Think at London Business School
Six LBS faculty debate whether business can find solutions to today’s big social and environmental problems
By Elias Papaioannou, Ioannis Ioannou, Andrew Scott, Anna Pavlova, Rajesh Chandy, Seb Murray
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proved to be a profound disaster for global peace and humanitarianism, particularly for peace in Europe, with the war entirely transforming the European security landscape, bringing conflict to the EU’s doorstep.
The war also significantly compounds a number of pre-existing adverse global economic trends, including rising inflation, poverty, increasing food insecurity, energy crises, deglobalisation, and worsening environmental degradation.
For Ukraine the destruction of physical capital, with millions fleeing the country, and countless thousands killed or maimed, the war exists within a monumentally tragic scale. The horrors of human combat and the targeted destruction of infrastructure and of cosmopolitan, once flourishing towns and cities has proved to be a blight on the entire international community, and not just the beleaguered people of Ukraine.
Yet in the midst of the chaos and absolute human tragedy, Ukraine is proving to be a symbol of people power, of individual fortitude, community resilience and the unconquerable energy of the business community.
This was the principal message of hope described by those who spoke at a recent London Business School campus event hosted by the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development. Produced and staged through collaborations with the European Business Association, the Centre for Economic Recovery, and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCC), the Ukraine Recovery Business Day (URBD), provided a platform for discussing the involvement of the business sector in shaping a collective vision for Ukraine's recovery, reconstruction, and modernisation. The event also focused on exploring existing and future business and investment prospects, both in the current and the post-war context.
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"Ukraine is proving to be a symbol of people power, of individual fortitude, community resilience and the unconquerable energy of the business community."
The conference’s key themes centred on private capital in recovery, reconstruction, and modernisation, rethinking European and global value chains, green recovery and green transition, as well as insights on lessons learned from the international experience of post-war recovery and reconstruction.
The keynote address at URBD was given by Dr. Arup Banerji, World Bank Regional Country Director for Eastern Europe. In his opening remarks to his presentation, ‘Adversity and Adaptation: How Ukraine’s Private Firms Endure During Russia’s Invasion’, Dr Banerji observed that the situation in Ukraine is without doubt deeply serious, with the country’s economy suffering more than a 40 per cent decline in GDP.
“What is the World Bank doing at a private sector event?” says Dr. Arup Banerji. A question designed to provoke intense debate, and yet Dr Banerji’s rejoinder to his own question was that in order to achieve the type of growth rate needed for recovery, Ukraine’s principal hope will be to reinvent its economy, drawing on the skills and resources of its already dynamic, innovative private sector.
“Ukraine will need to draw on its own native skills and ambitions to create the right investment climate, uphold the rule of law, while maintaining justice and preserving and restoring infrastructure if it is to attract large amounts of foreign private capital and technical expertise. The model here is what Western Europe was able to do after World War II with the help of the Marshall Plan – where modernising their economies was as or more important than the large grants from the US.”
And indeed, with the Marshall Plan model in mind, the URBD followed hard on the heels of the international Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC 2023) which had also been held in London just days earlier. Attracting leading world political and business figures, including the UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that event led to the announcement of billions of dollars in pledges for new recovery assistance to Ukraine, aimed at addressing the staggering destruction wrought by Russia’s invasion.
Despite the huge sums being pledged, Dr. Banerji said that public spending by itself will not be enough for recovery and growth – a major role for the state will be to set the conditions that go much beyond tax rebates or special subsidies needed to help all Ukraine’s competitive private sector flourish.
Dr. Banerji reminded the gathering that it was in the field of research that the World Bank offered its own, peerless support to understanding the impact the war was having on Ukraine’s business community.
The World Bank has, he explained, undertaken the largest survey conducted of the country’s business community since the war began, with 2500 businesses taking part in Ukraine, broken into surveys of small, medium and large firms.
“Some [firms] have been able to recover better than others, but there is a real challenge for almost every firm in Ukraine”
In addition, two complementary surveys were conducted through the European Central Bank and the US Chamber of Commerce. A survey of 80 multinationals operating in Ukraine, combined with high frequency satellite data, which revealed a considerable amount about how companies were adapting in the country, helped to complete a very detailed picture of firms operating in Ukraine.
One notable headline from the findings of these studies is that not every business is going through the same experience. “There is a very diverse impact on sales, employment and operations across industries and locations,” said Dr. Banerji.
Despite operational disruptions and financial distress, high interest rates and a lack of collateral, and high levels of uncertainty, firms have proved themselves to be resilient, adapting in many different ways. In the wake of the war, only 3% of firms in Ukraine have permanently closed, and the remaining 97% are open or partially open.
“Firms are clearly in financial distress,” said Dr Banerji. “And some have been able to recover better than others, but there is a real challenge for almost every firm in Ukraine with uncertainty the biggest damper to economic stability and business growth.
Firms suffered from a large negative impact on sales with 46% of firms experiencing in excess of a 50% drop in sales. Interestingly, large firms were more severely impacted than small firms, with 41% of large firms reporting asset losses versus 15% of small firms.
The East and South of the country experienced the largest drop in sales (-79% and -63% respectively) while the West saw a -39% drop. Overall, there has been a large negative impact with, on average, firms experiencing a 50% or more drop in sales. The continuous narrative was that big firms had experienced the greatest hurt, while small and medium sized companies were able to adjust and adapt to adverse conditions.
The spirit of resilience and innovation was also reflected in the way that the country’s infrastructure had been subjected to continual adaptation and innovation. Energy supply remained in place, for the most part reliably, despite events such as the Kakhovka dam breach when it was at one time raising the concern that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant might lose water supply to cool its reactors.
In terms of maintaining energy supply, innovation came to the fore with the installation of small-distributed power plants.
