Interview with Maxim Timchenko, Chief Executive Officer and Member of the Board of Directors of DTEK (Donbass Fuel-Energy Company)

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TEI: Did you expect the crisis at all? How did you react to it?

Maxim Timchenko: There are always some people who claim that any crisis can be predicted and unfavorable course of events can be anticipated. However the majority of the most authoritative economists in the world could not predict the scale of this crisis.

In my opinion, forecasting is difficult, because today there are too many variables to be considered due to global integration. The current crisis has become the first complex shock for the Ukrainian economy in the age of globalization.

A manager cannot predict the future, but he can and should model how the situation might evolve. One has to make decisions quickly, but base them on thorough analysis. This helps avoid the danger of being trapped by circumstances, losing control over the situation and acting only post factum. Besides, crisis also means new possibilities, one simply needs to adapt and start living in a new reality. We have seriously reconsidered key business processes in our company in order to be in sync with the new circumstances. We have also looked at our profitability in a wider context.

The most important thing, however, is to look at the company’s future instead of concentrating on the crisis period, and to keep the strategic projects running. One must remain cool-headed and not give up on good activities.

TEI: What helps you and your organization cope with the crisis? Which organizational competencies have proven most vital?

Maxim Timchenko: First of all, it was the strength of our team. It is useless to rely on external consultants, internationally recognized methods or standard algorithms of decision-making. There should be people around who truly understand the nature of the business, are able to work in the local conditions, and are on the same “wavelength”.

I follow several rules. First, one must act quickly and decisively, but base their decisions on careful analysis. Therefore, the role of internal expertise and analysis in our company is very significant. Second, it is necessary to work out action plans in case of the most unfavorable circumstances – nobody knows how much worse the situation will get. Forming the company’s strategy is a joint effort between all divisions, not a single department. This approach allows us to consider not only financial and economic factors in modeling the company’s future, but also technological, social and personnel-related factors. It is extremely important for us, since one of the key values at DTEK is people.

Thirdly, apart from the speed of decision-making their disciplined execution is essential. Above all, it is important to secure the trust of the key people (the shareholders, personnel, the management team, etc.) Their trust is a fundamental asset in times of crisis.

TEI: How has your management style changed? Have your priorities changed? What skills do you consider most important at this time? What’s missing?

Maxim Timchenko: I have sought to become more open in discussing the problems of the company with my team and have benefited from doing so in a number of ways. The crisis has increased the need for current information about what is happening in the company’s plants before these data get aggregated in official reports. This allows me to stay informed about the actual situation and to make decisions flexibly and promptly. The role of the corporate center has changed a little. While it used to be the strategic center, now it is more involved in operational decision-making.

TEI: What kind of managers in your organization turned out to be most effective? What is special about their style?

Maxim Timchenko: I would like to repeat that the cornerstone to the success of our company is a cohesive and effective TEAM. Naturally, each manager has his own management style that distinguishes him from others. However, when we collaborate and supplement each other we are able to make quick but well-balanced and effective management decisions. I consider this one of our major advantages.

TEI: What did you have to sacrifice in this crisis? What have you learned? Has your idea of what a CEO should be like changed?

Maxim Timchenko: Above all one must learn to make decisions in times of uncertainty and at the same time take responsibility for drawing the final line. One needs to learn to balance intuition and calculation.

I have identified for myself that a real leader is not a rock that difficulties and problems break upon. Oftentimes firmness is confused with stiffness, and stiffness eventually turns into fragility. A leader should be flexible and adaptive. However, while keeping up with the trend and changing the tactics, one must remain true to oneself and the values that one has always advocated.

«...A manager cannot predict the future, but he canand should model how the situation might evolve»

I have learned that openness within the company allows even the most difficult decisions to be executed. I am convinced that you cannot demand any sacrifices from your employees unless you are making them yourself. This “only together” principle helps to strengthen the team and enhance the sense of unity. Today our organization is working as a single organism and as a result difficult but necessary decisions are supported not only by the corporate center, but also by the employees at the plants.

It is hard to simultaneously be a leader who instills confidence and inspires people, and a manager who is in charge of anti-crisis measures. However, the CEO should be able to combine these two roles.

Photo: e-wiki

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