Interview with Tymofii Mylovanov, KSE’1999: “I see no reasons why Ukrainians should live worse than Americans”

In 1999 Tymofii Mylovanov received his Master’s degree in economics from Kyiv School of Economics. Currently he is the Honorary President of Kyiv School of Economics, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Deputy Chairman of the NBU Council. Tymofii was interviewed by an Economic Analysis student at KSE Kostiantyn Bilous who asked him about his life style and daily university activities.  


Who are you?


I’m Tymofiy Mylovanov, the Honorary President of Kyiv School of Economics.


What do you do?


 I teach and develop the School. I also do fundraising and pursue economics and science.


Tell us about your life style.


 I fly from the US to Ukraine back and forth.


How often do you fly?


 There are years when I fly more rarely. This year was not successful [translator’s note – 2018], so I was flying a lot. In October it was twice.


Do you have time to have a rest?


 No, I don’t. I live under constant jetlag. This is not very good for my health and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do such things.


Isn`t it easier to live in the US?


 I teach and do science in the US. I am also busy there. In Ukraine I have more meetings, while in the US – more work.


What type of work do you mean – teaching or research?


I am engaged in this type of work in Ukraine too, so I wouldn’t specify geographically. One goes from one building to another and the other flies from one country to another. I am the latter person and that is the difference.


What was the first step in your career? Was it before or after EERC?


 I studied at EERC (editor’s note – Kyiv School of Economics). Before that I was studying at KPI and was working at the same time at Alfa-Capital (editor’s note – Alfa-bank). Before Alfa-Capital I was developing my business. Then I went to Wisconsin to study and there I defended my doctorate. After that I was working 4 years in the University of Bonn, two-three years in the Pennsylvania State University. I have been working in Pittsburg for 5 years now. I started developing VoxUkraine approximately in 2013-2014 when the revolution broke out.


So, you mean that you founded VoxUkraine?


 I didn’t found it. It was Yurii Gorodnichenko, who came up with a blog idea  and started writing. I was the one who was simply generating ideas and investing the energy in the blog. Then in 2015 the president of Kyiv School of Economics resigned and the Chairman of the Board of Directors assigned new people to key positions at KSE. The Council knew that I was often in Ukraine and offered me for the President position. I believed that it was a good chance and agreed. Since then, I have held this position for three years now.


Who influenced you?


 Among non-public people it was the Rushytski scientist family. I pursue science and education thanks to them. In the 1990s when I was studying, there was no respect for education. All students wanted to start working and earn 500 dollars each. This is a very huge mistake, because when you invest in yourself, then you will be able to earn not only 500 dollars, but 20000 dollars instead. It is real.


So, you are not in favor of the money obsession, are you?


 What is money obsession?


It is when people earn for the sake of earning.


 No one lives his or her life earning for sake of earning. People need money for food and housing; to feel more successful and loved ones. There is no  obsession with money. It is just a simplified view.



What is the sense then? Why do you keep on doing what you do?


I try to do my best and follow simple principles. I don’t know. I have no good answer. I don’t think that some position or more money will bring me more happiness. I try to do my best and follow simple principles. For KSE the results are obvious: the number and quality of alumni and researches, and the school reputation, of course.


Don`t you regret sacrifices you had to make for the sake of career such as family, for example?


I married an American woman in 2004, but we divorced in 2008. We didn’t get on well and we don’t have any kids. I fall in love with people, however it is hard for me to maintain a relationship, because of my difficult temper. Therefore I still have no family, but I would want to have both wife and children. I think things like that can’t be planned. I don’t believe that you can plan your love or family, so I no longer worry about this.


Speaking about migration, how many emigrants come back?


I don’t know. My life profile is not usual. It turns out that I am not considered a migrant.


What do you mean by saying that you are not considered a migrant?


