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Business during the war: the experience of Stekloplast owner Natalia Yeremieieva
24.11.2023
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11min
Business during the war: the experience of Stekloplast owner Natalia Yeremieieva
People. Leadership and management. Culture
Nataliia Yeremieieva, a graduate of the Presidents' MBA kmbs, tells us how she had to reformat her business to survive and whether she managed to make lemonade out of lemon.

Nataliia Yeremieieva:
co-founder and co-owner of Stekloplast (Dnipro, 28 years in business),
Vice President of the SUP (Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs),
co-founder of Women Leaders for Ukraine and founder of Charging with Yeremieieva, a project to support Ukrainian women,
mother of three sons.

Lack of employees and orders

The construction market, where Stekloplast has been operating for 26 years, closed in the first days of the war and has not yet recovered. But Ukraine is slowly rebuilding. In July of this year, the developer resumed negotiations on glazing commercial facilities in Odesa and Kyiv. This is one of the happiest days for me during the entire period of the war.

In wartime, 95% of the plant's orders are for the domestic market. In addition to traditional metal-plastic windows, we have already shipped windows and sliding doors for the Doma Trabotti seaside house in Odesa. We have also designed and installed a part of the White Lines multifunctional complex in Kyiv, a finalist of the World Architecture Festival international architectural competition.

And I am most proud of our participation in the production and installation of energy-saving windows and doors for the kitchen factory in Bucha, which will prepare hot lunches for 10,000 schoolchildren every day. I am proud to join the project of the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska!

Today, our plant is operating at 40-50% of its pre-war capacity. It's not just the lack of orders that's the problem. A big problem for us is the lack of a team. Women with children have left. It's hard to find installers and workers for the shop floor - many guys have gone to the front.

Stekloplast is now very dependent on new contracts. Therefore, we are looking for projects with beautiful and sophisticated designs that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye all over the world. And yes, we have learnt how to make them. Now we offer our customers a full cycle - from design to production.

From plastic windows and doors to airport design

"And where is the country of origin of this Stekloplast company, which is participating in our tender?" the organisers of the future airport construction in Kuwait asked each other. And they went to look for Ukraine on the map...

In this way, we are gradually making foreigners learn about our country, about the great designers and installers working in Ukraine! Gentle Ukrainisation...

And the order for Canada was found by our factory thanks to the "gypsy mail". Someone once told a young man from western Ukraine that a beautiful woman runs a plastic window factory in Dnipro.

So every month there are more and more places on the world map where Stekloplast projects are being built.

Thus, we gradually moved from the production of metal-plastic facades and windows to IT architectural projects. Now we have actually moved away from exporting windows, which are risky for foreigners to order in a country at war. We have moved on to a new product for us - IT solutions that can be transferred via the Internet. It is safe to order such a product, and it is much faster and cheaper for us to produce it.

Ambassador of Ukraine in the world

"I really need to get to the world-famous Zaha Hadid Architects in London! I believe in the theory of "six handshakes" and I know that I will achieve my goal through my friends and Stekloplast will cooperate with this bureau...

With this phrase, I logged on to Linkedin and began to master it. It turned out that it was the way to interesting and cool international architectural projects.

I realise that no one in the world and the architectural community is waiting for Stekloplast. All architectural studios have their own clients, and they have their own contractors. However, we will still knock on every door.

We have already made our first "bumps in the road". However, we have gained experience in preparing tender documentation for the Eastern market (we were the only company from the post-Soviet space there). We were preparing a joint project with the Belgian-French company BESIX Group to glaze a hospital near Paris.

In general, I dream that John in New York, Boris in London, Jack in Toronto, and Mohammed in Abu Dhabi will look at the world through windows and facades designed and installed by Ukrainian specialists. I dream of being an ambassador of Ukraine in the world!

Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs

As the vice president of the SUP, even in wartime I have to help defend the interests of Ukrainian business: meet with the authorities and banks, try to simplify the activities of companies. For example, very hot topics now are lending under the 5/7/9 programme, gaining access to finance, and overcoming the problem of blocking tax invoices. 


We showcase grant opportunities, talk about relocation, hold live broadcasts with experts, and generally do our best to make it easier for businesses in these difficult times. Our association already includes almost 900 Ukrainian companies, from small to large. And our main goal is to create a single platform that will not be associated with any oligarchic structures and will lobby for the interests of entrepreneurs.
In particular, the SUP is now opening a representative office in Poland and will promote export initiatives. "I test many of the things that the SUP launches first in my business. So, I play two roles at the same time: both as the Vice President of the SUP and as an entrepreneur.


Not just business


Ukrainian women are a pearl necklace for me. The war broke the thread of the necklace and the pearls scattered everywhere. They got dirty, rolled into cracks. Some of them disappeared from sight altogether. 


To get each one, wipe it off, restore its warm shine... To string it on a new thread, reassemble the necklace and give it to every woman. This is my mission.
Together with well-known ambassadors from around the world, we created the organisation Women Leaders (WL4U). This helps me to fulfil my mission - to wipe, warm and reassemble a pearl necklace. In addition to healing the soul, I will talk at WL4U about projects related to women's entrepreneurship and startups. I'm ready to become a mentor for girls to help them believe in themselves.


Back in March last year, Nataliia started writing down philosophical thoughts in her diary, including the principles of stoicism. To maintain her emotional balance, she did various exercises to feel alive and collected them: breathing, slowing down, fighting fear, philosophical walks. It helped me maintain emotional balance and cope with myself and my children.
This was the first step of my subjective extensive research into psychological self-help tools. Gradually, the diary was filled with quotes, rituals and thoughts that helped me to keep going, and it turned into a real "Resilience Trainer". It was successfully tested on me and hundreds of women I brought together at the weekly meetings of "Charging with Yeremieieva".


Women's leadership despite the war


"Help me not to die," I received calls from women I barely knew.
"How do I go on living?" they wrote to me on social media...
In peacetime, Nataliia Yeremieieva founded and ran a project to support working women called "Exercise with Yeremieieva". She inspired the beautiful half of the world to become leaders, shared her own experience of learning and self-development.
In the first days of the war, she realised that it needed to be reformatted, to help women who had been forced to leave Ukraine or stayed behind and were trying to regain their mental balance under daily shelling and anxiety.


First of all, we need to heal the soul from the stress. Talk about the pain in your heart. Then to set them up for the future. And then women ask me to give them wings. But this is when the soul is healed.
I am an ordinary woman and mother who, along with millions of other Ukrainian women, found herself under extreme stress due to a possible death, forced emigration, family separation (Natalia's husband and business partner remained in Ukraine), the destruction of plans, and business conservation.


My project GO.ENERGY gives women a path to a new life. I teach women to take small steps towards ambitious goals. But to do it constantly, thanks to a regime and discipline. And a woman sees that any goals are achievable.
I teach them how to restore energy, the fuel that helps us create, rejoice, love, give and receive. I share my life hacks on how to go through a transformation in turbulent times. I provide women with the tools and support to live their best lives.
GO.ENERGY is about discovering the inner strength and energy that helps you move forward in your life. 
You can't hit the target with a trembling hand. The inner state shapes everything that happens to a woman from the outside. Working on yourself is the only way to change reality and the world around you.


In the project, a woman receives my personal support as a mentor, a strong community of proactive women leaders, and access to unique techniques for working with her body, mind, and energy every day of the year.
 

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