PLACE UNDER THE SUN: Sergey Yevtushenko from UDP Renewables about the bright future of Ukraine. Very bright
Sergey Yevtushenko loves the sun. However, it is not about vacation, but about work. He is a co-founder and managing partner of UDP Renewables, which builds solar power plants.
For two years, the company managed to build and launch three solar power plants — in Dymerka, Kyiv region, Genichesk, Kherson region, and Konstantinovka, Zaporozhye region with a capacity of 6, 18.3 and 13 MW, respectively. Investments in the latter amounted to about $ 10 million. And this is only the beginning. Over the next four years, UDP Renewables plans to commission solar and wind power facilities with a total capacity of 300 MW. The largest international industry players will be the investors, and investments will reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
The launch of three phases of the Dymerka solar power station in 2019 will be the debut project of the Spanish energy giant on the Ukrainian market
Closing a deal with the first strategic partner lasted for more than 18 months. The first partner of the Ukrainians was the Spanish ACCIONA Energia Global – the world leader of the “green” energy generation. The launch of three phases of the Dymerka solar power station in 2019 will be the debut project of the Spanish energy giant on the Ukrainian market, which will increase its capacity by almost 58 MW. The total amount of foreign direct investment only in this project amounted to € 54.7 million. According to Sergey Yevtushenko, the emergence of such global industry players in Ukraine means the transition of the renewable energy market to the next level.
The head of UDP Renewables told Leadership Journey, what his company is doing now, what it plans to do in the future and why it is more profitable to work with strategists than with tacticians.
Leadership Journey (LJ): I know that you used то work in an investment company, then in government, and now in the alternative energy business. How did you come to this sphere?
Sergey Yevtushenko (S.Y.): I had my first experience in business in 2005–2006. We created an investment boutique Merit Investment Group, which was engaged in attracting investment in Ukraine. It was the first time I had tried myself in this area. It was a period, when the economy of Ukraine was growing very quickly; and, in principle, you did not have to be as wise as an owl to get a good result.
At that time, the acquisition of a Ukrainian bank in the interests of the Polish financial holding company Getin Holding S.A., one of the largest in Central Europe was our largest transaction. We accompanied the transaction from “a” to “z”. Then our young team received the most important thing that can be expected at the beginning of a career — an experience of preparing documents for such a transaction, an experience of a successful transaction and the structuring of a transaction.
In addition, we provided consulting services. Several large Western banks, the Polish petrochemical concern PKN Orlen were among our clients. And we have closed several such transactions on M&A.
Around 2009, this market began to diminish; the business had declined significantly. At that time, I was invited to work for a state enterprise, then to the State Investment Agency. Later it was transformed into the Agency for National Projects.
My civil service experience lasted for 4.5 years, and it was interesting in its way
My experience in civil service lasted for 4.5 years, and it was interesting in its way. It was kind of a challenge. It would be naive to expect any big results in those days. But I had a chance to see how the public service worked and made certain conclusions on the time a civil service was taking and what the burnout syndrome was. I already see this syndrome in the next generation of civil servants, read their interviews and, unfortunately, I notice many of the emotions that I felt then.
At the end of the civil service in 2015, the question arose of what to do next. I have always been interested in the industry of «green» technologies; I came to know about it approximately in 2010.
LJ: How was your strategy in the renewable energy business developed? And how do you follow it?
S.Y.: At the beginning of the 2010s, we were already working with a company from the world top five, which intended to acquire a large-scale wind power project in Ukraine. Preparations of the transaction took about nine months, six due diligence steps were taken and a non-binding offer was prepared, but the team made some tactical mistakes and we did not close the deal. A parliamentary election campaign was launched in Ukraine. Any election campaign evokes a lot of noise and scandals, and the supervisory board of the western company decided to refuse from the project in Ukraine.
Today, I value any experience, both with a plus sign and a minus sign.
It was a bitter experience, and it took some time to recover, to order thoughts and emotions, to explain the team that life was going on.
Today, I value any experience, both with a plus sign and a minus sign, because it is an opportunity to draw conclusions, to check people. We reflected on mistakes, and most importantly, we realized that it was feasible to get to this peak in Ukraine and that a world major (a leading company — Ed) can go into the industry of “green” energy.
At a time, we became leaders in the Turkish electric car market
Back in 2014–2015, we invested in a company that managed a fleet of electric cars. We had business both in Ukraine and in Turkey. The project did not justify our calculations, but we had learned to work together as a team. At a time, we became leaders in the Turkish electric car market, but the worsening market conditions forced us to exit this project and sell the company to one of the largest Turkish industrial and financial holdings. We are pleased to see that today this business is developing in Istanbul — the fleet of electric cars in taxis is increasing and our network of charging stations continues to grow.