I fly there [translator’s note – to the US] and back every month, which, taken together, equals 12-15 times a year. How can you determine where does the person live? The answer is clear if he or she doesn’t travel. However if we consider the case of current businessmen, then it is different. For example Ihor Humennyi lives in Ukraine, but I am sure that he spends less than half a year in Ukraine. Maybe it is a period of a couple of months, because he travels around the world promoting his international business the rest of the time.


What is patriotism for you?


It is unfair that Ukrainians live in worse than those who were born in the developed countries. I see no reasons why Ukrainians should live worse than Americans. I can understand that there is an institutional factor, conflict with Russia and history should be also taken into account… However, if we consider a typical Ukrainian and American person, Americans live much better. It is not true that Americans are stronger. There are uneducated and weird people, sometimes they are crazy and inadequate, but they still live much better. It is unfair on the global and fundamental level as well as in terms of homo sapiens species. It is unfair and has to be changed.


If you were offered to become the Minister of Education, would you agree?


No, I wouldn’t. It is not true that the educational system can be changed from the inside. For sure, one should work on a budget, but I am not certain that this should be a person with my life profile. Firstly, I am the President of KSE and I fail to fundraise enough money to buy land and build a campus.  You must be kidding regarding my being the Minister of Education. A person who wants to become a Minister should have successful results in education for 30-40 years. It is common to believe that everyone can become a Minister in Ukraine. It is not the way it should be. If Kyiv School of Economics starts a bachelor’s program there will be 40 thousand students in 20 years. Then one will be able to say that I have achieved something.

Such person will be able to manage or at least understand how to manage several universities: maybe 10, maybe 30, or maybe all at once. But do I or a person like me know something about the high school?


Based on your experience, what does the success of the project depend on – a leader or a team?


There are three modern theories. The first one is based upon a leader, the second one – on a team and the third one – on rules of game within a team. I don’t know which theory is true, but I think they should all be taken into account.


Who are role models in Ukraine?


It is hard to find role models in Ukraine for Ukrainians. Ukrainians tend to believe Western role models more, however Ukrainian role models should also be considered. It doesn’t mean that we have to neglect Western role models, however jumping from Kakha Bendukidze, Fukuyama to someone else is also inappropriate. Some time ago Saakashvili was our main leader and saver. It shouldn’t be this way. One should dig more. Ukrainians tend to believe Western role models more, however Ukrainian role models should also be considered.


Who are your role models?


I like people at KSE, in particular our Vice-Presidents – Olesia Verchenko, Yuliia Klymenko, Natalia Shapoval, Nataliia Mostepaniuk, Inna Sovsun, and Olha Fariatieva. I also like other people working with us. I don’t have a possibility to name all of them right now, but I think that from 20 to 25 people at KSE are real heroes.


What about public people?


I like Maksym Nefiodov, who is in his 30s. Indeed, he is in his early 30s. He is good at having a helicopter view of the problem very quickly. At the same time he knows how to get down to Earth, familiarize himself with details and prioritize. Maksym is a manager, who is able to find compromises, knowing when to defend his opinion and when to give up. Among the public people I also like the leaders of UCU, such as Hudziak, for example. There are several people at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, who try to contribute to the development of society, such as Kvit.

I also respect Koboliev, Vitrenko, Suprun, and Hontarieva, since they are successful reformators. They have implemented difficult tasks facing them and did this successfully.

Vakarchuk is another example. He has contributed a lot to the Ukrainian identity and Ukrainization in the society on the emotional level. Zhadan is also a nice person. I don’t know him personally, however he is important figure for society. I knew Pavlo Shemeret, who was killed recently. I knew him personally, it is a significant loss for society, because we need more of such people.

There are people, who develop themselves professionally. I would name Kazarin and Butkevych among famous persons in media. However, the structure of the society limits their abilities to grow higher and I do see a huge potential in them. A lot of successful and promising people will not be popular in Ukraine, because it means they will have to go against the system. I also think that I am not popular within or outside the school, because I have made a lot of bad decisions for people.


Was it within the transformation process?


