Elizaveta (Lisa) Yurusheva, 28, is the younger daughter of the Donetsk-based billionaire Leonid Yurushev, one of Ukraine’s richest people. She runs the five-star Fairmont Grand Hotel Kyiv.
One of Lisa’s other current projects is VOGUE Caf, a fashionable establishment that has now moved to Fairmont’s first floor.
Elizaveta often turns up in glossy publications’ articles as a frequenter of various high-world events. She is mostly known in Ukraine in the image of a rich father’s rich daughter. Her interview with The Day is, in a way, exclusive. It shows Yurusheva as a Ukrainian business lady who is keenly aware of the way her country is living and of the necessity to ride out the crisis.
To what extent is the current business climate in Ukraine comfortable to you?
“Being a realist, I expected no marked improvements after the Maidan. I don’t know a state that showed a galloping growth of the living standards immediately after a revolution. It takes time for the situation to stabilize.
“Do you remember the horrible events in Paris? The acts of terror lasted for one day, but hoteliers crossed out a year from their calendar.
“On the other hand, we have lost Russia which accounted for 36 percent of customers for Ukraine’s hospitality industry. We have to stop this gap with something. Foreigners are still taking a cautious attitude to Ukraine. We are viewed as a country that is unable to guarantee a 100-percent safety. And it is normal, for there’s a real war on a part of our territory.
“To get out of these dire straits, we must work very hard and be patient for some time.”
Has the target audience at Kyiv’s 5-star hotels changed essentially?
“There are no changes among corporate customers, but the number of individual orders has dropped. Unfortunately, very few people are coming today just to see Kyiv.
“But now we have a ‘governmental’ niche – many politicians and events associated with them are part of our business. This is something of a novelty.”
Your younger daughter is not yet a year old. Why have you got back into business and taken on an additional load? (Less than a month ago Yurusheva became Fairmont’s general manager.)
“I’ve been working nonstop for eight years. I love and care for children, but I can’t imagine living without working.
“Of course, I forsook a maternity leave not because I am strapped for cash. I work for my father. We are partners. I am responsible to father as a business partner for doing a high-quality job in my segment. The people who have dropped out of business for various reasons know how difficult it is to get back – especially in this country, where something changes almost daily. So, I combine child care with business.”
What do you exactly do to care for children? Do you read any books on methods of upbringing?
“I was 19, when I gave birth to my son. I’d read no special literature. I don’t think I even knew that there was something like that. Nor am I hunting now after any voguish methods.”
Do you bring up your children the way your parents used to bring you up?
“Yes. They were strict with my sister and me. It’s mum who dealt with us. Dad rarely had an opportunity to spend time with us, and when he did, he only pampered us. We were afraid very much to upset him.
“I bring up my children, perhaps subconsciously, the way my parents brought me up. Still I can’t do this in exactly the same way – I work, while my mum did not, she was only busy with my sister and me.
“I think the Yurushevs stick to the following rule: children must be taught that if they want to live a sweet life, they must work very hard.”
Why did you choose business as a way to realize yourself? Why not politics or art?
“I am an active manager by nature: I take what already works well and try to improve it, but I don’t stop at the ‘point of comfort’ – I go on developing and expanding the project. Besides, I can work in many fields, for I easily adapt. For me, result is the only criterion of success in all fields.”
Is Ukrainian politics interesting to you?
“I have no political ambitions.”
You have founded the foundation “Opting for the Future Together.” You help orphanage pupils enter higher educational institutions, choose a favorite profession, and believe in themselves. Who prompted you to believe that Ukraine needs this today?
“The British say: all we can give children is love and education. Statistics about orphanage inmates really ‘kills’ me – many of them become criminals, suicides, and drunkards.
“Our foundation’s mission is to help parentless children find and achieve their dream. They should not think that it is difficult for them to achieve something because they are orphans. It is difficult for everybody.”
What is your father’s attitude to your charitable activities?
“He doesn’t interfere. I hope he believes that what I do is right.
“Dad and I maintain partnership and a very adult-like relationship. If I go to him as daughter, I must explain it beforehand – otherwise I may get into a pretty mess.
“I see father every day and spend by far the greatest part of my spare time with him.”
Oleksii Poroshenko confessed in a Den interview that he had liked chemistry in childhood but became a financier not least on his father’s advice. And how did your father “correct” your childhood dreams about the future?
“This ‘correction’ went unnoticed (smiles).
“I dreamed of conquering the world as a fashion designer and even opened a fashionable clothes shop of my own (a multi-brand chain of Manhattan outlets in Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk). Then father invited me just to see how his business worked. I came… and I am suddenly a financier and run a hotel.
“There was no dictatorship on father’s side. There were some limits. But I think it is normal.”
Photo by Artem SLIPACHUK, The Day
What do you mean?
“Father said I could finish a school not only in Austria but also here. Do I want to study to be a journalist? No problem, but I was also to graduate from a university’s economics department.”
But why did you need a Ukrainian school certificate? Did your father not consider the possibility of you living abroad?
