Oleh Nykulyshyn: “Our Mission and Values Are the Foundation to Stand On Even in the Hardest of Times”

How to develop an exciting, emotionally engaging and innovative product in the functionally-oriented pharmaceutical industry? How does a company survive three severe crises when you lose everything and start from scratch? Oleh Nykulyshyn, General Director of Market Universal Ltd, shares his many years’ worth of business experience and talks about his project, the Secret Pharmacy, an interactive museum based in Lviv, which he is extremely proud of. His interactive museum has become proof that a pharmaceutical business may be not only useful and profitable, but also exciting and different from commonly accepted templates. The Secret Pharmacy (located on the premises of Pid ugorskoyu koronoyu (Under the Hungarian Crown), one of the city’s oldest pharmacies) suggests a new vision of the pharmaceutical industry as a business of inventors and humanists.

Oleh, as the owner of a well-established pharmacy network, you came up with the project of the interactive museum of The Secret Pharmacy, which is quite unusual for the pharmaceutical industry. Where did this choice come from?

- The idea to open the interactive Secret Pharmacy museum originated from the knowledge and tools I acquired in my MBA programme at the UCU Lviv Business School. As you know, the pharmaceutical industry is functionally oriented; it has a lot of long-standing standards. So, we decided to add some emotion. On the opposite, where there are many emotions, for example, in tourism industry or show business, there is usually a lack of functionality. After all, creative people don’t always feel the rhythm of time, and business processes are hard on them. The pharmaceutical industry, at first glance, looks aloof. Pharmacists are composed and organized people. There is an expression “as in a pharmacy”, which means “orderly” or “accurate”. However, few people know that, among pharmacists, there are many creative people, too. Some of them made the history of Lviv. We should be proud of the fact that kerosene was first distilled by local pharmacists. Back then, kerosene lamp was as popular as iPhones are today. Lviv is a city of pharmacists, we shouldn’t forget about that.

The mission of the Secret Pharmacy project is to make think, wonder, change, and change the world for the better. Many of the things that were planned at the beginning are already implemented. Together with an icon painting school, we restored the image of Jesus Christ as apothecary. Our first task was to make visitors think about the significance of that image. After all, a person first wonders, asks why and then gets a desire to make a change, in themselves and the world around.

We dedicate much attention to social function and to cooperation with schools.

Does that mean that the social component is one of the priorities of your business?

Yes, it does. One of our priorities is work with children. After all, children have the greatest desire to learn and learn. In the Secret Pharmacy, there are special fairy tale therapy classes, in which kids get to do chemical experiments, and so on. Also, we’ve hosted over 30 model lessons. Children are interested, they want to be inventors and look at the industry in a different way.

We do a lot of work in the social area: we organize events for orphanages, conduct contests of books and children’s drawings and published a book of fairy tales. Working with children is our way to invest into the future. We also cooperate with the Mayor’s Office, participate in affiliate programmes and keep our agenda relevant. We feel support from both Lviv residents and guests from Kyiv and Eastern Ukraine, as well as from Belarus and Russia.

You have been in business for many years. How do you think the rules of doing business have changed in recent years?

I’ve been in business for 22 years already. The environment has changed dramatically. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Lviv was a grey city. For the most part, businesses were owned by customs and tax officials, and that cluster was going strong. Using their old nomenclature connections, they bought hotels, opened restaurants. In fact, their way of thinking was quite primitive. The good thing is that none of them has become an oligarch.

In Lviv, the share of medium-sized businesses is significant, and this is a big plus, because there is room for competition, creativity and innovation. People, who have been in business for a long time, are either weary or think they know it all. As the saying goes, generals live in the last war, those people keep remembering how things were done 10 – 15 years ago. But now is the time to change quickly. I’m happy to see a new generation coming into business – mostly, business owners 25-30 years old. In all honesty, I look up to them, because I have a chance to become stronger and better by their side. For the most part, these are fascinating young people with decent education, knowledge, positive experience in project implementation. What matters isn’t how long you’re in business, but what you’ve achieved, what projects you’ve implemented. Three starry years in business can beat twenty years’ worth of experience.

What prompted you, a person with such a long experience in business, to go to business school?

When I started my business, it was all about calculating the cost. Returning from studies from abroad with an MBA degree under your belt was considered very prestigious at the time. Many in Lviv didn’t even know what MBA was, but it was cool. I’ve been involved in various certified programmes (English, German, Austrian) throughout my career, but I wanted to acquire new systemic knowledge.

The worst that can happen to a person is coming to think they know it all. I think it’s self-deception for the sake of reassurance. When I decided to study at the business school, I was told: “Why are you going there? It’s you who should get to teach them rather than sit back down at the desk.” When you get into an environment where you aren’t an authority, where all are equals, unless better and more proficient than you are, in this situation, it’s much more difficult: you need to learn to shoot the shots. While studying in the LvBS MBA programme, I didn’t agree with the instructors at all times, because I believed I shouldn’t do as they say. However, this didn’t cause me any dissatisfaction. Rather, on the contrary – I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to get a different angle at myself and change the environment. I believe those were some of the best years of my life, and I made a lot of friends at the time. The business school has made a real difference to me. I’m really comfortable here.

On what key tenets do you build your business?

We are a Ukrainian company based on Christian values. We strive to put human person at the core, try not to cause harm to other people through our actions and pay a lot of attention to our values. We make this transpire in each of our actions. We definitely know what we’ll never do. In business, you need to clearly understand for whom you create your company, who shapes its values, who will regret if your business won’t be around tomorrow. These are things that make it possible to stay afloat. When employees trust you, they’ll defend your company.

What do you plan to implement over the next two to three years?

We plan an expansion. True, the investment climate isn’t the most welcoming, and competition in the market will keep growing. However, our mission, values are the platform, on which we can stay strong. I’ve already came through three major crises. In 1998 – 1999, I lost almost everything. But my company always paid people salary and built confidence. I believe there are things that can make you survive even in the most difficult periods – these are expertise and relationships built on trust. People will never follow you, if you tell them business is in dire straits while you buy a new jeep, or move into a palatial residence and reduce social payments at the same time. There are certain things that are intangible and difficult to calculate. However, if you build on honesty, you’ll understand what is coming from where. I’m proud that, based on the performance of the D.S. pharmacy network, 63% of our customers are our regular customers. This is an extremely high figure. As there’s always room to improve, there’s no time to stop.