Transformation process hasn’t been finished yet, but mainly this was done. People, who contributed a lot to the school, couldn’t face the transformation process and unfortunately they left. I think they don`t agree my visions. By the way, it is not my task to be popular.

Can you name three reasons why KSE is the best university of Ukraine?


I will tell you why. Recently I have heard a story about the medical university. A nurse, who wanted to get an education, entered the university on a fee basis. She studied there only one month and a half and quit, as she did not have enough money. It turned out that apart from the tuition fee she had to pay to pass all the subjects – even for those she knew herself – which was a decent amount of money. And now we are talking about the main medical university of the country. Therefore, it becomes clear why people do not respect such education system. And it is not the recent phenomenon – it has been like that in the 1990s. I remember when I was a student at KPI I had to pay to pass my English exam. The same situation with bribes was with physical education, I can recall how the head of department carried a gun with him as he was afraid of students.


Was it so bad in the 1990s that professors had to carry guns with them?


The head of the department was known for bribery and corruption. For this reason, some students wanted to beat him. I guess that there is no such a problem now, but I can see academic dishonesty instead. When I visit scientific forums or conferences I find them really boring. All the speakers are not interested in what they talk about, and the audience got used to this. So, everyone knows it will be intellectually tiresome.


Coming back to the reasons, what are they?


First, KSE does not tolerate the things above. Second, we are innovative. Third, we understand what do we teach. We offer three career paths that suit three different types of people.


What types of people? Scientists?


Not necessarily scientists. These are the people whom I call “analysts” or people with analytical capacities. These people want to understand something better. They are not interested in building a business or becoming a billionaire. These people are interested in elaborating on some issue, as they find it pleasant and important to be good at something particular. Such individuals take economic programs very often. Afterwards, they become analysts at banks and IT companies, work for IMF or get their PhD abroad. They become scientists and applied people. This is a separate path, where individuals like understanding something better and becoming an expert in something, switching to other options if desired. Through the depth of their understanding of some particular sphere, such people gain reputation across borders, what opens new doors to them in 10-15 years. This is one of the career paths.


What is the second path?


Second group includes people who want to change the society. Someone calls them reformers, but these are good humans, willing to change the nation for the better. They are «romantics», those who believe that there is an opportunity to improve the society. We do need the «romantics».  These people study at the Public Policy and Governance program.


Alright, what is the third type of people?


The third type includes people who want to create. They are businessmen, entrepreneurs and startuppers. These individuals can work for someone, be self-employed or build their business career. They are those in the business who want to be creators.

These are the three types of people, whom we give an opportunity to develop.


Is this education approach distinctive of KSE only?


This is our feature. We understand how to help different types of people to form in just a few months or years they spend in the school.  None of Ukrainian universities follows this vision. Maybe UCU thinks this way or NaUKMA shares it partly, but the majority of universities do not, they are focused on majors of subjects, but not on the types of people.

We are people-oriented and we want them to be successful in their lives and society. We make it through the education, we help to learn analytical skills and gain knowledge in needed subjects. It is realized through the example of economics and business, but eventually we help people to become successful. We assist them in becoming successful of themselves first and then finding their way in life. And this is what one of the university education functions should be.


Do Ukrainian universities help students to find their way in life?


Unfortunately, all other universities do not manage this task. They form individuals, but it happens “downstream”: people raise the same society as they were raised in. Nevertheless, there is no strategic approach to understanding people, for example, that one individual wants to change the world and another wants to go in science. But we do think about it, and this is a crucial difference.

Other things are understandable as a default: for example, academic and general consciousness. Another feature is career promotion: we do not only help people find their way, but also supervise our alumni and help them in their career advancement. It is not always obvious, but we promote out best students secretly. Other universities do not do this.

We have a great brand, CV with KSE filling always attracts particular attention of employers and makes it stand out among others. The school environment is different: we prevent any type of discrimination, sexism, academic dishonesty, and irresponsibility. We teach people how to think before saying, not the opposite.


