For Yaroslav Lyubinets, SoftServe has been a 25-year long journey of transformation and innovation. With a privileged scientific mind and an endless curiosity for the world of business, he led the company to become the first Ukrainian IT enterprise to operate globally at a time when there was little management science tradition in his country. A constant focus on value creation through IT consultancy and cutting-edge technology has won SoftServe the trust of a wide variety of clients. Today, the company has over 6,000 employees all over the world and it continues to grow rapidly. Lyubinets’ gaze, traditionally focused on the US, is now fixed on Europe where the company is posting three-digit growth rates. Inasmuch, Germany has become a central focus. Present in Berlin, Frankfurt and soon Munich, SoftServe is working with German enterprises in sectors including fintech, healthcare and manufacturing. But Lyubinets does not forget his roots and is committed to creating a dynamic workplace for his employees. At SoftServe, opportunities for personal and professional development abound in areas such as leadership, language and technical training so that the company can continue to lead the way in promising areas like IT consultancy, AI, IoT and augmented reality. Based in Lviv, SoftServe is a glowing example of the IT potential that Western Ukraine has to offer
The company was founded in 1993 and has grown at a phenomenal rate. How did this happen?
At first, we knew we wanted to develop software solutions, and we were introduced to some US businessmen, including a former vice-president of GE, who made good recommendations. It all started out with a small project, and our success earned us good references and a good reputation. After that, we worked in the US market successfully for many years, then turned to Europe, where we have invested heavily in development over the last five years. We have posted three-digit growth in the European market in the last two years, while five years ago the figure was negligible. We now provide software solutions and IT consulting for clients who approach us with ideas but who are sometimes uncertain about the tech issues. From there, we help them implement their business ideas through digital solutions and develop customized solutions for each client, using cutting-edge technology developed in our own research division. We also have a very successful partnership with Google and we are working to promote cloud technology.
How do you want the company to be viewed?
We see ourselves as advisors and providers, helping clients with their digital transformation. There has been a lot of talk for several years about businesses being software-enabled, and for those who work in financial markets, for instance, IT is a core issue. IT consulting is very important right now, and we are seeing a trend where big companies that provide other kinds of consulting are moving to IT consulting as well. Because of our experience, we are very well positioned in that field.
How do you stand out from the competition?
Our differential points are two key items: partnership and innovation. We build partnerships with our clients and our employees because they are both our main assets. We have a strategic initiative to build a successful customer experience, and for our employees, we have a very good working environment and a constant focus on personal development. Our company is one of the best in the world in competency development, and we invest significant resources in our workforce. We created a corporate university and annually we provide different courses for thousands of people. There is an IT academy within the university teaching software development, data science and other relevant subjects. There is also a language school teaching English and German because our employees working with clients should be fluent in languages. We also teach leadership courses.
In terms of talent, how does the Ukrainian workforce compare with other countries?
Tech education is very good in Ukraine, where mathematics is very popular and viewed as prestigious. Ukrainians have a very good education in theoretical mathematical models and computer science, and because of IT’s prestige, it attracts the top talent to the universities, and from there they move to industry. Recently, one of the best computer science programs in Eastern Europe was created with our company’s help.
IT consulting and digital transformation have become trending topics, but do you think that other CEOs understand what this means?
A majority of CEOs, even those who do not work in the IT industry, have a pretty good knowledge of what they want and what they can achieve with this technology. Our German clients, in particular, are very accurate about what can be done. Our value resides in helping them achieve what they want. Ukrainian engineers, with their critical thinking and strong scientific background, ask good questions and sometimes challenge the project’s goals and ideas, and the clients appreciate this input. We sometimes help reshape their goals, showing them what could truly be achieved.
What is your team like?
We have an experienced team of digital designers with very good knowledge of digital platforms, services related to AI, big data, natural language recognition, machine learning and more. Recently, augmented reality solutions have become very important. We are also working on emotion recognition. One of our products for the auto industry recognizes driver emotion such as fatigue by monitoring the heart rate. This has been recognized by the industry as a remarkable product, and is an example of what we can do.
