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Elena Sukhina – One on One

Elena, you are a vivid example of how aspiration, work and learning help to realize the most courageous desires. You come from Ukraine, and now you are a successful businesswoman in Singapore, with whom the whole world takes an example. Tell us about that moment in life, how your growth began as a person, when you realized that you want something more than just being an average manager. Even as a child, before the first time I heard the word “Manager,” I understood that I want and can do more than the people surrounding me, such as classmates. The dilemma was that I didn’t know what exactly I wanted, so I tried myself in different roles: I attended a lot of additional classes (from sport-acrobatic rock-and-roll to cybernetics). Such I had the character to try everything on myself and to know the method of trial and error. Now theoretical knowledge and practical experience have appeared – errors have become less. Then I went to study in Malta and London. Seeing how my classmates skip classes, do not do homework and spend nights in clubs, I realized that it’s more fun to spend my leisure in other directions: for example, attend evening courses in Bloomberg, to enrich my network and to invest into myself. Sometimes I went to parties with group mates, but I did it wisely, because the most important thing is to keep a balance. The tipping point was my study at SMU-IE business school. Enrolling in the group as the youngest and weakest student, I achieved good results at the end of the studying. Such victories over yourself and your fears inspire. My groupmates were successful people: the heads of departments of major corporations like Nike, Credit Swiss, and top managers of Asian large organizations. They helped me a lot, because only competing with stronger opponents, you yourself become stronger! The most interesting fact is that I went further and founded my international company, took up the new start-ups and now they ask me for development tips. Therefore, coming from a personal worldview I believe that the manager is not a permanent state. I am really interested in organizing people and processes. . 

In one of the interviews you talked about owning “superpower” – to understand people. What is it? And how can a person find his unique superpower? From the acquired knowledge and experience, I created a matrix for myself, which I apply to everyone. It’s as if there’s a performance optimization processor in mind. Seeing and communicating with a person I can almost always find the directions in which he can develop himself. My peculiarity is that I don’t spend time on condemnations or negative emotions. I accept people as they are with all the advantages and disadvantages. Even accepting employees to work and seeing some special aspects in a candidate, I create work for such a person. Each of us has its own peculiarity, the main thing is to understand what this uniqueness is and to develop it despite the resistance from society, which imposes stereotypes on us. Listen only to your inner voice, try yourself in different areas, conduct an internal dialogue with your Self, the main thing is to move, for as the wise say: on the way you will find all the answers. 

On the way to success, you got education in London, Paris, and Malta, and you also lived in Shanghai and led projects around the world. Why have you chosen Singapore as a home to your company?  What attracted you to this exceptional city in the world? First of all, I love being there where others were not and doing what others did not do. Singapore is far from Ukraine, in the literal sense and in development. While living in Shanghai, I taught the Mandarin dialect, but the situation with the pollution and the rhythm of life were terrible there. A huge densely populated city seemed to steal all the energy with its logistics and constant tension and reluctance of the local population to learn English. I understood that it is necessary to change what does not fit. Singapore speaks English, but most people can also chat in Chinese, while business culture is similar to that of Chinese ancestors, but has been modified to European or American style. Comfortable internal and external logistics, which influences positively on the business culture. The state has optimized the company’s formation process and has a transparent scheme of subsidies for a start-up business. And of course, the technological component will not leave anyone indifferent. There are hubs for development where you can come and get advice or become a member of the community and participate in the development process. Another unicity of this country is the local population: very friendly and excellent executors of clear instructions of managers. Singapore is not only a sterile and safe city-country, but also a favorite destination for tourists and cash flows. 

You work a lot with the start-ups, this is like one of the most profitable business lines and at the same time the riskiest. How do you understand that a project can be really profitable? I do not have a lot of start-ups, but I really love working with new innovative projects that not only destroy stereotypical thinking, but also make society more efficient and healthy. In fact, financial profit is the secondary side of the issue. Indeed, an important factor is how much you are passionate about the idea, how much this idea will have an impact on society, but its development is in the present and future. Most of the start-ups do not bring profit and rarely pay off, but the start-ups that bring innovation, the destruction of outdated business models and the effectiveness of society will be successful. Startups are good at making quick decisions and relatively quick implementation of these decisions, because they have not yet plunged into the routine bureaucracy of a multi-layered hierarchy like big organizations. I take on the project, if I like the idea, which I will devote my time with all my passion and desire. 