What do you like about Ukraine?


I don`t know a lot about Ukraine, as I lived abroad for 18 years, while only 3-4 years here. I adore people who went for the war to protect Ukraine, who risked with their careers and went to change the country. I am talking about those who joined police, the National Bank of Ukraine, or other institutions in economics. Moreover, many individuals who were part of these organizations keep changing the country. These are the people I like.


Are they «romantics»?


Everyone is «romantic». Everyone, who is trying to change the society, may be considered as «romantic». Most of these people “burn out” and make the mistake. I did not break my connections with Pittsburgh, what gives me a solid base, independence and feeling of self-esteem.


Does this «romantism» last for long?


The people who quit their jobs and took a work at the ministries find it hard to earn for a living. At some point they have to leave the governmental position or accept deals forcing them into corruption. One can say these are bad and immoral people, but the reality lies in the fact they have to feed their families. We are not talking about those people who expropriated a big factory or became billionaires. We are talking about individuals, who outsourced consulting, which was potentially enough to collide the interests. Another case, this individual might have a dispute with someone or met needs of some donors etc.

If we want not «romantics» to try to change their country at least from time to time, if we want serious things to be accomplished, then we should pay high market wages. I understand that our market wages can account for 100 dollars a month, that it is unrealistic to employ high quality people for such amount of money if we want them to survive in a poisonous and corrupt environment. We do want these people to survive, so we have to pay them even more for such hostile environment. This work is very harmful.

If we want not «romantics» to try change their country at least time to time, if we want serious things to be accomplished, then we should pay high market wages.

You have named three types of people. Which one do you associate yourself with?


None. I am not famous for something special. I am famous, because there is lack of skilled people. I have a set of relevant skills, which include managerial and scientific. I have a significant profile of publications, while managerial skills come from the time before academic work.  My features are strategic vision, persuasive communication, and ability to inspire at hard times. I am famous because there is lack of skilled people.

Besides that, I am not afraid of work, but this is true for a lot of people.  Someone is better at the strategic skills; someone is better at communication with people; others are good leaders. The university requires managerial and scientific skills at the same time, while these particular skills are rare in Ukraine. We have very few true scientists in business and economics, who can think globally and publish their papers in the worldwide journals. Pretty often scientists are lack of managerial skills. At the same time, people who work in business, do not appreciate science. They do not understand the value of science. This wisdom of appreciating both comes with the work experience. If I`ll be dismissed from Kyiv School of Economics, you will see my name losing its popularity in Ukraine in just a year or two.


Do you think you are famous because of KSE only?


I do a lot for the school, its development and changing. This is an adventure and I hope it will work out. Actually, it already works and I hope it will last for a century. The school is the most important creation of my life.


What would be an advice of Tymofii Mylovanov to a young student.


I would advise not to hurry and believe in oneself. At the same time, one should treat education and acquisition of skills very responsibly. These are three things one should follow: not to hurry, be generous, and invest in oneself. It will not be easy.

Besides that, people should believe. The main career path in Ukraine is loser.  This is a person whose family is always lack of money; a person who is unhappy with his or her work. One should understand that a person who achieved some development level and stopped that is a labor market failure. Career paths in Ukraine are not built and developed.

It`s anything what can happen in Ukraine at any moment. In Ukraine you do not understand what tomorrow is going to look like. Therefore, everything looks like a lottery, when one does not understand how to develop himself or herself to be successful.


But people retain the skills, don’t they?


One cannot develop all the skills. When one does not know his or her career path, then there is no clear picture of the skills needed. In this case, one does not know what to hold in his portfolio.


How not to spread oneself then?


First of all, one should understand what he or she would like to do. People should not be impudent, they should work cleverly. People should be sure they are doing right things and take it slow. People should believe in what they do and not be afraid of it.


Interviewed by Constantine Belous, EA2

Translation was done by Mykola Kravets and Maryna Shykun, EA1