BUSINESS BY MUSICAL NOTES: Tatiana Burda from Invogue Fashion Group on how an introvert can become successful in business and where to look for “service” people
Leadership Journey (LJ): How did you come to a family business?
Tatyana Burda (TB): I came to a family business from a non-family business, because when Vlad and I started a family, each of us was an independent and successful entrepreneur. Based on the experience in previous marriages, we agreed that we should develop in parallel, and should not unite our businesses. That was the case at the initial stage. Of course, in the evenings we used to share news and helped each other with advice. Vlad owns Antoshka and Daniel business units. They differ in size and positioning. Antoshka is a mid-price segment, and Daniel is a premium segment. Daniel was much smaller and younger than its older “brother” was. Moreover, it was paid less attention. It seemed unfair to me because by the time we have met, I had grown 13 stores and saw the prospect of growth in Daniel. After the Revolution of dignity (2014 – Ed), the Daniel business was not quite well, especially when one of the shops was burned in Maidan (Central square in Kyiv – Ed). Then we have realized that it was necessary either to change something or close this unit. Once Vlad came home and said, «You know, the board of directors offered to transfer this business to you.» They believed in my expertise; saw my stores in the same price segment.
As a person who built a company from scratch, I understood that I could not close such a beautiful and promising business. We decided that we would have a common project, Daniel, and I have added this business to my company. In three years, we have remodeled almost every store and even managed to open four new ones. From this point on, we are increasingly integrating businesses with my husband: I help in the Antoshka fashion division, and Vladislav has become the Chairman of the board of directors in my company. Nevertheless, each of us leads their own business; we do not share responsibility.
LJ: Are your children involved in the family business?
TB: With children, we have a very harmonious integration. We have four sons and all from different marriages. And we wanted to unite them and attract to the family business. Vlad has been managing the Family Business Network (FBN) for almost 10 years – an association in Ukraine that brings together about 50 families across the country. Vlad prepared our sons to work in the family business. We have a rule – the first five years after graduation, children get experience outside the family company, and only then can they come to work in the family business.
Twice a year we hold family councils in which all adult children take part.
But before that, the board of directors must approve their nominations. The eldest son Sasha worked for five years as a lawyer and auditor at KPMG. Another eldest son, Dmitry, gained experience in a European company Runtastic and had a successful experience of running his own business in real estate. This spring they, with a difference of several days, became active top managers: Sasha is an auditor, and later CFO of RedHead, and Dima is the Head of the real estate department. Shortly after that, Sasha’s wife, Masha, who had previously been a lawyer in Obolon company, came to work at the company. Dima’s wife Yana joint my company as an event manager. She and Dima are waiting for our first grandson, in three months we will become a grandmother and grandfather. That is, with the arrival of children, we truly felt that our business is a family business. Two younger children are still studying, but on holidays, they work at Antoshka business.
We have many pleasant traditions in our family: for example, we dine together every Sunday. Now, these dinners have turned into meetings of like-minded people, we started to discuss business issues more and very glad about it. We are interested in each other.
Twice a year we have family councils in which all adult children take part.
One of our traditions is to go on vacation together twice a year, in summer and in winter. This is a very troublesome, but joyful time for all of us. The family is already quite large – nine people. We are looking forward to this vacation; no one would miss it.
LJ: Until 27, you were teaching (music). Why did you go to business?
TB: By education, I am a teacher of violin and taught at a music school. I have always been cramped in the school walls. First, in the 1990s, everything was under transformation; nobody was interested in the cultural sphere, at the same time the Soviet educational system was preserved. Second, entrepreneurial spirit has always lived in me. I realized that I was not interested in my work; I was uncomfortable with the idea of spending my life on teaching violin playing. I kept asking myself, “Shall I really forever start every year on September 1?” Once I realized that I would finish the school year and never return in September. It was a fair decision with regard to both my students and myself. I quit on my own wish not specifying my next job. My mom thought I was crazy! I was in music all my life – since I was five. I had no other skills. Soon afterward, I was accidentally passing by one of the first clothing stores in Odessa – ESCADA and saw that a sales consultant was required. All my friends looked at me as if I was nuts: a violinist was going to work in a store! However, I was very much interested. It turned out that I was also good at selling. I began to move up the ladder rapidly: first, I became the best seller in the store, then the deputy director.
I began to move up the ladder rapidly: first, I became the best seller in the store, then the deputy director.
