Interview with Experienced CFO and Entrepreneur Oleksii Golyk
About career path from accountant to CFO and to owner, whether it’s easy to be a self-made man, about staying relevant expert in the era of new technology, and how accounting theory relates to the reality of Ukrainian business
Hello and welcome. Could you, please, introduce yourself?
Hello. My name is Oleksii Golyk. I’m 41 years old, and I live in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. I was born and grown up in small city Kaharlyk, which is 80 km from Kyiv. This is where I spent my school years and where I get my first job as accountant. I have graduated from Kyiv National Economic University (also known by previous name “NarHoz”) with specialization of “State budget”.
Why “State budget”? How you selected it?
Actually, I truly believed that proper collection of taxes is a way of strengthening the country. Moreover, I have been employed in State Tax Department right after graduation. Even though I didn’t plan to take that specialization from the very beginning. I was thinking just to be in finance. Bet when the time came to select a specific area, I have decided to specialize in State Budget. It was a neighbor of me, who was a director in State Tax department, who encouraged me to choose this path.
So, what was your first job?
My first job was in State Tax Department, which was very logical and easy to obtain with my specialization. I have worked there for 2 years, and I have totally lost my interest to state finances due to that job. At the beginning, it was interesting to me. Challenging, but interesting. I have done my first checks of companies. I do remember our local criminal authority, who owner 2 beer shops. And everyone was scared to check that firm. However, I took that job enthusiastically, did a cross check with beer brewery, and counted additionally accrued taxed – a big number! I have got some personal threats, needed to use state protection to ensure my personal security. Still – it was interesting. Before that, I have learned how all functions in Tax Department work – from auditors to lawyers and to accountants – it was interesting to me to understand the nature of their work. I saw the future for myself in that system. Then my interest just disappeared. I remember it very brightly – the moment when I read the article in newspaper – telling that most of the new houses built around the Kyiv are belonging to government officials or all kinds. I do remember how it changed my mood for that day and my thoughts for the future.
I have started to avoid any kind of tasks related to checks of firms. And I started to look for other place for myself. The last drop was an accident with an audit from the direction above – one person came and asked me how he can get a bag of sugar, in exchange for not doing the check. I was very upset by that. Should I put my life at risk doing the checks, while some colleagues are ready to skip it for a bag of sugar? So I cannot bear it anymore and changed my job.
So what was the next job?
It was a State Treasury. Kaharlyk’s local State Treasury.
Again the state job, right?
Yes, both these are state organizations. I have worked on this new job for less than a year. I have selected it to get more free time. I wanted to learn Accountancy deeper. I wanted to make a career as accountant, and grow up to become Financial Director. At that moment, Financial Director (or CFO) was not a widely known position. Very common title was Chief Accountant, and I wanted to grow to that position with time.
There was not too much work in Treasury. I was able to finish my work by 11 AM, and the rest of the time I was free to do whatever I wanted. I read books, connected to FidoNet. Soon I was ready to change my job to private sector.
What was that?
It was a local firm in Kaharlyk, which very big now – thousands of people. At that time it was smaller, maybe 150 employees. And I got a smaller salary due to this transition.
Why? Isn’t it a rule, that private sector usually pays more?
Not exactly. When you come from some bureaucratic state organization to the private company – you don’t understand a lot of aspects. And no one wants to pay you a good money. You are offered to start at minimum. This was a case for me. I did not know how to pass the interview, how to negotiate for the salary. You simply do not have that experience if you worked in state organization before.
That company was very important to the region. It was a high competition for the positions. I also wanted to join it because it was having almost all kind of activities you could meet at commercial firm. Import, export, production, canteen, cashier desks – all types. And my position of accountant was not that low – if you keep in mind how competitive was the company. Among 11 accountants, we had four former Chief Accountants (equivalent of CFO these days). And most of the accountants were women – this also has some nuances to pay attention to. When I joined it was only 3 accountants, including our boss – Chief Accountant. And when the company grown to 800 employees, we were 11 persons in accounting department.
My first promotion there happened when I was appointed an Acting Chief Accountant for the period of summer holidays. I was 26 years old at that moment. And some of my colleagues, who were older than me, and who were Chief Accountants on their previous job, they just started a riot aimed at me. They went to the General Director to tell him that I simply don’t know how to work.
So this was your first career success, right? You just got a temporary promotion and immediately alienated your colleagues.
