side. I strongly believe that a business without a face has no future.

Tell us about your plans for the current year of 2023.

It goes without saying that it is very difficult to make plans and forecasts when the country is at war. Last year, the main task for us was to hold on, but today, if we want to survive, we have to move forward. And we understand it really well. The company must rise up to challenges and adapt.

Currently, part of the machine-building enterprises of the group are unprofitable. But again, these enterprises are city-forming enterprises, and we must fight for them. Therefore, this year we are establishing connections and planning to enter new product sales markets, in particular in Asian countries.

Speaking of the urgent ones, it is mastering the production of certain types of components for the railway sphere, which were earlier manufactured in the aggressor country. Since the beginning of the war, the entire industry has practically stopped, as there were almost no alternatives on the market, those who were using up their pre-war stocks were able to work. Actually, even after more than a year of war, this problem is still acute, because, as far as I know, none of the countries of the post-Soviet space produces such components. Given the reluctance and bureaucratic delay of the certification process, no Ukrainian company has yet received a production permit. Therefore, Ukrainian manufacturers really hope that in 2023 it will be possible to break this deadlock, since having our own product is important not only for the full operation of the industry, and I hope that the bureaucrats on the ground will understand that new production always means new jobs, new taxes and, as a result, improving of the economy.

Apart from Ahrehatbud, whose relocation was announced earlier, are there any plans to relocate other Group’s enterprises?

The fact is that due to high probability of attacks at the beginning of the war we wanted to relocate “Svesky Pumping Plant”, our enterprise located in the Sumy region, on the border with the aggressor country. However, this is a city-forming enterprise and thus local residents would have been left without work and means of livelihood. Therefore, we had no right to do so. Now the pumping company remains both the main breadwinner of the village and a bomb shelter for its residents at the same time. In other words, we refused a more rational, from the business point of view, relocation decision, and I will never regret it. In any case, I will be sure that I did everything I could for the employees.

Tell us about the company’s charitable activities. Your Aurum Foundation spent more than 6.5 million hryvnias to help Ukrainian armed forces and people in 2022, what aid projects do you plan to do this year?

Like most Ukrainian funds today, we work quite intensively, mainly to satisfy requests and needs. This year though I have a separate project to help Ukrainian children who suffered as a result of the war and need treatment abroad. So, currently my team is working closely with Ukrainian doctors to identify the children who need specialized medical care – surgery or rehabilitation, and then we will organize the treatment of these children in clinics in Europe.

What are the prospects for Aurum Group in Western markets and your attitude to Ukraine’s accession to the EU?

Every conscious entrepreneur, regardless of the size of his business, big or small, must be aware of a simple truth – if he wants to be competitive, to be among the leaders, he must constantly develop, follow the trends and requests of his clients.

Therefore, I believe that with the country’s accession to the EU, at first, Ukrainian business will come under difficulties, but at the same time, incredible prospects will open for business and the country as a whole. So we have to work hard and stay enthusiastic in order not to waste the opportunity given to us.

Aurum Group is a Ukrainian multidisciplinary industrial and investment group. Main areas of activity: wagon construction, rolling stock repair, railway freight transportation, industrial pump construction, chemical industry, real estate and agriculture. The Group’s enterprises are located in Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovohrad, Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Ivano-Frankivsk regions and Kyiv city.

As it was previously reported, the Aurum Industrial and Investment Group lost more than 40% of its business to the war, 5 industrial enterprises located in Luhansk region and all agricultural sector enterprises in Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv regions are under occupation.

According to the results of the work in the war year of 2022, the Group paid taxes in the amount of about 90 million UAH, provided jobs to 925 employees and continues to conduct operational activities in the territory controlled by Ukraine.