In 2016, we agreed with Vasily Khmelnitsky (the founder of the UFuture Investment Group, which includes UDP Renewables — Ed) to enter the alternative energy sector as partners. Khmelnitsky’s business model works the following way: he gathers a smart team with experience of success stories or failures from which conclusions were made. He gives this team the authority and a great mandate of confidence, and he participates in the development of a common strategy as a partner.
At that time, the UFuture group was not represented in this business, and we actually built it from scratch.
In the second quarter of 2019, I think, UDPR will reach the first € 100 million of capitalization
Already in 2017, we had launched our first power plant with a capacity of 6 MW.
The strategy I proposed, foresaw that we needed a major partner company.
ACCIONA Energia, a Spanish company, the world number one in the green energy business, had become the partner. Now the company is implementing an investment project of € 53 million in Ukraine, which we had transferred to them last year. We are discussing joint plans of a very large pipeline, gradually closing the corresponding SPA, SHA with them, and moving on. In fact, we became the local partner of this Spanish company.
In the second quarter of 2019, I think, UDPR will reach the first €100 million of capitalization, and by the end of the year, this figure will increase significantly.
LJ: How did you manage to attract this company to the project and does the current situation in the country scare potential investors?
We were preparing for the negotiations with the strategist, as athletes for the Olympic Games
S.Y.: Yes, it does scare. And not without a reason. Objectively, many investments in Ukraine failed. Many Western businessmen have lost money in Ukraine. The owner of the Spanish ACCIONA company was consulting with many European businessmen who already had experience in Ukraine, communicated with the embassy, checked all indexes. His visit to Ukraine was the turning point. He saw our scale, work style, and the team. Of course, he had checked the project itself, in advance, which was very well done and it exceeded all expectations.
We were preparing for the negotiations with the strategist very carefully; we have developed a high-quality investment memorandum. We were preparing as athletes for the Olympic Games. Four years of training for a bright ten-minute performance. If you want to work with a major, you must speak with him his language – in technical, financial, economic, moral and legal aspects. You cannot spare resources and time to make them fully understand you. And this is another important conclusion that we have made.
IF YOU WANT TO WORK WITH A MAJOR, YOU MUST SPEAK WITH HIM HIS LANGUAGE
ACCIONA was closing the deal with us for 18 months, but we clearly understood that we should receive the first major player in Ukraine. UDPR had come to this business when large companies were already working on the market, we were no different, and suddenly at one moment, we entered the big leagues, had become a partner of the first major.
A year later, information about the intentions of other international companies to enter the industry began to appear, but ACCIONA would forever remain the first to close successfully a deal on the Ukrainian market.
LJ: Were there companies that did not go to Ukraine due to political upheavals?
S.Y.: When the force majeure occurred — martial law, the reaction of two types of investors was very indicative: that of a strategist and a tactician. It was an amazing experience for us. The strategist is saying, full speed ahead, we are here for the next forty years and cannot be distracted by all your turbulence. A strategist has two radars: a near-distance and a far-distance one. He regards half a year ahead and 10 years ahead. If he is confident that the industry is developing in a certain trend and the next 10 years the market will be fast growing, then he is adapting his plans every six months, taking into account local risks and specifics, but is not changing the overall strategy of development. The course is correct, we have a clear focus, and we are sailing in the right direction. A strategist thinks this way. Therefore, ACCIONA clearly declares that the company is here for a long time and will keep the asset until full depreciation. There are very few such companies.
Another partner, a Slovak company, had a slightly different plan. The company was not ready to accept the risks of martial law and the increased turbulence in the market, as most potential investors-tacticians were. The Slovaks revised their development plans and took a conservative stance. We finished our cooperation on a joint project. And for us, this is another important conclusion. If you are dealing with a strategist, he does not escape the battlefield at the first threat.
IF YOU ARE DEALING WITH A STRATEGIST, HE DOES NOT ESCAPE THE BATTLEFIELD AT THE FIRST THREAT
LJ: In this project, you are a partner of Vasily Khmelnitsky. How did you meet him, what has become common?
S.Y.: I think, I have learned about Vasily Khmelnitsky from Forbes magazine. There was an interview in 2013, in which he talked about partnerships. At that time, I already had relevant experience in Merit Investment Group, and everything worked successfully with my partner. I realized, in Ukraine, there was a large financial and industrial group that had a leader with similar views.
