An American of Ukrainian descent, John Hynansky decided to come to Ukraine in 1992 to set up a business in the homeland of his parents. His motivation was not to make money but to help the people and country with which he had fallen in love. Over 26 years, Winner has grown to become one of Ukraine’s leading companies, primarily through importing and selling cars, and he has done this by sticking to his principles of honesty and integrity. Hynansky believes in the potential of Ukraine and explains why now is the probably the most opportune moment to invest in the country since it gained independence
Last year was Winner’s 25th anniversary in Ukraine. Can you tell us a little bit about the history and evolution of the company?
I had 25 car dealerships in the U.S. at the time, in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Minneapolis. I was talking to the CEO of Ford right after Ukraine’s independence, who because of my Ukrainian roots, advised me to start a business there. I told him that I didn’t want to be a car dealer in Ukraine, but I told him that if he made me a distributor, I would take advantage of the opportunity. I didn’t come here to make money, I came here because I am of Ukrainian heritage – my mother and father are Ukrainian. When I came here, I fell in love with the country; I fell in love with the people, and I felt like it was an opportunity to develop a business for the country. I came here to see what I could build. We opened up the first company in May of 1992, but it was at a very difficult time. At that time, I had bodyguards, there was mafia; it was like the Wild Wild West. Yet, what we’ve done is build a sizeable company over the past 25 years. They were difficult years. But I love risk, I love a challenge, and we managed to survive and do it honestly. We’ve managed to make it 26 years with a set of core principles based on integrity and honesty. I believe the number one resource of the country is the people. Ukraine has one of the most educated populations in the world and in the end, we managed to find the right people and develop the business into what it is today.
Over the years, you have received multiple awards and recognition and were a pioneer in bringing the western style of management to Ukraine. How have those values helped you arrive to the top?
At the end of the day, we all want an employer that appreciates us. We want to do a good job. People want to be paid fairly and they’ll work fairly. In the end, all those principles helped us to get here. We love what we do and money is just a by-product. We wanted to grow a business and have found the right mix of quality people that are well compensated, that work ethically and work with intensity. Ukraine has limitless possibilities and I hope to see them all in my lifetime. Yes, there have been crises, but we’ve managed to get through these crises and I still see the same possibilities I saw in 1992. Yes, there are obstacles, but you have to find a way to build your business around those obstacles, and you have to do it ethically. And over the years, we’ve done so while managing to stay within our core principles.
How has dialogue with the government changed over the last 25 years? And do you participate in this dialogue?
We do to an extent, but in the end, it depends if the government wants to listen. Poland, for example, has been listening and managed to build a business environment that is supportive and productive. There, of course, has been a lot of political volatility, but if you do things ethically, and honestly, as we have, life is just simpler.
These values and principles have afforded you contracts with Ford, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche and Bentley. Can you tell us more about your expansion plans?
In the U.S., I’m in the chicken business – I produce fertilized eggs for a French company, I do fertilizer in Arkansas, as well as construction and real estate. The expansion we are doing here is kind of complementary and related. We have our own construction company, we have a facility management company and a series of land development companies. This allows us to build our own buildings and means we don’t have to deal with contractors. We are self-reliant and self-dependent in that way. We’ve been constructing new buildings since 2016. We finished 3 in 2016; we finished 3 or 4 in 2017; we are going to finish 4 or 5 more in 2018. This gives you an idea of my faith and belief in the future of Ukraine. We are trying to build the best dealer body network in the Ukraine for when the country finally takes off, which I still think it will.
You are also the sole sponsor of the Football Federation of Ukraine. How is that emblematic of your patriotism?
Part of being a good corporate citizen is supporting different things. Another part of our job is to support the war effort. We supply Ford Transits for volunteer organizations to supply medical equipment. We support children. We are also remodeling a hospital, and providing equipment for it. So part of our social responsibility is helping the country and helping the people. I didn’t come here to get rich; I had money before I came here. So I came here, essentially, to help the country and help the people.
Taking into consideration your values, your principles and your corporate social responsibility, what would you say your role is in leading by example for other companies?
In the end, people need a living wage to be productive. And in the end, what politicians need to do (and I don’t like getting into politics) is provide job opportunities. The thing we do that we are most proud of is that we provide educational opportunities. We have a university here where we teach people different Western systems. And we learn from them and evolve because the only constant in life is change and continuous improvement. So, we constantly try to improve our systems and processes. And if you look at the people that work for our company, they have a living standard that is above the normal Ukraine living standard.
For example, when the currency lost two-thirds of its value, I gave everybody two months’ worth of pay, which was over a $1 million and we were losing money at the time. When the currency devalued again, I gave everybody a 35 percent raise. I am a firm believer in attitude; attitude is contagious. So our job is to provide the proper environment to generate the proper attitudes to continue to grow. You can’t run a company unless you care about the people you work with and customers you deal with. So our overall theme is that we care.
Ukraine has a long way to develop economically. There a lot of people that have added to the growth of Ukraine but not enough. If there were more socially responsible people, Ukraine would be much further ahead. And there are reasons why Ukraine’s per capita growth has not kept up with Poland or the Czech Republic. I lot more should have been done politically, but I understand that doing things politically is complicated, you need votes.
What would your message be to potential U.S. investors considering entering the country?
My message would be that this is probably the most opportune time to invest in the last 27 years. Yet, of course, all investors have to do their due diligence. And in the end, investing is trying to find the right partners and the right people that you value and you trust. Too often people try to find shortcuts when they are investing, but there are no shortcuts. I haven’t found any in 40 or 50 years of investing. JP Morgan came here and invested $75 million and left. But they left because they didn’t do the right due diligence.
Ukraine is on the verge of catching up to the rest of the EU – maybe not to France or Germany, but to countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic. And I think government now understands the support you need to be successful as an investor. There are still a lot of things they need to do, but they don’t need me to tell them, they know what needs to be done. This country is only at 10 to 20 percent of its potential.