There is an opinion that women and men receive money in different ways. Men earn money, and women attract them. This is the difference in the conduct of business, do you agree with this? And what is the best way for women to attract money in the modern world in your opinion? At this case attraction is the same as earning. “To attract” in business means not to pay income tax, which is typical of non-profit organizations. Business does not divide people by gender. And now we are seeing how many industries that were previously dominated by men are submitted by women and vice versa. People become more educated and understand that everything depends on their personality. We are determined by our education, our experience and desire to optimize, adapt, and not be lazy. It is only important to understand your peculiarity and improve. Get rid of procrastination, laziness and dependence on the opinions of others. Be yourself and improve – everything will come if you enjoy the process. 

One of the popular topics at the Top World seminars for CEOs of companies was the theme: How to light a fire in a team? After all, something more than just professionalism helps to reach the top. How do you start a fire in people you work with? It is enough to answer the question how does a commander differ from a leader? The commander gives instructions, directs the process and people, and also overcomes problems verbally or in writing. And how does the leader do? – He shows by his own example. People follow the leader because he shows by his example that everything is possible. More recently, the Harvard Business Review devoted an entire publication to this topic. It said that leadership is a modern management style. After all, the interaction between the leader and the people who follow him is not built on the financial component, but rather on belonging to the general process and exposure to common problems and achievements. Autocracy kills fire in a team, while a personal example enhances team spirit. Speak with your team, understand the reasons for their behavior, encourage them to achieve, and when difficulties occur, overcome them together as one unit. In my team there is no hierarchy, we all bring and discuss ideas everyone has an equal voice in making decisions, but I am the 

leader not because I founded this company, but because with my own example I show that everything is possible, that diligence and creative problem solving can be done by everyone, that we all go towards the same goal and our opportunity to develop is limitless. Love your team and it will always seek new heights. 

Many girls sacrifice their personal lives for success in business, and especially residents of big cities. What do you think, how to adjust the balance between career and private life? And how in the endless race for the entrepreneurial grip of a girl not to lose her sexuality? It depends on what is considered a sacrifice for a career. And the post-Soviet society does not talk about donating its development for the sake of the family? I do not follow the trends imposed by society. This is my life and my strategies. I believe that it should take place as an individual, find harmony with the outside world, gain knowledge and skills, maintain health, and then give life to the one to whom it can all pass. In my understanding, life partner is more important than children. Because with a partner you live all your life, and children are only guests in your life. For me, personal life is my partner with whom we go along the path of development together. And it does not matter living in one place or on different continents – the main thing is that there is support for understanding and the desire to be together. And my inner child saves me from a workload, this little me is still able to wonder at the new and look at the world with wide eyes full of hope that everything can be changed for the better, that everything can be achieved and tomorrow there will always be a sunny day even if it is overcast..

Sometimes the main reason for failures in any undertaking is the lack of self-confidence, which prevents a person from taking even the first step towards his dream. What is your unique formula of self-reliance, and what would you advise others to increase self-confidence? This understanding came to me after I became involved in sports, especially wakeboarding. It’s so scary from the fact that you may crash, from the fact that the observers will condemn the inability, it is terrible to even overcome your fear. But what are the guys doing in Wake Park? – They just take it and do it. It is very scary to conquer the obstacle for the first time. It seemed to me that my heart would jump out of my chest into an obstacle instead of me, and the most terrible scenarios of my fall flashed through my head. And then I looked at the guys who jump incredibly complex and dangerous stunts and understood that they, too, started with something. And asking for advice on how to do this, they said: “Just relax and enjoy. Try, if you fall, you will not break, but only feel where the tension is.” At that time, my first step towards understanding that leaving the comfort zone always makes me better and stronger. Then I had a difficult time in business, but thanks to the understanding that difficulties make me more effective, I now have a thriving company in Singapore and a new one in Hong Kong, two start-ups in Singapore which I plan to bring to a larger market and a third place in professional wakeboard competitions ‘All Open’. And only one year passed. Do not be afraid to fall, because making mistakes is gaining experience!

Model Elena Sukhina @olina_bahama

Pr Maria Borovenskaya @mariborovenskaya

Photographer: @artizstudio