In our regular series, industry big wigs take us back to their first jobs
Hi, Nataliya! Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Nataliya and I’m founder and CEO of Dattalion, an open database of eyewitness videos and photos from the hotspots of the war in Ukraine. As a strategic transformation expert, I also sit on the board of Ukrhydroenergo, the largest Ukrainian hydro energy company. I’m founder of UYAVA, a fashion collaboration platform introducing the best of Ukraine to the world. I also served as Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine from 2015–2018.
What was your first McJob?
A personal assistant at Eurocentre Bank in Ukraine, age 15, while at high school. They needed someone to help the chairman of the board to communicate with potential foreign advisors.
How did you get the job?
Through my English tutor at school. They were looking for people fluent in English but didn’t want to pay a lot. My tutor thought it would be a good place to practice my English.
What did you have to do?
Pick up the phone and transfer people to somebody who could speak English. I also had to make coffee and sandwiches, clean up after meetings, do the photocopying and lots of other interesting things!
And how long did you work there?
Four hours a day, for two months over the summer.
How much did you get paid, and what did you spend your first pay cheque on?
About US$40 or $50 dollars per month. I spent my first pay cheque on presents for my mum, dad, sister and my English tutor who got me the job, and bought myself a T-shirt I particularly wanted.
Did anything particularly funny happen?
The chairman of the board liked his strong very coffee, but the coffee machines were pretty basic — you had to know which buttons to press to change the strength or avoid spilling — so I could only work out how to make his coffee very weak! It was also pretty stressful! It’s one thing learning basic English in high school, but another when you need to pick up the phone and talk business to people who also didn’t have English as their first language and would be speaking with all sorts of accents!
What skills did you learn that you still use today?
I learned very quickly that you can’t learn unless you try. There will always be things that you can’t do in the exact way that somebody wants you to — like making strong coffee! — so sometimes you will fail, but that’s okay.
Are you still in contact with anyone you worked with?
I’m still in touch with the chairman of the board, probably because I was the first high school student the bank employed, or maybe because he’s never forgotten my terrible coffee!
Why is alumni so important in business today?
I believe in the power of networks. You spend so much with people at work or university, you already have a strong bond. Alumni are the best ambassadors to any company or project, and the best people to provide you with references or contacts. If your former employee talks well of you, it brings a lot of value to the company.
What would happen if you went back and did your old job again?
Hopefully I could make a decent cup of coffee now, if only if because the machines are much easier to use! Working as a PA is a great way for anybody to start a professional career because you learn a lot of communication, interaction and multitask skills.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?
Try different things and don’t be afraid to fail!