From manufacturing of the aerated concrete to transformation of Dnipro image: what “Alef” corporation lives for today
Фокус  5 October 2020

“Alef” corporation is an association of cross-sectional businesses: from manufacturing of the aerated concrete, windows and dental implants to apple growing and construction of modern buildings for the sake of transformation of city space of Dnipro city. The corporation structure includes 6 plants, and more than 2 thousands of people are employed currently.

HR director Maryna Alieksieichuk told “Focus” how work is organized at the corporation enterprises, as well as about the projects changing the attitude to the vocational professions in society.

Advanced technologies in management and HR management, state-of-the art equipment and creative leadership: how “Alef” corporation developed

Please tell how many employees are there in the corporation in total? How the “Alef” structure is organized?

More than 2 thousands of employees work in the corporation companies currently.Businesses are absolutely different and they are not related to each other. They cover such industries as, for example, development. Alef Estate is the major developer of city space. Vadym Volodymyrovych Iermolaiev, chairman of the “Alef” corporation council actually contributes much time to this business, he puts maximum resources into it, like in all other projects. However, this business is very important for him, because one of the key tasks of Vadym Iermolaiev who is the concerned citizen is to improve the exterior of Dnipro city and to work for the benefit of the city. Actually this is the city where he was born and grew, and the city where his family lives.

Photo: Katerynoslavskyi boulevard, Dnipro city

Alef Estate implemented many projects being significant for the city. One of them is Katerynoslavskyi boulevard. This is that particular place visited by the guests from the other cities in the first place because the boulevard is humming with activity and it is beautiful in any time of year. The illumination is the boulevard feature. For example, the project of the illumination of CASCADE PLAZA building was rewarded at the prestigious competition IES Illumination Awards in New York. Alef Estate was the first company which used such advanced technologies at the moment of its construction; later this practice was adopted by the other developers. Alef Estate is the trendsetter in the creation of the urban environment according to the European standard.

As regards each individual business, for example, UDK plant manufactures the aerated concrete. This material was scarcely used in Ukraine at the moment of this enterprise establishment. It was risky to launch such enterprise but today we can see that every second building is constructed from the aerated concrete in Ukraine. MIROPLAST is one of the largest manufacturers of PVC-profiles in the Eastern Europe, and AXOR Industry exports own-produced wind and door furniture into more than 20 world countries. I can tell about these enterprises without end. These businesses were established in cooperation with Turkish partners, so they could use the advanced technologies in management and HR management which were already available in Europe but little known yet in Dnipro city. So, it was the unique opportunity to use them in the future businesses.

Photo: apple gardens of “The Dnipro Gardens” (“Sady Dnipra”) company, ТМ UApple, member of the “Alef” corporation

“The Dnipro Gardens” (“Sady Dnipra”) company is a source of our pride. This is business dealing with growing of premium class apples, 80% of harvest goes for export. The largest storage facility in Ukraine is built at the premises of the company; the storage facility will contain 19 thousand tons of apples upon construction completion.

Moreover, the corporation structure includes the plant manufacturing the dental implants and meeting all European standards, ABM Technology. This is one of those outstanding plants which may impress with the level of cleanness like in the surgery room.

“Trade House Agroaliance” is an authorized dealer of the globally recognized company Case IH. The oil crops are processed at the “Potoky" plan; the own product “Proglot” (“Eat like”) for animal breeding was also developed here, and this product may change the entire European industry of feeding-stuffs. And the “OSCAR” plant is the manufacturer of seamless tubular goods and is included into the prestigious base of suppliers of the aerospace industry OASIS.

Generally the corporation includes 6 plants and certainly as regards the structure and proportion, 60-70% includes the manufacturing companies, and the other deal with trading.

“90% of senior executives are people who “grew” together with the company”

As far as I know, 90% of your key executives are the employees who grew in the company. Please tell how it happened.

90% of employees are people who “grew” together with the company, and they occupy top positions currently. They came at the start, in the early days of corporation in itself; our senior executives grew and developed together with businesses and departments.

Business means not only working process for Vadym Iermolaiev; it is like his child, and he devotes maximum time to it. His energy attracts people, so his immediate circle of senior executives is also involved to the maximum; they start to treat business like something own and native. This is one of the reasons why people do not leave this company. How can you leave your business which you like and which you created by yourself? Moreover, we welcome the initiative because the corporation council chairman
is very fast-moving and charismatic himself, and he likes people who will believe in business and think how move forward – further and better, people who think outside the box.

As to the certain examples, of course, there are many of them. By the way, I came here in 2006 upon graduation from institute. I was lucky to receive an appointment at HR department. However, in two years I was attracted by the perspective of work at the international company. I returned in 2015 and I was surprised that the heads of the departments and businesses actually remained the same. I should not even get used to, get to know somebody and integrate in a team over again.

We have automated the recruitment process to the maximum – the period from application submission to the arrival to the department takes just 30 minutes”

Please tell how do you employ people? I suppose you have the large team of the recruitment officers provided that your corporation is so big? Which is the process of employees’ selection?

