11 March 2022
A quick update for my friends and associates. The last few months have not been easy. I've been struggling with exhaustion and some major business challenges. The exhaustion dates back to 2021. It's not COVID, but it exhibits many of the same symptoms. Rebound is tougher at 50.
The Invasion of Ukraine since 24 February has been a particular disaster. I've worked in Ukraine since 1999 and where I know so many inspiring people. About half are now refugees while the other half stay and fight or organise to support the victims of the catastrophe now unfolding.
The images of dead families, bombed cities and the “Groznification” of an entire country are appalling.
Every day I send out emails and texts, hoping that each will respond. It's a terrible way to start the day.
I also know so many amazing Russians, people who have no say in the decisions their government makes on their behalf. The Russians I know are creators, entrepreneurs, artists: brave people, not afraid to take risks, and fully integrated into their communities. They are a real credit and a resource to the countries they live in. A small number are among my closest friends.
It is particularly painful because the work I did in Ukraine involves developing manufacturing investments in some of the best companies there: Obolon Brewery, Ukrplastic, RKTK Board & Packaging, Golden Tile (Kharkhiv), Kharkiv Bearing Plant, Dneprometiz, Consumer Sklo Zorya, SBK, Fra-M, Technologia, Ista Battery, Westa Battery, and many others.
It was always a challenge to get the funding approved through a complete due diligence and business planning process. There were no favors granted.
And it was always a pleasure to see how well the resulting investments transformed each company, and how each company grew. Many of these grew into the top 10 in Europe.
When I started at Obolon Brewery (beer, mineral water, soft drinks) in December 1999, the average credit period was about 4 days (and the CEO would complain about this) and there was a single supermarket chain in the country: Billa.
You can tell how much the country has changed since then.
A lot of this is now in ruins. Without any rational justification whatsoever.
Ukraine is not a "Nazified" country. Ukraine does not need to be "demilitarised". Not a single NATO or EU country has claims on Russian land or presents a threat to Russia.
The only countries I know with claims on land occupied by Russia would be:
1. Japan: The southern Kurill Islands, dating to WWII.
2. Ukraine: Crimea has been invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014.
3. Ukraine: The Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics,” created by Russia in 2014.
Obviously, Georgia and Moldova would like a return to their former borders. But equally obviously, neither is a real threat to Russia, and there are no military campaigns underway against South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria.
The opposite is true: all countries want Russian investment and tourism. You can see this in the Golden Visa and Passport schemes, in Russian investments in London and Miami and Limassol, in Russian tourism all over the world.
I don't know a single Russian tourist that has returned from a trip to France or Germany or the United States thinking these countries were going to invade Russia, nuke Russia, or do anything else to it.
And the West has invested hundreds of billions of technical support and assistance in Russia. You can see this very openly on the websites of the European Commission, the World Bank, the United Nations and hundreds of bilateral programmes and NGOs.
You can see it in the millions of Russians living in the West, and in the many mixed couples that are married and living everywhere.
To claim otherwise is the height of paranoia or propaganda.
What is strange is the disconnect between the great people I know, and the disastrous governments they live under. But that is hardly unique to Ukraine and Russia.
It is [nearly] the same process in the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece or Cyprus and other countries. And it is probably the defining challenge of our times.
How, in an era of unprecedented globalisation, mobility and cultural sophistication, do we wind up with such abysmal leaders?
How, in an era of universal primary and secondary education and massive investments in tertiary education, do we have populations that are so gullible for fake news, and so unable to adapt to the changing conditions we live in?
How is it that entire democracies have become captured by special interests, often at relatively low cost in terms of lobbying expenditure? Some more than others, but the principal is the same.
How is it possible that the greatest crimes and stupidity occur in broad daylight? Without any apparent consequences?
Is our system still fit for purpose? Or are we committing a peculiar form of mass suicide by poisoning our planet, impoverishing our citizens, investing in propaganda and fake news, and killing with impunity?
Sadly, since the Greek financial crisis broke out in late 2009, I have formed my own answers to these questions. And few events since then have been sufficient to change my mind.
To conclude a difficult post: I am still here, still working, still believing in innovation and technology and the virtues of a global world. I thank everyone for their patience in putting up with occasional delays or less-than-usual performance. Things are difficult, but we will get through them somehow.
With the invasion of Ukraine, following 2 years of COVID, we are now entering the third year of real economic recession: a depression. With the 2008 crash, the Greek crisis of 2009 – 2016, and the Cyprus crash in 2013-2015, I reflect that in the past 14 years, only three years have been remotely normal: 2017, 2018 and 2019.
It’s hard to catch a break in our part of the world.
To all my friends: Keep working, keep creating, keep inspiring. Prepare for the difficult days ahead. Question authority. Take nothing for granted. Take care of those you love. Be kind to others.
Life is the sum of the decisions we make. Live a good life. There are no second drafts.