How strong is your company in AI?
We are in a very good position. We have a special division that we call the Centres of Excellence: we have one for machine learning, data science, and robotics. There are also several data science projects in financial technology and several IT solutions in agriculture involving the use of drones and sensors. The most challenging issue right now is related to data science and machine learning.
Your revenues from Europe have jumped from five percent to 20 percent in a short period of time. What has been driving this growth?
The US market was our first focus, which was more open to working with foreign companies than Europe. However, five years ago we developed a strategy to pay more attention to Europe. We began by opening offices in various regions: Germany, UK, Benelux and Scandinavian countries. In Germany, SoftServe has offices in Berlin and Frankfurt and we are close to opening another one in Munich. In 2014, SoftServe opened development offices for our engineers in Poland and Bulgaria, which helped increase our presence on the European market.
What industries do you aim to serve in Germany?
The German market is very promising for us. We work in the fields of manufacturing, healthcare and fintech, and we work with independent software providers and corporate clients. Most of our clients are businesses. German clients are different in that they want to work with companies that are already established in Germany. They also have very clear business goals and in that sense they are the best, as it makes it easier for us to help them achieve their goals.
Do you see a possibility for partnerships, joint ventures or acquisitions in the German market?
Yes, we have a strategy to increase our acquisitions in the European market in the field of technology consulting, and Germany is part of our growth strategy.
How much effort do you devote to R&D?
We invest a lot. Our special Centres of Excellence are working on developing future technology with a two-to-five-year time span, while our solutions department works with a six-month-to-two-year time span, and our delivery units develop current projects. We also have a competency development group that focuses on developing internal competencies so that we remain fully capable in all technological directions.
As a company with more than 6,000 employees, what are the challenges to remaining abreast of changes and to keep creating value?
Our company is changing constantly and every team member is changing as well. We are one of the first software development companies to work in the global market, so we really learned how to work globally at a time when there was almost no management science tradition in Ukraine. There have been many changes in the company as well, and the way we engage with clients changes constantly, as does the type of clients that we work with. Tech companies are easy to work with because they understand the tech language, but business clients require a different kind of language. We are always working on developing new IT products.
How do you manage the multinational nature of your company?
We are a global company with a multinational management team: we work with a combination of cultures and take the best from each. One of my tasks is to organize this work and adapt our approach to each client. For US businesses, the core is rules and effective processes. For Ukrainian businesses, the core is building relationships with more flexible processes. We know how to combine all this to create highly effective partnerships.
What are the common values holding together this multicultural organization?
Our top focus is our client and our client’s success. The personal and professional development of our employees is another key because this helps the company develop too. Our third core value is innovation: innovation in team work, in processes, and in technology. I like the concept of management by example. You make a decision, and how you make that decision – whether you focus on client success, employee success, or on corporate profit – is a very visible thing. When you focus on providing value, it attracts other successful things like profit or growth.
There is often a misrepresentation of Ukraine abroad. How do you think your company is improving this image?
The country factor is very important, and the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were hard for us. We were still in good standing with our long-time clients but it was hard to attract new ones because of the country’s reputation. But that is changing. Ukraine is well known as the world’s top location for IT, and after the revolution, the reputation of Ukraine improved, as did the openness of the IT industry. IT companies are seeing Ukraine as an attractive destination to open offices in. Their numbers are growing, and a recent $160 million investment in an innovation district IT park shows that trust in Ukraine is increasing. I see a clear trend.
What is the business climate like in Lviv?
I think that this is one of the best regions to do business in Ukraine because it is closest to Europe, because it is the most investor and client-oriented region, and because the culture here is very close to Europe for historical reasons. We also have a very good government that helps build a better business climate.
What is your message to German investors and consumers?
Ukraine is a great IT destination, and SoftServe is a great global company that can provide advice for digital and technological transformation to any business of any size and type.