The team of the recruitment officers includes 10 people in total. Our management is result-oriented, and we have three stages of interview in our companies. The fist stage: the candidate is interviewed by HR manager, the recruitment officer. The next one is the interview with the functional leader. And the third one includes communication with the general manager or the director of the business department. Our senior executives always want to see whom they employ in the top and middle positions. We have automated the recruitment process to the maximum – the period from application submission to the arrival to the recruitment department takes just 30 minutes. There is a system of electronic document flow, clear feedback and CRM. I can see at any time how many interviews were conducted, how many candidates were selected, and, what is equally important, we keep the history of relations with the candidate. Today he may not fit for this post, but it is not unusual when we contact people six months or year after, when we have certain vacancy. Moreover, what is also important, we try to give the feedback to the candidate in order to explain why he does not fit currently and in order to reserve the right to call him/her when we will have some new vacancy. As a matter of fact, the recruitment process is comparable with sales – it is very important to build long-term relations with the candidate. I personally pay attention to certain achievements of the candidate and his/her “background” in professional circles during candidate selection.

Do you have some system of staff training in your company, maybe, some courses?

As regards the learning process, the classical education will be surely the basis for our employees. However, our experience shows the great efficiency of the practical “cases”. “Alef” businesses send their employees to the similar enterprises in Europe. As a matter of fact, we need the best European professionals if we want to establish the business at the European level. This is why the employees of the corporation businesses spend a plenty of time at the international exhibitions and take part in the conferences. They adopt practices of the other manufacturing and trading companies.

Photo: “The Dnipro Gardens” (“Sady Dnipra”) company takes part in the exhibition FRUIT LOGISTICA in Berlin, February 2020

Moreover, it is necessary to stay relevant and to understand what is new in Ukrainian business environment. Education in Ukrainian business schools where our employees get high-quality networking among the professionals of their industry is a good way to achieve this.

“Best practices, development, education and foreign business trips: how the corporation inspires the staff”

Do you have some incentive program? Do you have KPI and some bonuses in the company?

As to the incentive program, it evolves. It was the other system in the early days of corporation. However, it is under transformation today. One of the current priority tasks for corporation businesses is to review the existing and to create the improved incentive program for absolutely all staff categories. It is necessary to introduce covenants for each post and to make calculations. For example, we have the accountants, and we understand after analysis that the various accountants have the different number of bills of lading; they process different document flows; they generate different number of reports within one and the same period of time. As to the recruitment officers, each of them fills the different number of vacancies, at different speed, and different percent of people selected by them stay in the company. As to the industrial specialties, it is clear that they have absolutely different output. This is why we still want to encourage the best employees in order to inspire people to work faster, better and more efficiently.

In addition to the financial incentives, there are also moral ones. Each employee comes into work at our corporation and understands that he/she will have an opportunity for development, learning and sharing the best practices. Percent of foreign business trips is very high in our corporation. Moreover, we have very good equipment and software; we upgrade our computer park constantly.

“Heroes in work clothes: plant employees felt like stars”

Photo: participant of the project “Heroes in work clothes”, CNC operator at the plant ABM Technology Oleh Khorishko

You had the project “Heroes in work clothes”. It is my understanding that it is also some kind of motivation. Please tell about it.

The project was created within the period when we had problems with staff turnover. We did it in order to promote the vocational professions and to say that they are as important for us as top and middle management. And we can say without fanfare that this project produced its result. People were inspired very much. It was not exactly the adventure, but the bright spot in their everyday working life and activity.

We created the posters and calendars with photos of the employees of the plants. This was the calendar for 2020, where every month was devoted to certain specialty or business. The project heroes went to the beauty salons; they put on make-up and styled their hair for these posters. They took part in photo sessions. Time was devoted to them; they gave an interview; they felt like stars. It was a kind of escaping from everydayness.

Then the project heroes made boast of this calendar on and on; they hung the calendar at their production premises; they presented it to their relatives and friends. It was very important event for them. As a matter of fact, the workers are rarely on the calendars in real life, so they will remember of it forever.

Moreover, the project “Heroes in work clothes” was rather substantially covered in mass media in Dnipro city. The mass media included TV/radio and social networking websites. There was an interesting case when some relatives who lost contacts many years ago found each other due to this project. So, we had also such nice “side effects”.

Which else tasks did you assign when you launched the project “Heroes in work clothes”?

We have rather state-of-the-art equipment. Surely, we respect the experience and knowledge of the older generation. But unfortunately, sometimes it is difficult for them to work on the new and computerized equipment. Youth in its turn may understand all the processes even by intuition. So, when we launched this project, first of all we wanted to promote the vocational professions on the municipal level; we wanted young people not to be afraid to go for study at the vocational schools, vocational training colleges and institutes, and to understand that they may find employment, work under good conditions and to receive fair salary.