Yes. We all were living as equal and growing together as professionals. I have trained most of them on certain areas of work and have given away that work to them. And when I got a higher assignment it was simply another story. Also, I was young and did many things stupidly. So many factors lead to that situation.
Why do you think you got that promotion?
I was doing a lot of work. I liked my job. I worked till 3 or 4 AM when needed. I very seldom spent my full weekend at home – I always had some reasons to be at work. Once, when the whole city were celebrating some holiday – I was going home around 3 AM and met my colleagues. They were drinking and celebrating. They asked me how did I celebrate – but I told them that I’m just going back from the work. So I was expecting a promotion. I hoped to take a position of Chief Accountant. When former Chief Accountant was leaving the company – she recommended me on that position. But the Financial Director of the holding decided to put another person on that position. She told me – you should work for maybe 2 more years, and probably you’ll be promoted to Chief Accountant. It was a surprise to me and I was dissatisfied. I thought that I need to move faster, that I’m ready for bigger responsibility and some managerial position. It is not easy to find such job in Kaharlyk, so I decided to move to Kyiv.
How old you were when you moved?
I was 27 years old. I was hired for the position of Chief Accountant, the same as Financial Director, at Kyiv Vitamin Factory. And I’m so amused by people who tell me it’s impossible to find a good job without a connections. While I have found all my jobs without any prior connections or relations. Simply by posting and responding to posts in internet.
This gives a hope to people who dream of self-made career path!
I often hear this mantra – you cannot do good without connections. I made my career and become a Chief Accountant without any connections or relatives. Then I hear the arguments again – oh, it was 2000 and before. Now you certainly cannot do without knowing somebody. But when I sold my business and looked for a job in 2013 – I once again found a great position simply through internet.
Going back to the time when you moved to Kyiv. Did you get a higher salary?
Sure. 5 times more money. Yes, I know. It was cool. But you know – I’m always looking for some challenge, not just a routine tasks. I don’t want to work for big international company – it is somewhat boring and predictable. Everything is polished and everybody just steadily works. It’s not interesting for me. I always looked for challenging tasks. At that moment, Vitamin Factory was bought from old owners, and I was the first manager from the new team entering the company. I came into environment where you cannot trust to anybody. Accounting department with 10 persons – and you should not trust any of them. The only person you could trust was a representative of new shareholder. Even CEO was not trusted. It was only later, when I realized where did I get into. Another challenging task was to establish corporate IT systems. On my previous job at Kaharlyk, we had centralized system where all information was collected and managed. We were seeing all the results almost in real time. On new job, we had old computers. There was no network. Supply, sales, payroll and other – all were handled by separate systems on different computers. When I looked at this zoo I decided to myself that I don’t want to learn all this historical stuff and just started to build new system based on 1C.
Looks like a radical move.
Yes, I was young. I am not sure if I would do the same today. I would for sure negotiate better compensation for that job now. I was comforted by the 5-times bigger salary at that time. I didn’t know how to spend all that money. So I hired two persons whom I knew before and we completed that job in three months.
Did the data differ in new solution and old systems?
When I saw the numbers, I said: “Ok, guys. Invite auditors immediately! There is upcoming 3-year regular check from the tax inspection and you have a very high chance to go to jail and lose your company. If you don’t volunteer to acknowledge your mistakes”. I have established good contacts with Baker Tilly people, and they have made complex audit for 2 years and created many “clarifying declarations” with extra taxes – to pay in addition. This allowed to avoid any criminal investigations. At that time I run into riot once again. Even though I was younger and not too tolerant, I was pushing hard for people to get additional education and trainings. I was telling them that their methods are “stone age”, and they should make efforts to develop themselves. There was low awareness of existing legal base – I have insisted for people to read laws, which describe their work and related taxes. It was just plain nonsense, how they worked before. There were several age groups among employees and I was somewhat skeptical about people that are more senior. But it turned out, that out of 3 senior accountants 2 were quick learners and adopted new methods very fast. While some younger colleagues were more reluctant to change (or maybe lazy) – so I needed to fire a bunch of them.
Do you think this is a specific to Ukraine – I mean the absence of accounting culture? Or was it only relevant for this quite big company?
I think the focus was different in that accounting approach, that Ukraine inherited from Soviet times. It was focused on long-term planning and reporting. A quarter was the smallest interval of interest. There was no attention to quick overview of current state of the firm. So I encountered that old-school approach. So I learned a lot new things after this Vitamin Factory.