As a result, it is very easy for us to negotiate and make decisions. I have the same management style. I also motivate my team by shares. Team members are included in the process, and we always keep skin in the game, that is, we play on part of our assets.
For Vasily, it has always been very important that his partner also plays with his own money. You can develop the best strategy, but warn that you are only a consultant and not responsible for anything but a good recommendation. But this is quite another thing when you also bear personal financial responsibility. This has a sobering effect.
It is important to learn to live with risk, take it calmly, knowing that your property is pledged and you are in loans
Vasily was the first person to explain to me that in business it is normal to be under the constant pressure of responsibility. It is important to learn to live with risk, take it calmly; knowing that your property is pledged and you are in loans. In such circumstances, you are very much interested in stability, and any force majeure arriving from a third party hurts you. Then your decisions are made taking into account a large package of circumstances that may occur. This is called risk control.
This is the third important lesson. We do not need super profits; we need a safe project with a decent return. Due to the effectiveness of the team and our experience, we will make its profitability higher than the market average, but we will definitely not jump into any adventures.
WE DO NOT NEED SUPER PROFITS; WE NEED A SAFE PROJECT WITH A DECENT RETURN
LJ: Continuing the topic of partnership. We have recently published a material holding that the partnership, as a rule, either ends up not very happy for the parties or generally hurts business at some stages. Therefore, I believe that partnership is great art. What principles of a partnership have you taken out for yourself?
S.Y.: A good question. There is no an unambiguous answer. These principles are always enriched with new and new points. The first and most important thing is that partners must have the same long-term goals, values, priorities and have a common mentality in a way.
I have learned a lot in this partnership because, in its DNA, the UFuture group has twenty years of partnership experience and many tools that have evolved at different times based on different experiences, both successful and unsuccessful.
The second rule is to negotiate on the shore the rules of the game for the long term, including the conditions for a possible exit.
Third, corporate culture is important. For example, in our company, there is no corruption at all, and this is part of the culture. In state-owned companies, this is more common, in private companies, perhaps a little less, but in our company, this is an absolute taboo.
Only perseverance and the ability to raise up after the blows and defeats, having made the right conclusions will let you count on long-term success.
The fourth conclusion is to delegate authority to the managing partner. If the partner has taken responsibility for something and has skin in the game, then do not interfere with his work. You should not micromanage him. I give absolute freedom of action in this respect. Khmelnitsky often says, if we succeed – we have earned the money together; if we fail – we have lost together. No big deal. This is part of the process, part of the game called “business”. I do agree with him.
My personal conclusion – only perseverance and the ability to raise up after the blows and defeats, having made the right conclusions, will let you count on long-term success.
LJ: It turns out that it is not about making money; it is about a game and success
S.Y.: Yes, business is a game of success. It becomes already a kind of a challenge. We want to build a cool innovative, benchmark company for the industry. We want to build a financially successful company, of course. But we focus on what type of business it should be, how efficient it should be. I do not think as much of the money earned, as of the “health” of my company.
BUSINESS IS A GAME OF SUCCESS
In UDPR, talented guys with an excellent education, a real experience of successes and mistakes are working. This is my fifth conclusion; you should invite remarkable people to the team and not interfere with their work. All these form a company’s DNA, and therefore it is important for me to hear the opinion of the team on strategic decisions.
We always discuss purchases or partnerships with the team and carefully weigh the pros and cons together; then we make a decision. We are constantly learning to hear each other’s arguments, to find a balance, a compromise. It is not always easy. It is much easier to manage in the style of «I said, and so it will be.» I have to work on myself. And this is the right way.
LJ: In a recent interview, you talked about building a certain ecosystem. What did you mean?
S.Y.: We really appreciate working in an ecosystem and we see many advantages in this. A business ecosystem includes professional participants, and each provides a high-quality product or service; he specializes only in one segment.
Today, there are several dozen companies in our ecosystem; the banks, legal companies, strategy consultants we are working with
For example, I am not doing projecting. To have such competence within the company, I would need to create a projecting (engineering) department and take efforts and be seriously distracted by these tasks. Instead, we are working with the best projecting companies in Ukraine. Yes, it is more expensive, but our orders allow them to remain on the market and to provide us with high-quality services. For us, there is no need to develop non-core competencies and occupy new niches. We focus exclusively on our strengths and competitive advantages. Therefore, we deliberately work in the premium segment, pay contractors and partners well and clearly understand why we are doing this. An effective ecosystem allows you to improve business reputation in the eyes of society and industry. Today, there are several dozen companies in our ecosystem. There are banks, legal companies, strategies consultants with which we are working. The number of companies will grow.
