If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room!
Boris Lozhkin is a Ukrainian entrepreneur, philanthropist and author.
He founded the UMH Group, a publishing and advertising company, in 1989. He grew it into one of the largest multimedia businesses in Eastern Europe, with a portfolio that included print, internet and radio, including the local rights to Forbes and Vogue. The UMH Group was the first and only Ukrainian media group to be listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Boris sold the company in 2013 for $500m.
After the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity that led to the ousting of the former President, Boris decided to serve his country. With the need of both his business acumen and managerial experience, he was appointed Head of the Presidential Administration.
An apolitical person himself, Boris spearheaded a fundamental shift in Ukrainian politics by bringing into Government a new generation of inspirational and politically unaffiliated reformers. During his two-year mandate, working closely with the President and the Government, Ukraine implemented more reforms than in the 20 years since independence.
In 2016, Boris decided to return to business, and expand his philanthropic efforts. He has been focusing high-growth investments in Ukraine and internationally. He also served for a year as the pro bono chair of the National Investment Council to attract foreign investment in Ukraine.
Boris has a long history of giving back to the community through his charitable foundation, which focuses on helping children and the elderly. He co-chaired the committee for organizing the 75th Anniversary of the Babi Yar tragedy. Boris was elected President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine in 2018, and appointed Vice-President of the World Jewish Congress.
He is an accomplished author, having written four books, the latest being “The Fourth Republic. Why Europe needs Ukraine, and Why Ukraine needs Europe?”.
Boris is married to Nadezhda Shalomova, and they have one daughter.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I set up UMH GROUP in 1994 with the launch of the project Telenedelya – the first celebrity magazine & TV guide in Ukraine. Telenedelya became the most popular national magazine and has remained in this position for more than 20 years. The project became the engine that has led to the development of the entire UMH brand portfolio and was developed whilst I was working as a journalist. At the time of the launch, there was apparently no market for this sort of venture – so I created one from scratch!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am a workaholic. I usually start working at around 10am and often work until midnight. Most days I make it into the office if I am in Kyiv, but since becoming President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine I spend a lot of time travelling. Over the last few months I have been to Israel, the U.S., the UK, France, and Switzerland, to name a few places.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Success is based on ambition, and this helps me frame my projects from the outset. You need to set very ambitious goals to help bring your projects to life. For example, I was speaking to a friend who had just opened a cell phone shop. I told him that from my point of view, his goal should not be 5 shops in 3 years, as he was planning, but rather the biggest chain of electronic shops in the region. This is how I think, and this allows me to bring my ideas to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
AI and tech innovation will revolutionize numerous industries, including the oldest one: agriculture. Farmers are already using big data to cope with climate change, and drones to monitor crop yields.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I try to keep meetings short to ensure they are productive, and I always take notes of the main take away, so that we do not lose track of ideas or plans.
What advice would you give your younger self?
“Only the paranoid survive”, as Andrew Grove famously wrote. This is very true.
I would tell myself to be more vigilant and to realise the importance of the Internet sooner, and how this would revolutionize the media industry. We often tend to overestimate the short-term impact of technology and to underestimate its long-term impact. This was certainly the case for me with the Internet.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room! Most people take pride in believing they are the smartest person in the room. Firstly, the fact they have this kind of disillusion proves that they are not so smart. And secondly, we should always crave to be surrounded by people smarter than ourselves. This is the only way to learn and to progress.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Meet with people as frequently as possible, from as many different backgrounds as possible. I’m currently looking for new sectors to invest in, both in and outside Ukraine, and I’m meeting with people from a range of backgrounds – from investment banks, private equity companies, to lawyers and other entrepreneurs. We discuss points of future growth, but always from a different slant. This allows you to paint a much broader picture of any problem, which in turn allows you to solve it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
At the end of the 90s, I got a number in my head: One Billion. I printed out this number and put it on my desk. I organised an evening to which I invited around 80 of the company’s top managers (at the time, UMH had around 4,500 employees). We projected the number on a big screen and I said something along the lines of “This is our goal, we want to become a company with a capitalisation of One Billion Dollars. In order to achieve this, we must put in our utmost efforts, we must adapt every single day, we must learn how to sell, we must be aggressive, only then can we achieve this goal”. The strategy was about bringing everyone on board with my plan for the future.
Eventually, UMH was valued at almost half a billion USD before I sold it in 2013. We did not reach the billion. But if we had targeted half a billion in the 90s, we would have only reached a quarter! Think big – this is my strategy!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One of the mistakes which I made was that I initially did not think strategically, in global terms, but only in domestic terms. I wanted to create the number one product in the country, and I wanted to have the number one publishing house in the country. Luckily, I was able to harness the power of the Internet in order to realise a loftier ambition for my company – that of becoming the largest publishing house in the whole of Eastern Europe, and not just Ukraine.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The oldest form of industry – agriculture – will be the industry of tomorrow. We will need to feed a global population that keeps on growing and that is more and more demanding – the business potential is enormous. Those who will make it are the ones who will leverage the tech and AI revolution and apply it to the agro-sector.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I had a wonderful massage recently, and it is fascinating to observe the influence of the mind on the body and vice-versa. We often forget it, but we are one. “A healthy mind in a healthy body”, as the Roman poet Juvenal used to say.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Google Maps! I like to walk, and since I travel a lot I use Google Map to ensure I don’t get lost. If I have the time, I always chose to walk rather than take a taxi or public transport. It’s great exercise. And it is a well-known fact that the best ideas always come while walking.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I will resist the temptation to recommend my latest book, The Fourth Republic, and opt for Ten Good Reasons to Go for a Walk by Mary Anne Malleret and Thierry Malleret. It presents the latest research about how walking can dramatically improve our health – both physical and mental. Highly recommended.
What is your favorite quote?
“If you do not know where you want to go, you might find yourself in another place without even noticing it”.
• Self-belief is crucial when it comes to succeeding in business.
• Be as ambitious as possible – this will help frame your ideas from the start.
• Never stop learning and meet as many different people from as many backgrounds as possible.