How long have you worked on that factory?
Why did you leave?
I was offered a more interesting task at that moment. British investors were trying to establish company in Ukraine and were desperately fighting with the system and local workers, they didn’t understand how to make things working. They offered me to join as CFO, because they couldn’t trust existing employees. The project was about plastic recycling. And it was rather interesting and innovative in 2004, so I decided to join them. They needed to develop a new management accounting approaches and ensure compliance to local tax code. But then Orange Revolution started and their investments stopped.
When did Ukraine adopted International Accounting Standards (IAS)?
I think it was end of 90-ies. I do remember that transition from older standards to these new ones, to the new chart of accounts based on European standard. It’s similar to GAAP but there are some nuances that I cannot recollect now. GAAP is American standard, and Ukraine adopted European methods.
Did it get easier to do the work?
Maybe. If you look from the high-level prospective, it might get better, but I was actually doing the transition, and it was very difficult project, I definitely didn’t like it. We have spent so much time actualizing numbers and looking for differences in account chart. I have bad impression from that time.
But the new standard gives more flexibility to accountant. You could easily find out current state of the company finances. And accountant has more freedom for creative work.
Looking back at your career path – after you moved to Kyiv you were having CFO positions on several companies and complex projects, right?
Your know – until I was learning – I was interested in accounting and reporting. But when I reached CFO level, I started to look for other tasks. Company profitability, entering new markets, operational efficiency or other tasks that make up company strategy.
Is it possible to become CFO without background and experience in accounting?
I have met such people, but I think they are less efficient. I can find necessary information faster, I can check if that information is correct faster, and I understand the full cycle of numbers from the incoming documents to the aggregated totals and nuances of all steps in that flow.
Would you recommend to start with accounting if someone dreams of becoming CFO?
Yes, I think so. Or people would in any case encounter the need to learn accounting, but later in their career. They could grow from financial analysts, but they’ll still need accounting courses – this is what I saw.
What are your current interests?
I was curious to build my own business. So in 2006 I had a more income from consultations than from my day job, and in 2008 I went away to become fully independent. I registered my own firm and gradually I spent more and more time on growing business than on consultations.
Do you think of yourself as entrepreneur now?
Yes. My mindset changed. I have started to focus on different things. I have been to several interviews, and people were telling me that I’m thinking like business owner. Even now some people come to me for consultation. And I like finance, I can do some things faster than “Big Four” companies do that. You know, I have sold my business in 2013, and I had some period thinking what should I do next. So I came for interview to Agrovet for CFO position. I have decided for myself that agriculture would be interesting area in Ukraine. I wanted to start my business in that industry, so I decided to try it out as hired manager. I have passed the set of interviews rather quickly and interestingly. I was told that I was selected out of 30 candidates. But my mentality was significantly shifted to the ownership after 7 years of my own business. The bright example was the case when I got advance payment after 2 weeks. I was looking at the money and couldn’t comprehend – how can you have paid without having anything done?
What do you think about influence of technology on accounting? How did it change the profession?
When I started my career, you needed accountant to write invoice or bill or create some other simple document. Now it is automated and almost anyone without specific accounting education could just create the document or directly enter data into the system. Moreover – it’s accessible from any PC or tablet, from any place on Earth where you could find internet access. It’s also possible to place accountants on one location and regional offices would be only getting consultations from central office. This of course lowers the operational costs and frees up time of accountants for more creative work. This also means that business value of each accountant is rising, and so should rise qualification level and expertise of each person.
Does that mean that it will take more time to reach necessary qualification now? Or is it better for young people to start working as soon as they can?
Students could work while in university. With modern IT systems you don’t even need to be physically in office. It easier now to combine education and job. It was not so easy when I started. You needed to sit the whole day in office, print the primary documents. Now you could start with some basic work maybe even after your first year of accounting education.
How do you see accounting in 10 years from now?
It’s hard to say for sure. We see such a tremendous change in technology – the digital signature, electronic scanners of packaging and documents that remove any need in paper documents, banking that works 24 by 7 – this is amazing. Many business operations are getting faster and control on them is getting easier. We’ll see less routine and more time for your brain work. It could even be that one competent person will be able to handle several big companies.
How one could stay relevant as accountant in future?
You just need to love you job. That’s simple