US entrepreneur Andrey Akselrod: “We’ll continue to do business in Ukraine if possible because the country has a strong technical workforce”

If you’re wondering whether African disease outbreaks, Ukrainian instability and Syrian civil war could have an effect on your business, you’re not alone: A September 2014 survey of business executives by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. discovered that 80 percent of responders believe geopolitical instability in the Middle East and North Africa is either very likely or extremely likely to upset the global economy in the next year. And the executives most likely to be worried are those in North America and Europe, due to concerns about tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Andrey Akselrod, co-founder of the New York-based translation technology firm Smartling, keeps a close eye on Ukraine even when he’s not there overseeing Smartling’s facilities abroad. Akselrod, who was born in Ukraine and has lived in the United States for 20 years, staffs two offices in Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk with about 40 software development and support staff.

The Eastern European location helps him tap Ukraine’s technical talent and service customers in European time, he says.

The location also keeps him concerned about what happens if the turmoil in the eastern part of the country expands to the west, where Smartling’s offices are located. “We’re constantly evaluating the risks,” Akselrod says. “I’m watching very closely, keeping track of what’s going on and what the problems are.”

In addition to devoting some of his time to monitoring the situation, Akselrod has also invested his and his managers’ energies in developing a business continuity plan to deploy in the event the unrest spreads to the cities where he operates. That effort consists of reassuring employees that Smartling will be there if conditions deteriorate, plus making arrangements to move employees to places of safety in or out of the country. They’ve also developed plans for having employees work from their homes in the event that streets become unsafe for commuting.

“Never in my life did I think I would have to do continuity planning about an actual war,” Akselrod says. He hopes that the plan will not be needed, and reports that on a recent visit Ukrainians were optimistic about moderating tensions.

Smartling intends to continue to do business in Ukraine if possible, Akselrod says, because the country has a well-educated technical workforce for which he doesn’t have to compete with employers in New York City or Silicon Valley. And, if not Ukraine, it would be somewhere else where problems might arise. “It’s a global world and more and more companies have people working for them around the world,” he says.

Read the full story with cases from Iraq, Turkey and Egypt in the American Express Open Forum.

Topics: Analysis & opinion, International, IT services, People
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