“We, Yurushevs, are very family-bound people. I am 28, but I speak with mum on the phone four times a day, I see dad daily and phone him three times a day. We can’t imagine living hundreds of thousands of miles away from each other.”
Are you and all of your family perhaps going to move to, say, Switzerland or Austria?
“We are Ukraine-oriented. We are considering investing abroad but have not yet found a project that fully suits us.
“I see a colossal potential in Ukraine. We have very talented people. They are the main resource of the state and business. I am going now to launch one more project of my own, also in Ukraine.”
Does it hurt you when the press writes that what you are doing is your father’s business?
“I wrote in my blog about how difficult it is to me sometimes. A commentator said to this: ‘The gilded youth can also cry.’
“It is normal. These people don’t know me, for they’ve never worked with me. I won’t deny that father supports me. That I am the daughter of such a successful father is undoubtedly a plus in a way, but there are also some ‘buts.’ If you are ambitious and have this kind of a father, you need to work very hard to walk out the shadow of his name. It is very difficult. Father set such a level that it’s extremely hard to keep to, let alone surpass, it. I am 28, and my father is a very successful person, but I know I must keep my business at least 80-percent stable and successful to have a good reputation. It’s hell of a pressure.
“I can remember very well mother saying to my sister and me in childhood: ‘Girls, do not relax. If your father was a baker and you became big-time successful bankers, you would win people’s affection, but if your father is a big businessman and you are ‘just some bakers,’ it is shame.’
“Besides, I work for a man who knows all my drawbacks and weaknesses. One more downside: I can’t forget the problem, just closing the office door and coming home because I am the leader at home.
“But I understand the people who think, reading this: ‘She’s still complaining?’ or ‘A wrong pressure, you see.’ Obviously, if I read in a magazine that a poor son of Abramovich is working by the sweat of the brow with a shovel, I would also think: bloody nonsense!”
Your parents come from Donetsk. Do you discuss in the family what is now going on in the Donbas? What does your father say about how to win back that territory?
“I don’t remember Donetsk. We left it when I was five. I think it hurts my parents to see what is going on. They lived, studied, got married, and had children there. But their comments are nostalgic rather than political.”
Serhii Taruta once gathered some super-rich Ukrainians, and they signed a memorandum to the effect that they were personally responsible for the situation in which this country is now. And what does your family think of this?
“My father has never been a bureaucrat. He has never had any direct political engagements. The fact that some connections with someone, sponsorship and funding of somebody, including the incumbent premier, are being ascribed to him may or may not be the truth.
“And, speaking of the responsibility for the country being poor and at war, every sound-minded individual must think over their contribution to this – over what they have and have not done to ward this off.”
What books do you read?
“I like memoirs and biographies. They show role models. I don’t like biographic films because they can embellish everything so much that the picture will be far from the truth. I don’t like ‘fairytales,’ for I have enough ‘special effects’ in real life. I love classics. I like Jane Austin’s novels very much. I can read the same book several times.
“My son and I recently read Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince and, for some reason, I fell in love with this book again. I was afraid of it in childhood. It is very sad. The hero dies.
“I am now interested in Den’s Library books. I decided to buy Ukraine Incognita for the orphanages we support.”
Is today’s Ukrainian fashion an attractive business for you?
“As a matter of fact, Ukrainian fashion really attracts me. I dreamed of working in this business. But now I think I’ll do this in my next life.
“There are many interesting young designers in Ukraine, in whom I’d like to invest and see the result. But I am afraid this will go bust due to faults.”
Faults in what?
“In market studies, of course. There can be a genius who does not know how to position themselves for the market – and their business will come unstuck.
“Whenever I am told about such geniuses as Tom Ford or Karl Lagerfeld, I imagine them as economists. They have assessed each of their collection down to a penny. But in this country, fashion is so far creation, not business. And creation kills the financial side. For this reason, I stifle my desire to go into fashion.”
And what prospects do you see for your further development?
“I am now greatly interested in a proposal from Conde Nast [a US magazine publishing house that produces Architectural Digest, Bon Appetit, GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. – Ed.] to establish a media school in Ukraine.
“In childhood, I dreamed of becoming a journalist, for I like writing. My mother is a journalist. I think I inherited an inclination for writing from her. In my teens I dreamed of writing and opening people’s eyes. Then, when I had graduated from university and was doing my probation as assistant editor-in-chief of Woman, I saw that I would never open anybody’s eyes because everybody knew what I wanted to tell them. But I still love the media. My father is a man of the world. Whenever I begin to talk about market studies and management, father asks to speak in a normal language. This is why he does not view the media as business. Which of the media was a business in the Soviet era? But I think the other way round. We are all media-dependent. Whenever I am told that ‘Chanel’ is super-cool, I know that they are saying so because this was imposed on them. Who by? By journalists.”
Would you like to open your own magazine/TV channel/newspaper?
“I would, but not now. I don’t want to take part in politics. And politics is the No.1 topic in this country.”