Calling yourself a "wartime CEO" can sometimes be a business cliché, but in my case, it became true.
The thriving tech company I co-founded, Arkadium, had staff split between our New York City headquarters and an office in Crimea in Ukraine. But in 2014, when Russia invaded the region, the State Department imposed sanctions forbidding US companies to do business in Crimea, and our business found itself facing the biggest challenge in its history.
Suddenly, half of the company was embedded in international conflict, and our second home (in a place that nobody had previously heard of) was front-page news. Military tanks and armed militias roamed the streets, all while our Crimean team tried to tune out the noise and continue to work.
Aside from the humanitarian concerns -- our Ukrainian employees handled the situation much more calmly than we did -- just imagine the logistical hurdles of your company's office being annexed by a foreign nation. As the region changed governments, so did time zones and currencies. Passports and working papers needed to updated, while we had to re-register ever employee just to stay legal.
But in December of 2014, the Obama administration forced our hand. By declaring sanctions on any U.S. company doing business in Crimea -- making our operation illegal overnight -- we had to drastically change our approach. After lengthy discussions with our Ukraine employees, we opened a new office in mainland Russia, near Sochi, where 55 employees and their families relocated.
Our company's situation was clearly an extreme circumstance, but it created takeaways that any business would be wise to consider.
1. Your Offshore Employees are Still Employees
We've always made it a point to treat our employees overseas exactly the same as our employees in New York. Without our Ukrainian -- and now Russian -- workforce, our company wouldn't have been able to get off the ground. So when their lives came into crisis, our company did as well.
Always remember that your team is still exactly that, even if you're not seeing them everyday. And, when possible, go out and see them! As I've previously written, meeting face-to-face and socializing with your team abroad humanizes you to each other in ways that are unattainable over Slack or video calls.
2. Challenges are Benefits--If You Know How to Handle Them
Make no mistake -- the entire process that ensued after the sanctions was difficult and painful.
But it was also a triumph for the business.
We're all stronger because of it. Since the move, we've grown, become more profitable and have launched an innovative new product. But without significant investment in culture, we wouldn't have been able to pull it off. Your culture is the backbone of your business.
By constantly reinforcing positive values, your company is better equipped to handle any challenge - and come out stronger because of them.
3. Be an Optimist, Even if it Seems Crazy
Even when it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you have to. When our entire business came crashing down - at no fault of our own -- it would've been easy to call it quits. But we never let that thought creep into our minds.
The same mindset applies to every element of your business -- whether it comes to making a splash with a new product, signing a lucrative deal or even something as simple as running a great meeting.
In order to be successful, you have to first envision what success looks like. Even if that means looking past everything working against you.