Exporters were hurt, notably grain exporters owing to the loss of port access to the Black Sea. Exports continued to find their markets by travelling through land routes and eventually using Danube ports and Polish ports. Volumes were down significantly but the defining characteristic of resilience continued to be the prevalent and dominant force.
"Ukraine still needs approximately about US$3-4bn/month just for essential services."
Seventy-five per cent of exporters experienced a drop in exports due to logistics and supply chain disruptions, with 66% of importation firms hit as well. Among the larger importers, 80% had to reduce or stop imports of raw materials, with the two worst hit sectors being construction and manufacturing.
Dr Banerji said he remained “amazed and impressed” by the resilience and bravery of Ukraine’s people and its leadership. However, obviously, the longer Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the greater the cost to Ukraine and its people, and the greater the financial need for recovery and reconstruction.
Ukraine’s current and future financing needs are staggering. Ukraine still needs approximately about US$3-4bn/month just for essential services – pensions, salaries, education, social transfers. More is needed for critical investments to help repair – not even rebuild – destroyed infrastructure and to help farmers and businesses revive economic activity.
The Ukraine Relief, Recovery, Reconstruction and Reform Trust Fund (URTF) was set up by the World Bank to coordinate grant financing for sustaining Ukraine’s government functions, delivering services, and implementing relief efforts. The URTF has received $295 million in donor contributions to date. These, along with all donor World Bank-mobilised support to Ukraine since February 24, 2022, can be reviewed on the World Bank’s Ukraine website.
The first signed and approved URTF grant was announced on Feb 10, 2023, - $50 million to repair and restore Ukraine’s transport network to support immediate humanitarian relief and recovery, and increase capacity of import and export corridors through the RELINC Project.
An additional $210 million in grant financing has also been committed to new recovery projects in the health sector – the HEAL Ukraine Project, which is improving and strengthening primary health care, addressing increased demand for mental health and rehabilitation services and supporting capacity building for key health institutions and soon the Restoration Project of Winterization and Energy Resources (REPOWER), which is helping Ukraine purchase key equipment to restore power to Ukrainians. The URTF will soon fund additional projects in the pipeline, as additional funds become available.
Dr. Banerji concluded his address on a hopeful note, emphasising that firms are actively striving for their economic future, seeking opportunities to expand and remain within Ukraine, rather than relocating elsewhere. The fact that foreign firms share this optimism about the future in Ukraine is a testament to their enduring commitment. And so, how does this resilience turn into growth?
Distinguished speakers and moderators thronged the URBD event. Such luminaries as Cyrus Ardalan, the Charities Aid Foundation Trustee and Chair, Investment Advisory Committee; Access Corporate Finance Chief Executive and LBS MBA1989 alumnus David Kotler; Founding Partner – Head of EMEA & Asia – Argentem Creek Partners and LBS MBA2006 alumnus John C. Patton, and the Wheeler Institute’s academic director Rajesh Chandy, LBS’s former dean, Sir Andrew Likierman, were all in energetic and notable attendance.
The event attracted a strong LBS student, alumni and staff presence, including politician, lawyer, and Member of Parliament of Ukraine, Andrii Zhupanyn, who is a student on the School's Executive MBA programme as well as Social Boost Head of Board and Co-Founder and LBS Sloan Masters in Leadership and Strategy alumnus, Denis Gursky.
"The event emphasised the transformative role that business plays in addressing global challenges."
Perhaps the most powerful, and certainly the most moving part of the day, came about when former business chiefs, media, marketing and PR experts – all of whom had abandoned or repurposed their careers to help the emotionally distressed, the abandoned and the maimed. Courageous and heart-warming stories abounded of these talented business professionals helping to secure sophisticated prosthetics for those who had lost limbs, and finding homes and family support for those who had their lives and cherished family units torn apart.
The URBD placed significant emphasis on drawing lessons from the international post-war recovery and reconstruction experiences. Additionally, the day explored models that promote sustainable economic growth, benefiting both the private and public sectors. These models offer prospects for public-private partnerships, enhanced integration of Ukraine into the EU and western markets, and participation in international value chains.
Wheeler Institute Co-Academic Director and Professor of Marketing Rajesh Chandy joined the panel, ‘Key insights for Ukraine’s post-war recovery: how to make it a success story?’ which was moderated by former London Business School Dean and Professor of Management Practice in Accounting, Sir Andrew Likierman.
During his remarks, Rajesh reminded us of William Gibson's famous quote, 'The future is already here. It is just not evenly distributed yet', which Rajesh used to explain that by sharing our experiences, we are getting a glimpse of what could be. He added that 'Every big problem is a big opportunity. If you don't have a big problem, you don't have big opportunities'. Innovators see problems as opportunities, such as gaining access to new skills and knowledge. Times of crisis force you to think about the future. Rajesh also spoke about negative and positive role models and the secret to innovation, simply, “copy, edit and paste”.
Speaking at the conclusion of the event, Executive Director of the Wheeler Institute for Business and Development at London Business School, Tiago Ivo Martinho, said: “We were proud to host this groundbreaking event, bringing together 200 influential business leaders from Ukraine, the UK, and around the world. Focusing on the recovery and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine, the event emphasised the transformative role that business plays in addressing global challenges. We were deeply impressed by the courage, resilience, and innovation demonstrated by Ukrainian companies. Their unwavering determination to overcome obstacles and drive positive change in their communities is truly inspiring and aligns perfectly with the mission of the Wheeler Institute – to improve lives through business.
“The event provided a platform for engaging discussions, fostering new partnerships, and promoting collaborations between business leaders in Ukraine, the UK, and internationally. We firmly believe that through innovative solutions and shared expertise, we can collectively drive sustainable growth and contribute for a better future for Ukraine and its people.”
Watch the full day's discussions here