He has been called everything from Ukraine’s most talented developer to the country’s leading football club president and largest private investor. The international media frequently refer to him as one of the most influential personalities in today’s Ukraine. To many, he is simply the uncrowded king of his native Kharkiv. Oleksandr Yaroslavsky has maintained his position at the top of the Ukrainian business world for the past two decades thanks to a combination of intuition and experience. One of the secrets of his success has been an unerring ability to take the pulse of the Ukrainian economy and act accordingly.
Born into a family of doctors, Oleksandr Yaroslavsky received a technical education at the Kharkiv Academy of Catering. He served in the Soviet Army before studying law and working at a food institute. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberalization of the economy allowed him to enter the business world for the first time. The traits that would keep Mr. Yaroslavsky ahead of his rivals in the Ukrainian business community soon became evident. His acquisition of UkrSibbank in 1998 led to a striking change in the bank’s fortunes, emerging from mediocrity to become one of the leading banks in Ukraine. After ten years of successful operations, he sold the bank to French-based international bank BNP Paribas. The sale proved well timed – the ensuing global ‘credit crunch’ crisis dramatically reduced the investment attractiveness of the Ukrainian banking sector.
The art of timing
“I like to buy companies in crisis or with strong prospects. I get them working effectively, and then I exit with a profit. For example, I built up and sold an oil extraction plant, built up UkrSibbank, and was among the initial shareholders of Kyivstar. There have been many more similar projects,” says Mr. Yaroslavsky of his business philosophy.
Over the years, his assets have included Nadra Bank, Northern Mining, and XXI Century construction company to name but a few. During an era of access to cheap imported gas, his DCH Group became one of the country’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producers. His holding also successfully sold the Merefa Glass Packaging Plant to Turkish holding Sisecam. He helped revive Kharkiv Airlines during a period of growth in the domestic air travel market, but withdrew before a downturn in the industry’s fortunes.
Investing in Kharkiv
Analysts estimate Mr. Yaroslavsky’s total investment in the economic development of Kharkiv at around USD 1 billion. Among the many projects he has been involved in, pride of place must surely go to his role in championing Kharkiv’s football credentials, both as president of local football club Metalist Kharkiv and as a leading figure in Kharkiv’s bid to serve as a host city during Euro 2012.
Mr. Yaroslavsky took over ownership of Metalist Kharkiv in 2005 when the team was stuck in a rut. His management and investment revived the club’s fortunes, with Metalist taking third place in the Ukrainian Premier League on six occasions under his stewardship while becoming a regular feature in the latter stages of the UEFA Cup and Europa League.
His personal role in Kharkiv’s Euro 2012 participation was even more striking. When Ukraine was first awarded the right to co-host the championships by UEFA in 2007, few saw Kharkiv as a potential host city. Mr. Yaroslavsky intervened to initiate a program of modernization that transformed the city’s sports facilities and tournament infrastructure. The scale of the improvements was too striking to ignore, and UEFA officials were eventually convinced.
During the buildup to Euro 2012, many international journalists focused on Kharkiv as the most impressive example of Ukraine’s efforts to transform itself in order to co-host the tournament. A Polish TV crew even filmed a documentary about Mr. Yaroslavsky. Perhaps inevitably, the film was entitled “King of Kharkiv”. Overall, the Kharkiv-born businessman invested around USD 300 million into the city’s preparations for the championships, making him Ukraine’s largest Euro 2012 private investor.
Attracting international investment
Oleksandr Yaroslavsky currently uses his DCH Group’s key assets including Kharkiv International Airport and the Premier Palace Hotel Kharkiv to help attract international investment to the region. This means hosting international aviation conferences like Routes CIS, along with a wide range of regular industrial forums and agricultural events like Agroport.
For the past year, there has been considerable speculation over the future investment directions Mr. Yaroslavsky is likely to take. Towards the end of 2016, he declared an interest in purchasing Odesa Portside Plant. After the failure of the plant privatization tender, he announced his intention to establish an international consortium to purchase the asset. Talks with interested parties (including a number of major Western banks) are currently ongoing.
He recently returned to his investment roots with the acquisition of a controlling stake in the iconic Kharkiv Tractor Factory. This leading Ukrainian machine-building plant has a long history and major local social importance as an employer of around 3,000 Kharkivites. Many are now hoping Mr. Yaroslavsky can return the famous plant to its former glory and repeat the success he has had in sectors as diverse as banking, industry, construction, and football.