I’m a Ukrainian CEO who’s expanded my bridal business despite the war. Here’s how I did it.

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  • Ulyana Kirichuk is the CEO of Mila Nova, a bridal company based in Lviv, Ukraine.
  • The war forced her to reassess everything she had learned about crisis management at Harvard.
  • Kyrychuk describes how she turned her business into a global brand, selling to 59 countries.

This essay is based on a conversation with Ulyana Kirichuk, CEO of Mila Nova, a bridal brand based in Lviv, Ukraine. Edited for length and clarity.

I am the CEO Mila NovaIt is a women-run bridal company based in Lviv with 500 employees working for bridal wear around the world.

Since I took over the company in 2020, I have faced epidemics and war in my country. Against all odds, my business has grown into an international brand, selling in 59 countries.

I took online leadership courses with Harvard Business School to learn how to manage crises and change.

But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come: war forced me to rethink everything I knew about leadership.

My disaster recovery plan went out the window

I remember we had our strategy session on February 23rd, the night before the war started.

My first instinct was to develop a business continuity plan to deal with any disaster or threat to my employees.

But when the war started, it wasn’t just a disaster – it was something I’d never experienced before. And everything was difficult to predict.

The plan did not address whether workers would be upset, upset, cry or leave their relatives in Ukraine. We are not prepared for this.

Retaining my employees and giving their roles purpose and meaning

Many of my employees said they would not go to work during wartime and would instead volunteer to help soldiers on the front lines.

Therefore, in the first days of the war, we completely stopped the production of clothes and only made military equipment for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

That was a critical decision not to lose our people.

At the same time, we could not leave it to the grooms. When you miss your wedding day in the bridal industry, you are out.

We slowly got the business back and made military uniforms for the army and dresses for our customers.

In the first few weeks of the campaign, we asked some customers to share their dresses to help us out and avoid disappointment. In the end we didn’t miss any wedding dates.

Mila Nova workers at a factory in Lviv, Ukraine

Milla Nova workers sew dresses at a factory in Lviv, Ukraine.

In favor of Ulyana Kyrychuk

Moving operations to a war base

We have offered our best to the people. For example, we have built a shelter where people can take shelter. Although Lviv is far from the frontline of the conflict, we want to be prepared for any situation.

We supported them with donations such as military clothing for those who have relatives fighting on the front lines.

We even finished renovating our factory in Lviv in the summer because we want everyone to come together, increase our capacity and continue to grow our brand.

Some people think we are crazy to repair our factory and make it four times larger than it was in the first year of the war.

It was a surprising decision. It helped us grow our product, and revenues grew from $19 million this year to $24 million in 2022.

Mila Nova workers at the factory in Lviv, Ukraine

Milla Nova workers sew dresses at a factory in Lviv, Ukraine.

In favor of Ulyana Kyrychuk

It is too small to fall

Sometimes, we think we are too small or too far from the world to reach the big brands.

That’s what happened with the package delivery company DHL. When the war started, he stopped working in Ukraine. Because of this, we could not export our dresses made in Ukraine.

What came to mind at the time was to write to DHL’s boss on LinkedIn to ask for help. I told him that customers from all over the world, from Australia to America, were waiting for their gowns and all that was missing was their red and yellow boxes.

I didn’t expect anything. But the next morning, I received a message from him saying that they will try to restore operations as soon as possible.

I was very happy to get this answer, and in less than two hours, I got a call from the CEO of DLL Ukraine.

Work culture and war mentality

I believe the key to success is company culture. This spirit of caring for people – employees and customers – is making everyone feel valued and invested in the business.

And we understand that everyone has an important role to play in contributing to this goal. It’s the best motivation.

And that’s how every leader should lead a business. If you don’t understand the personal motivation of your employees, how are you going to motivate them to achieve their goals?

If you care about your people and understand their motivations, you will get results.

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