There is a stereotype that these are people who just do their work; they do not have hobby and interests. Actually, we found out that there are the musicians among the workers of our corporation; someone does beautiful painting, and someone stitches excellently. Moreover, there is one machine operator who is the best salsa dancer.

“Relations of the leaders and the employees in the businesses of “Alef” corporation are fair and square, and they are not built exclusively on the financial motivation”

You said earlier that you had the problem with staff turnover but currently people do not leave country any more due to quarantine. There is a chance that the problem would return again. How do you deal with it?

Currently we stopped staff turnover. We think that in some degree it is caused by quarantine. However, we believe that some credit also goes to us as the employers. Our company takes so-called staff poll for the purpose of satisfaction research on a regular basis, once a year as a minimum. Some time there was a trend to use such poll in sales, but we tried to apply this experience in HR, and it worked out very well. When we got the first results, we understood clearly that we shall respond to all aspects
specified by people rather than just to review and forget about it. We shall do it even if it will be unpleasant or uneasy for us to hear.

Was this survey anonymous or not, and which questions did it include? How did it all look?

We passed through various stages. For the first few times we engaged the consulting companies. It was reasonable and very simple. There were questions related to work place arrangement, salary, attitude to the leaders, and career progress opportunities. Later we developed questions in-house without outsourcing.

We thought before the start of the first polling that the cause of the staff dissatisfaction lies in the salary. As a matter of fact, the salary always takes second or third place. This is partly because we offer the competitive salaries, and the relations between the employee and the company are not built exclusively on the financial motivation. The leader’s attitude and career progress opportunity is crucial for staff. The corporation businesses devote much attention to comfortable stay of the employees at the places of work. We have made the renovation of our office and production premises in the last few years; we have very comfortable eating places; our employees may use the coffee machine without limit. We realize that the employees spend most of the day in office, so we try to make their stay here most comfortable.

Have you calculated some percent of employees’ satisfaction?

We had the percent of satisfaction more than 70% without doubt even at the initial stage. At the same time, of course, we always understood according to the results of polling that there was some part of people who work yet in the company physically, but who are already on some new place of employment morally. However, we do not see problem there due to the fact that these changes are inevitable.

“We work with students in absolutely all businesses”

How many open vacancies do you have today? Which is the current situation?

Taking into account the fact that the percent of turnover reduced technically and relatively, if we have some vacancies now, they are proposed either for the purpose of substitution in the event that some woman decided to become a mom, or in the case of someone`s promotion at work. However, our recruitment officers do not rest. We always monitor the labor market, and we offer work at the company to the interesting candidates when we find them.

It is always good if anyone wants to come into work at our enterprises. We have our accounts at the job sites; we have established the high level of process of work with the external employee pool. We try to keep terms with the candidates, and the most interesting of them are in our CRM-system. Moreover, we always have the internship programs for students. We work with students in absolutely all business. We take notice of the best ones. And even if we do not have an opportunity to hire them currently, we do not forget about them and we certainly go back to them.

Where is your attention during work with inexperienced students?

It is clear that the students are people with no work experience. We pay attention to academic average and ability to get on well with people during their selection. I mean not only external communication, but also an ability to hold a conversation and to manifest themselves in the company due to the fact that each post provides cooperation with representatives of at least three-four functions. So, the ability to state the views, to give information, to have the minimum proneness to conflict is also important. And one more thing which is always hard to measure: it is desire and motivation to work. We
welcome it also and we hire the initiative people.

Which else initiatives and projects were launched in the corporation?

We also had the project under the scope of which we hired people with special needs. It was initiative of Vadym Volodymyrovych Iermolaiev. Essentially, small number of companies involves them in the performance of work. And it is clear that to the greater extent it is not even the opportunity to gain money due to the fact that state supports them in some measure. It is rather socialization and enabling them to live a full-fledged life. As a matter of fact, these people often are very smart, literate, and very scholarly.

We prepared well for implementation of this project; we built entrance slip roads, disability bathrooms etc.

Moreover, we have another cool project launched at the end of the past year. This is “Alef kids” project including the arrangement of tours for children of our employees. We take them to our enterprises. Surely, we observe all quarantine regulations and requirements. We show children how the production works; we tell them that all specialties are important, including the vocational professions. They get the branded presents from the corporation, T-shirts and baseball caps “Alef kids”, and this helps to create a sensation of unity and cohesive “corporate family”.

Photo: tour to the plant AXOR Industry as part of the ALEF Kids project

We believe in the coming generation, and we help them to expand their views of life. And surely we show them that we will be glad to meet them as the employees of the corporation companies when they grow up.

Reference: Alef Corporation is business-association of the companies, the corporate strategy of which is based on the constant improvement of the processes and implementation of the innovations. The corporation incorporates cross-sectional businesses operating in the sector of development, manufacturing of construction materials and the agrarian field. Vadym Iermolaiev is a chairman of corporation council. Stanislav Vilenskyi is a deputy chairman of the corporation council.