Then the two owners split the business, I found myself in one of its parts. There were only a few people on our team. We were learning quickly: previously, I did not know anything about the office operations; how to order goods, how to do customs clearance, how to invoices, etc. Every morning, a new problem emerged; everything was an emergency! I have mastered many professions, that of a buyer, the customs broker, and the merchandiser … The first year I had no time to have rest. I was constantly looking for information in all sources, tormented all my colleagues and partners with questions on what and how they were doing things. A year later, I became the director of the company. I worked there for four years and we opened four more stores.
In 2000, I decided to try my own strength. I quit and opened our first multi-brand Invogue store in Odessa together with my partner. Then we dared to invest in Max Mara brand. It was risky because a multi-brand store always allows for the backlash: if the collection is not successful, you change it for another, and here you are very dependent on the brand and the vision of the designers. I never had a basic economic education. My business education is courses, summits, forums, and necessary educational modules.
LJ: Was there a desire to get an MBA?
TB: I am thinking about an MBA in Barcelona. This is a very rich, a year and a half-long course. You need to immerse yourself in learning. If I find the time, I will do it. This education is more important for me rather than for my business. I was running the company for 18 years, and a year ago, I handed over the reins of management to a hired CEO. The CEO manages all operations, and I am very pleased with her work.
LJ: In one of the interviews you talked about the need to invest in education …
TB: Yes, we are constantly investing in it. Today I am interested in art and music. Based on our company, we have created a social project – an Art Gallery, which has become a bright point on the cultural map of the city. In three years, the gallery held 79 events, including about 25 exhibitions and 8 special projects. About 25,000 people visited us. We are the official platform of the International Odessa Film Festival, the International Classical Music Festival “Odessa Classics”, the International Book Festival “Green Wave”, and other. We, as a company, invest time and money in these projects. I am constantly learning – from our art curators, and art historians. The times when people graduated from a university, put the diploma on the shelf and was studying no more, are long gone. I do not believe in academic education, where you passed the exam and are considered a specialist already.
I do not believe in academic education, where you passed the exam and are considered a specialist already
LJ: When you hire people, does education play a low-priority role for you?
TB: I do pay attention to education when hiring top managers. Yes, it is important for CEOs, operational and financial directors to have a good education. In the future, we help them continue to learn. However, we work in the service sector, so our employees must be primarily “service” people. No education can provide you with this feature. A person is either born with this feature or not. You cannot teach how to serve people. When I used to hire employees, I looked first at their willingness to think first about the needs of others, and then about themselves. Because it is not difficult to teach someone who wants to learn, but finding the right people according to their values is a task. We collect them bit by bit.
LJ: How do you determine a person fits?
TB: Now I very rarely hire someone. I have an agreement with CEO that I participate in the discussion of the candidates only in case of her first deputies. CEO herself, operations directors, service department and HR-department managers make the decisions. When I used to hire employees myself, I tried to understand how far “service-oriented” they were. There are some tricks: for example, you are sitting with a man in a cafe, and you accidentally drop a napkin. If a person does not even move to raise the napkin, it means that he will treat in the same way the clients. This first reaction is important. If you recall your favorite waiters and sellers, you will understand that these people are primarily interested in you. It is important not to obey but serve people. In addition, when hiring, I tried to hear a person and understand what moved them. Was it career, money, training, or status? It is very important to find someone for whom working in this business is a pleasure. Girls tend to come to us and say, “Salary is not so important for me; it should be interesting for me”. Of course, they will not work for three kopecks, but they want to be in fashion so much that the starting salary is not a fundamental reason for them. We are looking for such people because they develop. They will not have the feeling that they are working. I think I am very lucky to find my calling. When going to my office in the morning I do not feel like I am going to work. It is just an integral part of my life, although for quite a long time I used to work for 14 hours. If there will be no need for me to go to the office, I shall be at a loss at what to do.
I am very lucky to find my calling
LJ: What were you doing last year?
TB: Still doing business. We have opened new projects, have done remodeling, and we were engaged in FBN. This year, I decided it is time for me to pay more attention to myself. I got into yoga, tennis, and started to dance. I am reading a lot and watching all the movies on the waiting list. I have difficulties with business literature, but I am reading a book or two of fiction every week. Maybe because now I try not to be involved in operations, but to think only about the business strategy.
LJ: Why did you decide to move away from operations? Is it a question of workload, the purpose of life, family or anything else?
TB: It is inevitable if you hire a CEO: you need to transfer the responsibility zone. We have grown significantly. Now we operate in three cities in Ukraine. I understand still to be CEO I need to push many important for me things to the background. My husband and I devote a lot of time to FBN: we travel around the world, participate in international summits, learn from the experience of other families and companies, and organize four FBN events a year in Ukraine. Operations are not as inspiring to me as they used to be. I have other priorities today.