LJ: In your view, what will be your company in 10 years?
S.Y.: Either a billion-dollar company or an exit with a minimum of 6.5–7 EBITDA — a multiplier above the market average. The current strategy is calculated until 2022, but then we can make an exit from the industry. It will depend on the macroeconomic situation in the country.
The UFuture group’s philosophy allows us to sell any asset at any time if there is a good price.
Rotational assets will occupy a certain place in our portfolio. Their sale will ensure further accelerated growth of the entire company. And the general philosophy of the work of the group UFuture and V. Khmelnitsky is that we can sell any asset at any time if there is a good price. Business in our traditional sense is a set of transactions, not a long-term holding. In the coming years, we have the opportunity to create a large company, and we are now on this path. But if we assume that risks dominate, then ROE is our first KPI. Therefore, at any time we can exit from a part of assets or the entire company and invest in a more reliable and attractive business.
LJ: If there is a period of the best offer and you realize you exit either now, or never, are you ready to go out?
S.Y.: Hard to say. This is not only my decision. We will definitely involve consultants; analyze the markets. You cannot take it carelessly. We are ready to make an exit, but for now, we are moving along the strategy of building a company and we want to reach 300 MW of installed capacity.
LJ: An entrepreneur I know has recently said, “It’s better to exit six months earlier than five minutes later.”
S.Y.: That is right. We always have many ideas for further investment in case we exit. For the time being, we are in the phase of rapid growth and, in my view, we shall grow another year and a half. A possible slowdown might happen if we do not go for wind technology. If we succeed in transition (to wind technology), we will continue the same direction for several years. I do not build a strategy for 10 years. I think that even the National Bank is not building a strategy for 10 years in Ukraine.
IN UKRAINE EVEN THE NATIONAL BANK IS NOT BUILDING A STRATEGY FOR 10 YEARS
LJ: How do you find partners for your projects?
S.Y.: There is no universal recipe. This can be done with the help of professionally qualified consultants such as Jansen, Rothschild & Co, Deloitte, and others. You can find partners using your own resources. All you need is good luck, charisma, and preparation. This is not an easy task and the one who knows how to do it, in principle, makes a successful business. A company of any scale needs to work with investors. The scale is growing, the risks are growing, you control them, but conceptually the approach is the same. Both, a shawarma kiosk and a project of Elon Musk work with investors. Money is always around; you just need to get it in a clear, civilized and legal way.
A COMPANY OF ANY SCALE SHOULD BY ALL MEANS WORK WITH INVESTORS
LJ: Let us talk about your personality. To what extent should a business owner, a co-owner, a top manager, in your opinion, be involved in the project?
My balance is work, family, education, sports, and my cultural and spiritual development as an individual
S.Y.: For me, work is a great pleasure, and I don’t divide time into “life” and “work”. I just live like that. If I have no plans for a weekend, I can fly to negotiations, because there are plans for the working days already. At the same time, I can afford daily sport in the morning and start my working day at 9:30 or 10:00 am. Obviously, I am imbalanced in favor of work. But if I see that on a certain day I cannot be productive at work, I switch to another activity. I spend my weekends usually with my family; we travel a lot; this is important for us. My balance is work, family, education, sports, and my cultural and spiritual development as an individual.
LJ: Whom would you call a perfect or almost perfect manager? This may be a collective image.
Many people create themselves with the help of various tools; build their virtual images
S.Y.: It is difficult for me to judge people by their virtual images because I do not think that an avatar = real person. Many people create themselves with the help of various tools, specialists; the build their virtual images. This is in particular easy to do in the era of mass development of social networks.
I see that Alexander Galitsky from Almaz Capital is very efficient. I like the way he thinks. But, again, I do not know him personally and did not work with him. I do not want to give anyone any advances or offend anyone because I had no personal communication experience.
Elon Musk is a successful visionary and businessman, but he has a very high turnover rate, top managers constantly go. This is not a good signal. Steve Jobs is a super successful businessman, but today we read references that he is a despot. There is an effect, there is efficiency, but people are unhappy. For me, the happiness index of the team is important, so that people would work together for many years with pleasure.
I would probably also look at the generation of young people; in part I know them. These are people, who build technology companies from scratch and do this on a serial scale. If a person is doing this repeatedly and with the same team, then he definitely deserves attention as a manager.