Interview with alumni
Olena BILAN, (KSE’2002), Chief Economist, Dragon Capital
1. How did the education you received at KSE influence your life and career? Why it was important?
It was a critical period of my life because without this education I wouldn’t get the job that I have now. I work in research department in the investment company and talk to foreign investors on a daily basis. Many of them have received Western-style economics education and to be able to talk to them in their language, I need to be on the same page with them in terms of economics background. Also, the overall atmosphere, the intensity of the program, the knowledge that I received at KSE was very different from what I had before, even though, I studied in a good university (Kyiv Politechnical Institute). For example, the attitude to plagiarism was different. At KSE plagiarizing is not tolerated. This is very critical for the overall quality of education. Another big difference is that the program was very intensive. It was designed the way that the students did a lot of work themselves, aside from participating at lectures. We always had to work under pressure. Also, I was very happy to meet a lot of smart people. In this sense, the program worked as a filter because the entrance exams were quite hard.
2. You’ve made a great career at Dragon Capital and are one of the best analysts in Ukrainian financial market. What do you consider to be the keys to your success?
For any position, I think it is essential to love the job that you do. Many people, who succeeded in their career, were keen on their job. This is one of the keys to success. In my profession you need to analyze large areas of information, look at a particular issue from different dimensions, be able to single out long-lasting factors from temporary developments. To forecast, you have to be able to single out the key reason for change in inflation or growth rate or other indicators. And you always have to take position, you have to choose one side and defend it with the arguments.
3. From your point of view, what changes can we expect in the economy of Ukraine in 5–10 years? What would you recommend Ukraine’s government to improve economic situation in the country?
It’s very ambitious to do forecasts for Ukraine for 5–10 years. I do forecasts for two years and it’s also a challenge because Ukraine’s economy is very volatile. It’s an emerging market economy and depends on idiosyncratic factors, including personalities running the country and changes in politics. Also, Ukraine is a commodity-based economy, it produces a lot of goods with a low degree of value added and is vulnerable to external shocks. That’s why it’s difficult to predict dynamics of economic indicators, the level of inflation or growth rate, with high precision.
In general, it’s important for the country to continue moving in a right direction. Even though the pace of reforms over past three years was slow, there were some important changes that already made the economy a little bit more competitive, more efficient and less dependent on external environment. These changes are not visible for ordinary Ukrainians but they do matter. For example, some state-owned enterprises, which got professional management, are working more efficiently, generate profit and increase investment. Prozorro — was a game changer in public procurement and helped to substantially narrow corruption opportunities. We have new patrol police, new organizations to fight high-level corruption, stable public finance, transformed independent central bank, cleaned-up banking system and inflation targeting regime. These changes are tremendous, but they are not enough. If reforms continue, in 5 to 10 years Ukraine’s economy will be much stronger and growth will speed up from current 1–2%.
Foreign investors are interested in Ukraine. In 2014–2015 they were scared by the conflict in the East and occupation of Crimea, but now their interest is rising again as economy stabilized. However, only few of them decide to invest, while poor property rights protection and high corruption is an impediment for many. In this sense, the broad reform of judicial system is absolutely critical. While reforming of the judicial system as a whole can take years, creation of specialized anti-corruption court can be done relatively fast and would become a clear signal to investors that the country’s leadership is serious about fighting corruption.
4. Last year you joined KSE Board of Directors, which way do you think KSE can contribute to this process and strengthen economic and business environment of the country?
I was thinking long about joining the board and finally decided to do this, mainly because high-quality economics education is very important for Ukraine’s future development. The program is doing ok now but the number of graduates is still very small to make a difference, while economics education in Ukraine’s universities is not adequate. As a result, many people, including journalists, don’t understand how the economy works and it’s very easy to manipulate their opinion. That’s why, the stronger the KSE will be, the more people with high quality economics education will graduate from the program. Among other things, this will result in a better quality of the public administration. I hope that KSE will be a successful example for other organizations and that it will be possible for people in the regions to get high quality education without moving to Kyiv.
5. How do you usually spend your free time, which hobbies do you have?
Most of my free time is devoted to my family. But I do like reading. When I go on vacation, I always try to find time to read. And usually I read not about economics. The book that I like a lot and have read several times is called “Nation. When much is taken, something is returned” by Terry Pratchett. If you don’t read between the lines, the book is a just a fiction, but if you do read between the lines, it raises a lot of questions about religion and science, society and interpersonal relationship. I also do sports. At some point of my career I understood that it is really impossible to go forward without sports. Long time ago I was doing horseback riding, now I’m running and participating in the running competitions in Kyiv with my colleagues. I also like yoga.