LJ: This is probably a frequently asked question: how do you manage to combine family and business?
TB: With Vlad, it is very easy, because we are both businesspersons and understand each other very well. We know what a business is, and that sometimes after working hours you just need to shut up, give each other time. He does not ask why I stay at work late or why I need to be at the office at 8 am. This was not the case in previous marriages, and I, frankly, have fought for many years for my right to do what I love. Men take the leadership of a woman hard, so I guess I learned how to combine the role of a woman and a businesswoman, switch from one regime to another. Indeed, in the office, you are a leader and should inspire and guide people, and at home, you are a wife and mother. And this is another role — where we need patience and love. I do not know how well I can alternate this, but people who know me say that I cope with this perfectly.
Men take the leadership of a woman hard, so I guess I learned how to combine the role of a woman and a businesswoman
LJ: Does your husband support you? Do you have equal relations in business and in your family?
TB: Yes, he supports me, says that I must grow. In many aspects, he is my major adviser. In previous marriages, I spent a lot of energy explaining that I should develop as a person that I needed to work hard, to learn, go on business trips, and not sit at home and wait for my husband back from work. Maybe that is why my previous marriages failed. I understood that I did not open up myself and could not achieve full self-realization. With Vlad, I develop very harmoniously and move forward.
LJ: Now in the business community, many people began to think over strategic and social issues, and not just making money. Is this the level of societal development or maturing of business in Ukraine?
TB: First, the business has grown up. We are already seeing the second generation of business in Ukraine. We even know one family with the third generation, grandchildren, working in business. That is, children and grandchildren of those who created companies in the 1990s are now engaged in the business. Today, these people are ready to be teachers, to participate in boards of directors, to transfer their experience and knowledge. Second, when the basic needs of the Maslow pyramid are closed and you no longer face the challenge of survival, you begin to think about improving the world around you. After all, you can live in prosperity and harmony, but you do not live only in your family, you and your children still need to communicate with the world. In my view, people’s consciousness is growing; especially this became noticeable after Maidan. I still look with admiration at the girls who, during the revolution, began to help children, the military and the elderly and continue to invest their time and money in it, although 5 years have passed. They give themselves away completely to society, and I admire this. I also have an awareness that it is time to give – and I give. I started to make speeches, I teach, I have a few people who approached me to be their mentor.
LJ: Did you have a mentor?
TB: At each life segment, there were good teachers. By the way, thanks to my search for a new teacher, we have met with Vlad. I came to the FBN with a request about my eldest son, because after graduation, he worked as a lawyer, and I wanted to integrate him into the company, but I did not know how to do it. By chance, I found out about FBN and came as a participant. There I heard the speech of my future husband. He always brilliantly speaks, and I fell in love with him immediately.
We decided that Daniel would be our common project; I added it to my company.
LJ: Have any of famous people, book authors influenced you?
TB: Today, everything about service is my passion. Now we are not a fashion company, but a service company that sells fashion. I am interested in the books and experiences of John Tschohl and Leonard L. Berry. They work with companies and describe cases, make us think and try on these cases. Service in our company is changing by tiny steps. Until recently the service environment in Ukraine was not very developed. I really like the expression: “Service starts when the queues end.” Previously, you just bought a product and was happy, because you managed to get it in conditions of shortage. Now it is almost impossible to surprise a customer with a product. He can buy the same jeans on hundreds of locations! However, it is important that when he needs them (again), he will recall you, because he was well served; and you remember him. He can always come to you for a coffee and chat, even if he is not buying anything.
TODAY WE ARE PROUD OF EVERY MEMBER OF OUR TEAM.
We were among the pioneers to improve service, and for three years now, we have been using the service program by Anastasia Vladychinskaya. First, we changed the internal service, and only then – the external one. Each employee is an internal client for another. For example, today some colleague helped you to understand a program, and in the morning, there is a “Thank you” card on his computer. We have been transforming the internal service for a year and have lost about 30% of our employees. Not everyone is ready to think about others first, and only then about themselves. Today, every member of our team is our pride.
LJ: You make an impression of a harmonious personality. How do you manage to stay in such a positive mood?
TB: I found myself and self-realized as a person and as a woman. And despite the fact that I spend a lot of time with people, in fact, I draw energy from myself. I am an introvert. Therefore, I am a self-recovery tool. When I get tired, I just need to be alone. Sometimes it takes two hours, sometimes a whole day, and then I am ready to communicate with the world again.