31 January 2006

Did The Cashier Smile?

Have you looked at the back of a Billa grocery store receipt lately?

A. "Your opinion is valuable to us"
B. "We are striving to improve our customer service and appreciate your feedback"
C. "Did your cashier smile at you? Yes or No"
D. "How much time did you wait in line at the cash register?"

Quite an attempt at denting the severe lack of customer focus here. Wish I had thought of it. I feel that all too often I allow myself to be beaten down to certain amount of passivity building customer service at my company. Nothing is shocking anymore when I'm out in Kyiv. You'd like me to search my pockets for exact change? Ok, sure. Time to wake up and pretend I just arrived. Good service is catching on here. Or is it simply a copy of an Austrian Billa concept? Like a lot of things here, in the end it is what you want it to be.

30 January 2006

A Miniature Protest is Still a Protest

Cousin Yarema, 18, showed up (unannounced as usual – we’re used to this already -- it’s ok) from Kolomyia for his “session” – a part of this off-campus degree program where he goes to class for two weeks followed by exams. In a conversation the other day, when I asked him about corruption in academia he related a story to me. At his college in Kolomyia, the school was charging 10 uah for each missed lecture. Each student had to pay up at the entrance to the final exam or access was denied. Deemed unfair and illegal by Yarema and a few of his classmates, they prepared leaflets and began to rally support for a protest against the administration. The administration met with him and his colleagues and threatened them with expulsion from the college. In spite of this, the “miniature protest” as he calls it was staged and the whole student body skipped one lecture in unison. Remarkably, the administration acquiesced and did away with the 10 uah charge. There’s more. Buoyed by their success, Yarema and his activists began to visit other colleges to try and repeat the protest for the benefit of others. These attempts failed miserably due to lack of interest from the students. Maybe those students weren’t skipping classes?

A Sign of Progress vs. Discrimination

A new law effective January 1st of this year prohibits indicating gender when announcing or advertising a job opening. This will be a shock to many managers I'm sure. In my experience, every once in a while a male manager will still say "You can't place that job a on the back of a woman. She won't be able to handle the stress". We're talking about a sales manager spot here. My usual response is "Did you ever witness the birth of a baby? No? Well I recommend you experience it and then we talk about stress handling ability." Sidenote: in general, my female managers far out-perform their male counterparts. Surprise. Surprise.

19 January 2006

Boxes and Tape

It’s midnight. I’m sitting in this office for the last time. The last box is packed; tomorrow I begin working in our new building, a fresh start. I threw out reams of documents. Some in the garbage and some in the shredder. Almost four years of meeting minutes, action plans, punch lists, travel folders, manufacturer product info, project files, lawyer’s briefs, outdated correspondence. I kick back and take in the bare walls, empty file cabinets and shelves. So many hours spent here. Building some things and breaking others. Receiving customer compliments and their harassment. Listening to employees personal tragedies. Deaths of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children too. Heart attacks, cancer, hit-runs on the street. Listening to the joys: births of new babies, pictures of weddings, and tort in office just because it’s their birthday. Making big decisions and trivial ones. Hiring and starting careers. Firing and ending them. Trying to get a customer to sign a big contract. Listening to vendors trying to get me to sign their big contracts. Doing the “inspection dance” with the parade of inspectors in green polyester and fraying epaulets spewing their bile about how they can write the results (the protocol) one way or the other depending on “the weight of your arguments”. In this office I’ve been recorded without my knowledge, and blackmailed with said recording. My life has been threatened and guns have been “shown” to me. Lately, knowing that I’m moving to a brand new office I’ve pegged this office as a “shithole”. Well I need to retract that. It’s not a shithole. The things I experienced in this office are an important, indelible part of me. I'm done now: my business life neatly packed in boxes and tape. Adios.

