Interview: Being the General Director of Accountor Ukraine in Times of War
by Tetiana Zemliana, Head of Marketing&HR
During our unforgettable trip to Finland, we decided to combine business with pleasure, and to have a chat with General Director of Accountor Ukraine, Guido Wellig. Feelings, thoughts, plans for future - we are very grateful to Mr. Wellig for his sincerity and for the very interesting conversation we had.
“…Ukraine is an amazing country with amazing people, who, in my opinion, have always been extremely resilient and creative and who’ve been trying to do the things that are best for the company, for their country and for each other. It’s really a great group to lead…”
Please tell our readers a little more about yourself and about the time when you became the General Director of Accountor Ukraine. Had you been to Ukraine before that? What were your first impressions of Ukraine and of the Ukrainian team?
I have been working at Accountor for 13 and a half years, and I’ve been always very much involved in the international business activities. I would often run into the former Executive Director of Ukraine, and we would talk about different things. And it kind of continued when Nadiia Kuziv took over as the new Executive Director of the Ukrainian unit. And then, when Timo Matinpalo, the ex- General Director for Ukraine, was handing over his responsibilities to become a Managing Director of Norway, I just asked from him: “Can I be in charge of Ukraine?” And after some good thoughts, apparently, he agreed, because now I’m here 😊. For three years I’ve been representing the Ukrainian team at the bigger international meetings that we are having.
I had never been to Ukraine before that. I wish I could have said that I had been, but that’s not true 😊 So, three and a half years ago was my first experience of going to Ukraine. I really liked it. It’s an amazing country with amazing people, who, in my opinion, have always been extremely resilient and creative and who’ve been trying to do the things that are best for the company, for their country and for each other. It’s really a great group to lead.
Why did you specifically ask for this job? Why Ukraine?
Well, to be honest, I have been responsible for the Netherlands for years, and I have been helping the Dutch unit to grow to a much bigger organization than when I started. And when I look at Ukraine, I kind of see you going through the same struggles, even though you are bigger than the Dutch team was when it started. We were somewhere between 10.8 FTE when we started in the Netherlands, and now we’re 45. And I was thinking that I know this struggle - to be one of the smaller units in a very big company - and I know what it’s like to lead a team like that. So, I was hoping that my experience would help Ukraine become bigger that it was at that point of time.
“…We in the West are less about stamps, signatures and actual paper documents, and more into a digital world. However, there are some bigger changes now, the Ukrainian team has been looking for more automation and robotization…”
What was the biggest challenge for you?
Well, “challenge” is not the right word for it, because it implicates something negative. I think that there are just some differences between the Netherlands and Ukraine, maybe from cultural point of view, and that’s something that I really had to adapt to. And being Dutch, that was not always easy. The way bookkeeping is done in Ukraine is much different from the way it is done in the West. We are less about stamps, signatures and actual paper documents, and more into a digital world. However, there are some bigger changes now, the Ukrainian team has been looking for more automation and robotization. So, that’s quite good that we can learn from each other to do things differently.
Let us look back on the 24th of February, and on the first days of the invasion. What was it like for you? What was your reaction to it, and what steps did you take? How did the situation affect you personally and your family?
I think, that weeks before the war started, I was kind of feeling that this might go wrong. A week before the war started, we sent a questionnaire to the Ukrainian team to ask them: “Hey, in case the worst happens and war starts, what can we do for you, how can we help you?” I wanted to be prepared. And, on Wednesday evening (a day before the war), I had a meeting with my boss. We were talking for a very long time, like two hours, going through the details and trying to decide whether it is possible for us to buy some rations, like food and water, or sleeping bags, etc. We made a to-do list and a shopping list, so that we could actually do something. And then, in the morning, everything changed. It was the last time when I had my sound off, in eleven months now. Because as I woke up, I realized there were around 80 messages in Viber. I think the first one was from Pasha, our Legal Advisor who would join the Armed Forced soon after that. He texted around 4 a.m.: “Did you hear that?” And that phrase, “Did you hear that?” still kind of haunts me today.
At first I thought – maybe it was nothing, and then it got bigger and bigger. It was quite clear that the war started. It was really, really horrible. I think that the sound of your phone is just one example of many things how it affected us, because we were trying to be there for the Ukrainian team 24/7. Of course, my kids, who mostly live with me, were aware of this whole terrible situation. They knew that every now and then I just needed to walk out and talk to somebody and do something.
But it’s not even comparable to what the people of Ukraine have been going through. And I mean not just people who are physically in Ukraine, but Ukrainians in general. One colleague was with us in the Netherlands for some time and got back to Ukraine. And was saying: “I really had to get back, because although I was in safety, I was always worried about my friends, my family, my mother...”. So, I think that it has a very big effect on all Ukrainians wherever they are. They carry this feeling that their home is under the attack, whether they are in Ukraine or outside of Ukraine.
What helped you cope with all the stress and keep your sanity?