18 January 2006

Ukraine Last Week, January 9-15

The Central Election Commission announced that 45 party blocs are officially registered for the parliamentary elections in March and consequently many issues have to be resolved. Among these is the design of the ballots themselves which are now projected to be 80 cm long. 250 deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, back from their holidays, voted for the dismissal of PM Yurij Yekhanurov and the Cabinet of Ministers due to their handling of the gas supply negotiations with the Russia. President Yushchenko, in Kazakhstan at the time, decided not to shorten his trip and return to Ukraine downplaying reports of a “political crisis”. He then decreed the year 2006 to be the “Year of Kazakhstan In Ukraine”. In a call-in show on Radio-ERA, 1230 callers were against the dismissal of government 211 were for it. Yekhanurov first stated he is Vykonuyuchij Obovjaskiv (Acting) Prime Minister later retracted his statement claiming the VR acted unconstitutionally and he was in fact still the Prime Minister and the Cabinet was still the Cabinet. Meanwhile the chief lawyer of Ukraine, Minister of Justice Serhiy Holovaty, informed us that there were, in fact, legal porushennia u rehlamenti (procedural violations) by Speaker Lytvyn while conducting the vote. On top of that there is currently no legislative base in place which allows the VR to form a new Cabinet. Of course Holovaty was one of the guys that was fired. Yushchenko appealed to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine to rule the VR decision unconstitutional only this court is short judges because new ones haven’t been approved yet by the VR. An AN-24 passenger plane was forced to do an emergency landing in Kharkiv because of a smashed windshield. No one was injured. A law was passed that requires 20% of the blockbuster movies shown in Ukrainian theaters to be dubbed in Ukrainian. The week progressed and Yulia continued to take heat for teaming up with Yanukovych and the Commies to further her personal, political ambitions above the interests of Ukraine. Moroz said “At this critical moment of negotiations with Russia the people of Ukraine are looking to their government for unified leadership not for a political show”. Lutsenko said he considered the VR’s actions as treason against the national interests and security of Ukraine and would like to bring those responsible up on criminal charges. Seven more miners were buried alive. Rescue crews went to work. The EC in Brussels acknowledged the legitimacy of Yekhanurov and the Cabinet of Ministers even after the VR vote. In neighboring Russia, a knife-wielding assailant stabbed 11 people in a synagogue in Moscow. A few days later, in Rostov-on-Don a 19-year old medical student attacked worshippers in a synagogue with a broken glass bottle after a chat with his rabbi. In a chat with journalists broadcast on all Ukrainian TV channels, late Friday night, Yushchenko criticized the moves of those behind the VR’s recent decision and explained his view of the gas situation with Russia. Also on Friday there were sensationalist, eyewitness accounts of Ukrainian military units seen assembling in the Obolon region of Kyiv near Moskovsky Bridge. On Saturday Yushchenko said he will call for a national referendum on the issue of Constitutional Reform in Ukraine. “Do the people want the government of their country changing with every whim of the VR?” Also, Yushchenko rescinded his signature and terminated the memorandum with Yanukovych stating that Victor Fyodorovych had not complied with the terms. Forbes magazine in its 2005 recap listed “Billionaires of the World”. Weighing in at $2.4 billion was our very own Rhinat Akhmetov (258th place). Also on the list at a humble $1.3 billion was Victor Pinchuk (507th place). More on the gas thing surfaced when Minister of Energy, Ivan Plachkov, stated that Yulia had setup a Delaware based company to transport Turkmenistan oil. Now that Ukraine will not be buying Turkmenistan oil she has been cut out of the proverbial loop. Meanwhile, Ukrainian researchers have developed green pigs. One could see them on TV. They were…green. At a Zoo in Northwestern Ukraine a 12-year old boy decided to jump the fence and feed crackers to a brown bear that proceeded to bite both the boy’s hands and arms off at his elbows. In Nahirsti, Lviv a four-year-old child was killed and five adults injured when the driver of their Mercedes mini-bus lost control and rolled it in a ditch. The Fitch rating agency lowered Ukraine’s rating from “positive” to “stable” and Standard & Poor’s left its rating at “stable”. The long-awaited Gongadze trial opened with one of the three defendants, Mykola Protasov being rushed off in an ambulance, for high blood pressure, resulting in a postponement of the hearing until January 23rd. The alleged murderers did not enter their pleas during the proceedings. In Mukachevo, people gathered from all over to partake in the grape at the annual festival of red wine. Meanwhile, President Yushchenko announced that Ukraine should prepare its own nuke fuel instead of selling the raw Uranium to the Russians and buying it back after enrichment. This, of course, raised press eyebrows around the world. Finally, Ukrainians occupied a lighthouse in Yalta and the Russian black sea fleet commander claims it’s his. No it’s not. Yes it is. No it’s not.

16 January 2006

Blossoming Billboards

The pre-election campaign billboard collection is growing. You can see it here. (Thanks to Neeka for the green santa addition). Anyone have any to add?

10 January 2006

Arrival of the Campaign Billboards

The campaigns are starting to spend some money. Billboards, such as this amusing one by the SDPU "Opposition Block NE TAK" are popping up all over. Yulia has a new heart-shaped/check mark logo (also see Neeka's post). I've started a modest billboard image collection here to allow you to rate the PR battles for yourself.

What was that meeting with the CIA about?

Back on December 19th, Victor Yushchenko had a meeting with CIA director Porter Goss. The President's press secretary explained that it was a brief meeting regarding the war on terrorism. The USA Embassy declined to comment on the visit or the meeting. Now, according to Ukie Pravda, a Swiss publication is claiming that there is a CIA prison in Ukraine (among other countries) holding Iraqi and Afghani citizens. Hmmm.