My friends have been really a great support, reaching out, asking every now and then how I’m doing, how I’m feeling, and if there’s something they can do. And frankly, there are not many things that people can do. I also don’t feel that I can do many things. But I think that the biggest support comes from colleagues and ex-colleagues, especially those ones who know our Ukrainian team members personally. They are reaching out, asking me how I am doing, wanting to know how they are doing… It really helps a lot.
It is interesting to know what people in the Netherlands about the situation in Ukraine. Is everyone aware of what is going on? And is there any difference between your reaction and the reaction of the society?
This is a really difficult question to answer, because I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. But if you are looking for an honest answer, I think that most of the western world is very much supporting Ukraine. And that’s of course a very good thing. On the other hand, and I’m saying this with the utmost respect to everyone, there are many bad things happening in the world right now. My Dutch colleagues and me, and, of course, the great people from the Accountor Group, know Ukrainians, as they are part of the Accountor Family. So, it's kind of easier for us to lean towards the Ukrainian case and to say: “Yes, we are going to do whatever is possible to help them out”.
However, there are people who are worried about all the other things happening in the Middle East or in Africa, or in Asia, the people from Taiwan threatened by China. It kind of seems that the world is in complete shock, and everything is going wrong at this point of time. I know that’s a bit too negative, but I do believe there is hope, and I think that our government is showing that there’s still big support for the Ukrainian case. I just wish and we could do more to end this.
“…Whatever they are doing, they are doing their best to persevere. This is very much in their DNA. Whatever comes, they try to find a way to overcome it. And they are doing all this with a smile on their faces…”
Thanks to you, the Dutch team and the HQ, some of the Ukrainian employees are in the Netherlands now, and they have been there for a while. In your opinion, what are the main cultural differences between the Ukrainian and the Dutch people?
I think that the Ukrainians are wired to keep going. Whatever they are doing, they are doing their best to persevere. This is very much in their DNA. Whatever comes, they try to find a way to overcome it. And they are doing all this with a smile on their faces.
The Dutch people (again – with the utmost respect) are different. We haven’t had any problems for many decades right now. I think that the problems that we are having are just minor compared to all the problems that are going on in the world, especially in Ukraine. We don’t have any famine, we don’t have any war etc. We feel the echo of the war when the gas prices and the energy prices go up, but, from my point of view, it’s just a small price to pay.
The problem is that people are thinking about themselves: “Ah! Now I need to pay so much more!”, although the people in Ukraine are suffering on a daily basis, and still saying they are okay! “We are okay with everything. There is an alarm going off, we’re gonna go to the shelter. And after that, we’ll just continue to work”. In the Netherlands, I’m aware that we have shelters, but we haven’t used them for a decades. I think that the Dutch people do not always realize how lucky they are that they even don’t have to think about such things. There is always electricity, water, and petrol and stuff.
“…Oh, we just need to wait till this horrible war is over and then all of us can help local and international businesses to rebuild Ukraine…”
Of course, it is hard to make any forecasts now, but as a man of business, how do you think, what do we have to expect in the future, considering the war? And what do we have to expect after Ukrainian victory?
Oh, we just need to wait till this horrible war is over and then all of us can help local and international businesses to rebuild Ukraine. We’ve been talking about this in many, many meetings with the Group: that we’re going to be there for Ukraine not just now, through bad times, but also through good times as well. We really want to be there to support our clients - do their payroll, taxes, bookkeeping, whatever is necessary to help them build back better Ukraine.
The recent events have proved that Ukrainians are extremely hardworking under any circumstances. I’m not even thinking about what will happen after war, because it will be relatively easier for the team, and I think that we are very much prepared to start rebuilding whenever necessary.
But if we are talking not only about Accountor Ukraine, but about business in general?
The thing is that the war caused major drama in the infrastructure of the country. Ukraine has also a lot of resources, and I hope that with more support the western world it will be gaining more profits and more success from the natural resources that they have, and also from the ingenuity of the Ukrainian people. For instance, the IT environment in Ukraine. There are a lot of things that they should be recognized for. The only this is that the war should stop right now, preferably yesterday, and then we can start rebuilding.
Last but not least: Do you have a vyshyvanka (traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt)?
Yes, I have to admit – I have three! I got all three of them out of Ukraine, and I wear them proudly.
Did you try Ukrainian food?
Yes, varenyky, borscht and other stuff?
I’m extremely lucky to have 5 Ukrainian colleagues and their family members in the Netherlands, along with some other people are coming and going back to Ukraine. I think at the biggest point we had like 20 people in the Netherlands in total. And every time I come over to the place where they’re staying, I’m offered lunch or dinner. So, I think, I’ve tried a lot of Ukrainian dishes already, and all of them were cool. I haven’t stumbled upon something I didn’t like. Every time I visit them, I’m trying something new and interesting 😊.
We could have continued for hours, but our schedule was quite tight, so, we had to call it a day at some point. A big “thank you” to Guido Wellig for his openness, honesty and for sharing some business insights with us!
This interview marks the start of a series of conversations with the employees of Accountor Ukraine. The next one won't keep you waiting 😉. So, be sure to follow our latest articles and news!